The wonders of Pompeii, and on to Capri.

After bidding a sad farewell to Bella Roma, our coach took us out into the countryside, and past the Frascotti vineyards, where the Pope has his summer residence, the Castel Gandolfo. Our guide was really excellent, and knew her Italian history and geography back to front and inside out. It was our turn to sit right in the front of the bus, so we had a really good view of where we were going. We were on our way to Pompeii, and after a little over two hours, we saw Mount Vesuvius rising in the distance. It looks like a mountain with the top missing, because the summit is just one huge crater. Here is a pic of it, taken from the town square of Pompeii.

The really big eruption on 24th August 79 AD, resulted in the city of Pompeii being buried under twenty-seven feet of volcanic ash. The ruins were discovered in 1748, and in 1865, excavations began. It’s amazing to see what has been uncovered since then, and it has become a popular tourist destination, with almost 3 million people visiting it every year. Pompeii was built in 300BC, and had about 20,000 inhabitants at the time of its destruction. We were able to walk on the original roads, which still have the ruts in them made by chariot wheels. You can see them clearly in this picture, along with the stepping stones which were a sort of pedestrian crossing.

There were two open air theatres. One was a small music theatre, where they used to have poetry readings and musical plays. It had the most amazing acoustics, demonstrated to us by our excellent local guide, Enrico. The city councillors would recline on sofas on the first four wide steps, eating and drinking in comfort, whilst the ‘peasants’ had to squeeze up on the much narrower crowded rows above. I’m thinking that not much has changed in 2,000 years. ;)

There is also a much larger arena where the gladiators used to fight, and also where Pink Floyd performed a live concert in 1972!

Water was brought in through lead pipes on the ground. There were forty-seven public water fountains, like this one. They didn’t know about lead poisoning in those days, and this was a very common disease. Life expectancy was only about forty-one years.

This ancient bakery has it’s grinding stone and oven still intact.

Twenty-five brothels where slave girls were put to work, have been discovered in Pompeii. This one was a Taberno, a restaurant with a brothel upstairs. Here is one of the beds, not looking any too comfortable for the job in hand.

Many wall paintings advertise the “specialities of the house.”

Plaster casts have been made of some of the victims of the disaster, and are perfect reproductions of the bodies which had been encased in the ash. The actual bodies decomposed, leaving the imprint in the solidified ash. Here is one of a person who must have mercifully died in his sleep.

This one, which I found very moving, is of a person who looks in total despair, sitting crying.

It was  such a fascinating place to visit, but very sad to think that a whole thriving city full of vibrant people, was wiped out in just a few minutes.

After lunch, we got back on the coach, and travelled on to Naples. I was surprised to see squatter camps on the outskirts of the city, just like the ones we have in South Africa, and the driving was far worse than our notorious taxi drivers, if you can possibly imagine that.

The main landmark in Naples is the medieval Castel Nuovo which was originally built in 1279, but has been renovated and added to, over the centuries.

Happily for us, despite the crazy drivers in Naples, we did arrive safely at the port, and boarded the hydrofoil to Capri.

We arrived on the ‘Beautiful Isle’after a forty minute crossing, and were transported to our hotel in one of the rather large, open-topped cabs which are to be seen everywhere in Capri.

The vehicle seemed to be much too long, as we whizzed up the winding, almost spiral lanes at great speed. The road was so narrow, I though it must be a one way, but soon found out that I was sadly mistaken, when I saw vehicles bearing down on us from the opposite direction. My heart was in my mouth for a good ten minutes, until we eventually reached the top of the hill, and I could swallow it again.

Our hotel, “The Capri Palace,” was magnifico beyond description, and we were delighted find that that we had been allocated the “Afrodite Room,” with a beautiful canopied bed, two bathrooms and a sitting room, as well as our own private terrace.

That evening we dined in the hotel restaurant, and had a superb meal with great Italian wine. Breakfast was a sumptuous buffet with everything from fresh fruit to smoked salmon. I just wished I could have eaten more to do it justice. Then we were spirited off down the hill again by scary-cab, to take a boat out to the “Blue Grotto,” which will be my next episode.