16-19 March 2012 (Friday-Monday)
This weekend, my school traveled to Napoli in central Italy’s west coast with the theme of “ancient” and “Roman” following us everywhere we went. We got to visit tons of cool old “stuff” at Villa Adriana (near Rome), Herculaneum, Pompeii, Paestum, and Napoli’s Archeology Museum. The countryside near Napoli is how I had originally pictured Italy: rolling hills dotted with olive trees and Italian pine trees. I think it finally hit me that I was in Italy while we were walking through Villa Adriana (I know… it’s 7 months in and just now it is hitting me?!). It was a combination of the landscape and the well-preserved ruins dotting the hillside that really got to me. It was unreal.
Before going into all of the sites we visited, I think a brief history of the Roman Empire is needed. I sure needed it when we first got to Napoli and our excellent guide, Charles, did a great job of summing up their story.
– – –
A Brief History of the Roman Empire.
Roman history is broken into three eras: The Age of Kings (750bc-509bc), The Republic, and The Empire (31bc-).
The Age of Kings began with the twins Romulus and Remus who were suckled by a she-wolf. The name “Rome” has its roots in the name of their first king: ROMulus. This era was known for its agriculture, temples, and gladiators.
The Republic began as the small hill-towns grew into great cities. By now, Roman rule had grown to the size of the USA. A senate was established to create laws. They had a very strong military, and Rome became the capital.
The Empire (most of the cities I visited were destroyed during this period) was under control of a dictatorship organized by dynastic rule. There were five dynasties, beginning with the Julio-Claudian Dynasty and Caesar Augustus. It was during the Flavian Dynasty and under the rule of Emperor Titus that Mount Vesuvius exploded in 79ad. Emperor Hadrian built his Villa Adriana during the Nerva Antonine Dynasty around 100ad.
– – –
Getting up early is always the hardest, but arriving at Villa Adriana in the late morning was totally worth it. This royal villa was built in the hills around Rome to escape the heat during the summer. The huge complex was an architectural experiment, with a majority of the buildings designed by the Emperor Hadrian himself. I was in love with the place from the start. I was very impressed with how large some of the buildings were and that even the roofs were still semi-attached along with many well-preserved mosaics on the floors. With the arrival of spring weather, the temperature was warm, the birds singing, and a beautiful light was cast over the ruins. We got to walk through his bath complex, temples, and then rest in the shadows of the olive trees.
We left the hotel this morning for the nearby town of Ercolano, home to the ruins of Herculaneum. With a population of 5000 people, this was a resort town on the beach to the north-west of Mount Vesuvius. With the volcano’s eruption, this town was covered. The town of Herculaneum was covered in 65-feet of dense tufa stone that quickly carbonized the wood and bodies within the city, perfectly preserving the city, frescoes, and life that was taking place. Only one third of the city has been excavated and this site has given so much information to historians about Roman life.
The Roman home usually had a central courtyard with the bedrooms and dining room leading off this courtyard. Food bars were very popular and on almost every corner (these are still popular in Italy today). And the Romans loved to exercise and take baths; these large complexes were are part of their every day activity; complete with sauna and ice bath.
The coolest part about this site, is that a modern city, Ercolano, has been built over the ruins. No one knew that Herculaneum was below the soil until the 1700s when it was accidentally discovered.
We had a great lunch overlooking the ruins of another Roman city: Paestum. This city was passed along through many civilizations, from the Greeks to the Romans, yet, it always remained a trade city. It was put on the map because of a series of Temples that were built over 150 years. They are in fantastic condition and you can see how the building style changed with ever 50 year interval. It was sunset while we were visiting the temples and they looked so beautiful.
This morning, we visited the Archeology museum to see all of the artifacts that they discovered at sights like Herculaneum and Pompeii. We got to see some great mosaics, sculptures, and some interesting pieces that expressed the Roman’s obsession with erotic art. (I now understand why there is so much love going on in Italy).
We had the afternoon free, so I took the train down the coast to Sorrento. We ate good food, drank limoncello, and enjoyed the beautiful view of Mount Vesuvius. It was a great little town, hanging onto the cliffs. We watched the sunset and skipped rocks on the clear sea. Gabe and Al were even brave enough to go for a swim. Crazy boys! The water was still so cold.
Last day in Napoli and we finally get to tour the ruins of Pompeii! This city was huge! And still, not all of it is uncovered. Like Herculaneum, Pompeii was also destroyed by the volcano, but its southern position caused it to be covered with ash rather than lava. The ash was much easier to remove from the ruins. It also buried many people. Archeologists discovered the cavities where the remains had been and filled them with plaster, creating a perfect cast of the human figure. It was amazing how detailed these casts were, you could even see the expressions on their faces. It was so sad.
The drive back to Firenze was long, but we got to watch Finding Nemo a l’italiano!
“Pesci sono amici, non cibo!” aka. Fish are friends, not food!