Naples – Pompeii and Sorrento day trip

We had a nice leisurely wake up this morning at quarter to 8. First thing we did was throw open the huge window to let the sunlight in.  This was a very pleasant way to spend the morning and the day looked perfect outside.

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Before too long, Nick went in search of breakfast for us and brought back a tray of the B&B provided fare. For €5 each, we got a breakfast of coffee, juice, brioche, bread, cheese and prosciutto slices which was plenty to see us on our way.

Breakfast downed,  we prepared for our day trip to Pompeii but as the pick up wasn’t until 9:55am at nearby Dante Square, there was no need to rush at all. The company we were touring with was Project Napoli Service and they arranged pick-up and drop off at locations very close to us. As it was, they were running a little late with their pick-up which caused Nick and I to roam around the square watchfully, worried that there was some sort of issue.

We saw another couple doing much the same thing and when we spoke to them, it confirmed that they too were going on the tour.  They were a young couple from Torronto, Irwin and Roseanna who were also a little sad about the cancellation of the Vesuvius part of the trip due to the landslide.

Irwin had called the company while we waited and confirmed for all of us that the bus was running a few minutes late. It was less than 5 minutes later that the bus arrived, shepherded us and another couple on, and then we were off!

Our travel hosts introduced themselves as Martina, Loridanza and the driver Enzo.  They did their introductions in English and then Spanish pretty flawlessly. While our group was mixed on the bus, we would split into smaller groups once we arrived and the English speaking group would go with Maria, whom we would meet at the location, to explore Pompeii.

Maria turned out to be a lovely, drily funny Italian woman who spoke English very well. When we arrived at Pompeii, she took charge of our group and ensured that we all received a headset which would allow us all to hear her even if we were a bit spread out. Without too much further ado, we set out to explore the ancient city.

During the short walk from the entry to the actual ruin start, Maria explained the history of the place to us.  Originally founded in BC 7, the ruins were not excavated until 1599 as they were covered under a dense layer of volcanic ash, 6 metres deep. Scientists are still debating the exact date when the eruption occurred, but know that it was in AD 79.

It was apparent that the people of the city didn’t realise how dangerous the volcano was as preserved in the ruins were buildings that were still being restored from a previous (volcanic inspired) earthquake in AD 62 – these building restorations were preserved by the devastation that Vesuvius wrought on the city though.

Our first stop was at one of the city’s theatres.  As Maria explained, there were 2 theatres, a large theatre, where comedies and tragedies were played and a smaller theatre where concerts were held.  The smaller theatre had previously had a roof which helped with acoustics. As with all the roofs in Pompeii, with one exception, the roof to the theatres were gone.  The weight of the ash had caved in almost every roof to be seen though some had been restored as part of the archaeological work.

Maria told us that at some point, the larger theatre had been converted to a gladiator arena as evidenced by the built on gymnasium and gladiator barracks. Interestingly, in 1972, Pink Floyd played live at Pompeii for a concert documentary (no live audience though).

 

She lead us to the smaller theatre where she demonstrated a really cool bit of ancient technology.  In the absence of microphones and other electronics for sound enhancement, they placed large clay amphora under the stage base to amplify sound. The orator had to stand in a specific place (the centre front of the stage) and their voice was magically amplified for the audience.

Speaking of the audience, they got to attend shows for free but where they got to sit depended very much on their social class.  Up the top in the nosebleed section, furthest from the stage were the women, children and slaves.  In the middle, the middle class male society and right up the front, were politicians.

Why? The politicians actually paid for the performances as a way to campaign for votes. Women, children and slaves didn’t get a vote, so they were relegated to the veeeery back of the crowd. Nice. To prove this point, Maria showed us the plaque on the outside of the theatre which had the sponsoring politicians names on them.

We then walked along one of the main roads where Maria explained how waste and water flowed down the street usually.  There were several raised pedestrian walkways so that people could cross the road without getting their feet wet.  However, due to another marvel of ancient technology, they had engineered fountain drainage systems (Pompeii was before aqueducts) to keep the streets clean and waste free.  Pretty impressive stuff.

They did have a piped water system, but worryingly, these were made of lead.  However, the average resident of Pompeii didn’t live long enough to die of lead poisoning with the average male lifespan being 40 years of age and the average female lifespan being 35-37 years of age <gulp!>

Along the street, she also showed us the equivalent of an ancient McDonalds, explaining how the people would always eat a quick “fast food” lunch but have a proper meal at home when they returned to their houses at sunset. She also showed us a bakery.

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I mentioned before that all the roofs in Pompeii had caved in with one exception which we were about to visit.  A public bath-house. As Maria explained, there were 5 public bath-houses in Pompeii. The reasons that this particular one didn’t cave in totally were due to its unique dome shape, which would have deflected some of the weight of the ash, and frankly, luck!

This was also where we saw our first preserved victim of Pompeii.  Maria explained that during excavations liquid plaster was used to fill the voids in the ash that once held human and animal bodies giving often gruesome images of their last moments. Here, in a section of the public bath-house was a woman, probably a slave from her attire and also possibly pregnant from the rounding of her abdomen, lying on her stomach and trying to cover her head.

The ash-fall preserved these people almost perfectly, due to a lack of air and moisture getting in to spoil the remains.  Of course, the technique used meant that the bones of the victim were sealed inside the plaster mould.

Maria explained that most of the people were kept away from the public, but that the few available for public viewing were only available there in Pompeii.  Anything you see in a museum or exhibition is a replica.

The next place Maria showed us was for after dark activities.  The Lupinarium.  The brothel. Perhaps one of the most famous buildings in Pompeii. Maria told us a couple of stories of why it was called a Lupinarium, one legend, one truth.  The legend was that it was called a Lupinarium as ‘lupine‘ means ‘wolf’. Legend has it that the prostitutes would howl at the men to entice them into the premises. The reality is a little less colourful as ‘lupa‘ is just another word for prostitute.

But colourful is the right word to describe the inside of the brothel.  In a bit of a ‘choose your own adventure’ scenario, there were some very erotic frescos along the walls of the brothel.  This was a menu of sorts for the patrons of the brothel where they could select the position they wanted for the night.  Kama Sutra anyone?

Another interesting tid-bit that Maria imparted to us was how the prostitutes avoided disease/pregnancy.  Males would use sheep-intestine condoms (you’ll never look at sausage the same way again will you?) and women would use vinegar/lemon juice soaked wool.  Interesting.  Horrifying.

Maria continued to pull the shock value out by pointing out the many, many glyphs of male anatomy around Pompeii.  She explained that symbolically, a phallus stood for wealth, fertility and luck (as it has in MANY cultures actually).  In Pompeii, it also served as a functional direction to the nearest brothel.  The google maps of the ancient world.

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Who needs google maps, right?

The next part of our tour took us on the way to the main square where Maria encouraged us to take a picture of a surviving domicile’s entryway floor mosaic (an original, not a replica).  Once we reached the main square, we were told to go and look at the other preserved victims (one of which was a small child sadly) and take a picture of Vesuvius which sat benignly in the distance.

On our way out, she took us through the port exit where she pointed out the “cat’s eye” white tiles in the road which were designed to reflect the moonlight at night time for passers by.  The name has stuck to the modern day! Finally she showed us the remains of the Temple of Aphrodite which was almost a ‘light house’ for the ships coming into port. Aphrodite was apparently for this reason also considered the protector of sailors.

Overall I loved visiting Pompeii. I learned an awful lot from this tour and had a lot of fun doing so.

What followed was an average lunch at a restaurant I didn’t get the name of.  Nick had a margarita pizza and I had spagehetti which were the only two options, so you would have thought it would be pretty good ha ha.

After this, we were off for our quick tour of Sorrento!

Sorrento was truly gorgeous and I wish we had more time to explore. We would be passing though very briefly tomorrow on our way to Positano, but as we will be toting our bags we won’t be in much of an exploring mood then.

However, we managed to see some stunning panoramic views of the Sorrento coastline as well as enjoying a limoncello tasting and exploring the streets for an hour.  Then it was back on the bus headed back for Naples home base.

As it was getting into the evening when we got back, I started the day’s write up while Nick relaxed for a bit before we headed out to dinner. To make life easy on ourselves as we were quite tired, we went back to Re Lazzarone for dinner.  Nick had a pasta with ragu and I had a seafood pasta.  Both dishes were excellent and we headed back to the hotel for some sleep before moving on tomorrow.

Km’s walked: 11.7

Flights complete: 5/10

Tomorrow: Transit to Positano!

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