Thursday, November 02, 2006

Day 17: Bacoli

No rain this morning, but it is still overcast and as cool as it has been on this trip. After breakfast--we still seem to be the only guests at the hotel so we have the breakfast room to ourselves--we get specific directions from Rosanna, the desk clerk, about how to get to Naples by public transportation. We are supposed to take the grey Bacoli-Naples bus as far as Pozzuoli and then change to the Naples Metropolitana. This will take us directly to the Piazza Cavour stop which is a block from the Archeological Museum.

I buy the bus tickets and we find the bus stop (although there is no sign to confirm it and no other people waiting). For the first twenty minutes, there is no sign of any bus at all...then a couple of local orange buses pass by. After forty minutes, we are getting a bit impatient. At this point, a woman runs up to the bus stop and we ask here about the bus to Pozzuoli. She tells us that in fact we can't get to the Pozzuoli metro station from this stop but--once she figures out that we are ultimately going to Naples--tells us to follow her. She is taking the bus to the Cuma commuter train at Lucrino which will then take us to Naples...where we will change to the Metropolitana for one stop to get to the museum. We quickly follow her on the next bus that arrives and she shepherds us off the bus and into the train to Naples. When she gets off the train, we exchange cordial goodbyes and thank her for her help.

We make the switch in Naples (it is now raining lightly) and get off at Piazza Cavour. It is now 12 o'clock so we stop at a bar for coffee and cornetti to fortify ourselves for the museum. The museum is housed in a very large palazzo with a monumental entrance hall. There is a special show going on now called Egittomania...and there are large posters and banners for it plastered all over the museum. Egyptian deities were very important in Roman religious life and the extensive exhibit shows how pervasive the Egyptian influence was all over the Roman world. But we are here mainly to see the paintings, statues and mosaics that had been at Pompeii and Herculaneum and are now on display here.

We rent audio guides and sit down with a map of the museum to get located and plan our itinerary....for a change, it is a bit confusing and it takes a while for us to get our bearings. We first head toward the rooms that display the mosaics......and they alone are worth the price of admission. We are frequently impressed with the beauty of the mosaics that we have seen--whether they are 5th century Byzantine from Ravenna or later Byzantine or Roman ones in Sicily or those in churches in Rome; the ones that we see here are just as impressive. There are large scale mosaics like the very famous scene of Alexander the Great's victory over the Persians

Darius and Alexander at the Battle of Issus (333 B.C.)

Darius fleeing Alexander (detail)

Alexander in his chariot (detail)

There are smaller, delicate portraits and pictures detailing aspects of life in the Roman world

and they all feel very timeless...not dated at all. The detail is as extraordinary as the art and it is staggering to think of the work that goes in to getting all the pieces, sorting them and creating the art.

Looking for the rooms that feature the wall paintings from the houses in the area, we conclude that unfortunately these rooms are closed at this time. We do take a quick stroll through the "gabinetto segreto"---the room where the erotic paintings and sculptures are kept---and see a lot more phalluses and depictions of all sorts of sexual activity. In these times, I don't think that they have the same shock value that they apparently had previously. (We had read that in the past, women tourists were excluded from viewing them).

There are several rooms devoted to the finds from the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum (which was also closed when we visited) and we are impressed with the statues and intrigued with the charred remained of the actual papyrus scrolls that are on display.

Hermes resting

Bust of Seneca or Aristophanes

Homer or Sophocles

Charred scroll of papyrus

We take a brief walk through the very extensive special exhibition "Egittomania" and then head for one of the major holdings of the museum--the Farnese sculptures that come mostly in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. This collection of monumental sculptures are remarkable not only for the artistry but for the size of the works; walking through the galleries you feel dwarfed by them.

The most famous is the Farnese bull--depicting the story of the vengeance of Zethus and Amphion on Dirce, Queen of Thebes. It is extraordinary

but the large statue of Hercules resting from his labors is also amazing.

We have hit our "museum limit" now and we quickly walk through the collection of Farnese jewels and some wonderful busts of Roman emperors on our way out of the museum.

The emperor Vespasian

Julius Caesar

The museum really is a essential complement to a visit to Pompeii and definitely enhances your sense of what the cities were like when they were alive--not to mention the wonderful art that was being created 2,000 years ago.

Back outside in 21st century Naples, it is cool but it isn't raining anymore so we walk down the Via Toledo, one of the main streets of Naples, looking for a place to eat. There is no question that Naples is gritty and somewhat worn down and filled with traffic but it is also lively and filled with things to do and see. We have lunch at a pizzeria at Porta Sant'Alba--again we like the pizza...simple but with the wonderful charred crust that we usually don't get in the U.S. Diana buys an umbrella at a nearby shop to replace the one we lost in the flood and we hop in a cab to take us to the rental car office. The cabbie is very friendly and when when we compliment him on his skillful driving, he rewards with us a ride down some of the narrow streets off the Spaccanapoli and takes us past his own house. We talk (in our limited Italian) about the recent crime surge in Naples and the increased police presence - Prodi is also scheduled to visit today - which he thinks the media exaggerates. I think the "tour" adds a few Euros to the fare but it is worth it. He drops in front of the car rental office and we say goodbye.

As might be expected, there are a few complications before we can actually pick the replacement car, but after a phone call to AutoEurope in the States, all is resolved. After a half hour or so, we are on our way out of the city. Today I am able to find the right way out of town--it does entail realizing at the last minute that I need to make a left turn from the right lane of the street--and we are quickly out of Naples with no further problems. I decide to try a different way back to Bacoli and we are rewarded for our curiosity by having to turn around (the road to Bacoli from this new direction is closed) and retrace our steps back to the "regular" route.

It is now getting dark so we rest in the room for a while before dinner. We go to dinner late (for us)--almost 9 pm, because we had finished our pizza around 3 pm. As it turns out, this is a dinner we should have skipped and just had a snack in the room. The Family Nest is a very nice looking, informal trattoria/pizzeria just a short walk from the hotel. We order the antipasto and pasta dishes.....but the antipasto that is delivered is huge--lots of good meats and cheeses, wonderful white pizza, some beans, stewed peppers, two dishes of mushrooms, grilled cheese with vegetables inside. Some of it is great, some of the dishes are less successful, but after only managing to make a small dent in it, we are full. We barely touch our pastas and quickly pay the check and make our way back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, we will explore the immediate area--the Campi Flegrei.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Homer and Vespasian look remarkably similar!!!

9:56 PM  

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