Sunday, August 15, 2010

A ride out to the Fields of Fire

I really did have big plans to go to Baia today and check out the ancient Roman plaster casts that were found there, and I am still really interested in that topic, but I had a few complications. First, I was pretty tired after waking up so many times during the night, so it took me a while to write my post about yesterday. Then, I ended up hanging around for a while with a couple of Australian girls who left today for Sardinia, and one of them let me copy her 4 seasons of Dexter while we chatted (I'm in for a bloody good time - literally because there will be lots of blood!). Then, it turned out that because today is the Feast of the Assumption, it's a public holiday in Italy, and almost everything is closed. And finally, I found out that the museum with the plaster casts is nowhere near the archaeological site of Baia or the train, so I decided that I didn't really want to risk looking for a bus that might not come and maybe getting lost just to go to a museum that might not be open. So I needed a new plan.

So I decided to head out to Pozzuoli, one of the major towns in the Campi Flegrei, literally "Fields of Fire" but referred to as the Phlegrean Fields in English, because English loves a weird word. It's easy to get to Pozzuoli by Metro - it's the last stop on the line that runs right past Giovanni's hostel. And there are two sites within easy walking distance of this stop: a well-preserved amphitheater dating to the Flavian period, and the entrance to Solfatara, a giant, supposedly extinct volcanic crater that still constantly leaks steam. This sounded like a doable and interesting itinerary to me, so I decided to try it out.

But first, for lunch, a calzone:

I thought I needed to try a calzone in Italy, because the only other one I've ever eaten was in a small town in Colorado, which I thought didn't do the genre justice. The verdict on this one - it was quite tasty, but I don't think the calzone will ever win my heart away from pizza. Looks pretty in a photo, though!

So, after lunch, it was time to start on my journey. Now, the Metro in Naples is weird. There are no turnstiles and no ticket machines at any of the stops, and no one ever checks for tickets, but you have to buy a ticket from a tobacconist, and you have to get it validated, because if you don't and you are caught, you pay a fine. I arrived at the station today only to find that the usual store where I buy my ticket was - you guessed it - closed for the holiday. I looked around, but I couldn't see anything open anywhere, so I did the only thing I could think to do. I hopped the train without a ticket in the direction of the main station (only one stop), bought a ticket for each way there, and then got back on the train heading in the other direction. Did anyone ever appear to take my ticket? Nope. Naples is strange.

So, when I finally arrived in Naples, I was rewarded with a trip to the Flavian Amphitheater, which was quite neat. It's going to be hard to convey what it was like in pictures, because I didn't have a hovercraft (probably would have been full of eels anyway) or a wide-angle lens. Here's the most my little Fuji could capture at once:

That may be 1/8 of the actual area, so just multiply that little piece by eight.

There were also cool arches and such:

I was a little unclear, but I think the sign was saying that this niche was once part of some kind of mini worship space.

The coolest thing was being able to stand right in the middle of the amphitheater:

When you visit the Colosseum, it's big and impressive, and you can imagine yourself as a spectator of the events as you walk along one of the major crowd thoroughfares in the stands, but you never really get any idea of what it's like to be the gladiator, especially because the entire arena floor of the Colosseum has been pulled away to reveal the warren of rooms and tunnels underneath. Here, though, you get to stand right in the middle and feel the sweep of the stands all around you - I kind of felt like grandstanding for the imaginary crowd's approval. Okay, I'm silly.

After leaving the center of the arena, I walked around the outside perimeter for a bit, snapping a few pictures of the awesome arches. At this point, the amphitheater was ranking around "pretty cool" on my mental Scale of Awesome for tourist sites, but the next part bumped it up into "Totally Awesome and Special":

I noticed a ramp that led down into the lower level of the amphitheater, which is full of rooms and corridors that once would have held animal cages, prisoners awaiting execution, gladiators preparing for battle, you name it. The whole structure is composed of masonry arches as pictured above, and you really get the sense of being in a place that has a truly bloody history.

And there were lots of random pieces of architectural masonry around:

Do you think anyone would mind if I stole these two Corinthian capitals? They'd make awesome end tables.

After finishing up at the amphitheater, it was on to Solfatara, which wasn't too far away, but was up a pretty steep hill. Today was one of those incredibly humid days where, even though it's not all that hot, you're immediately covered with a layer of sweat as soon as you step outside. By the time I got up the hill, I was pretty exhausted, but thankfully there was an open snack bar at the top where I could purchase some water (but no "volcanic" rocks - I can spray paint my own rocks at home, thank you very much!).

Solfatara is pretty neat. The whole Campi Flegrei area is affected by seismic and volcanic activity, most of it now in the form of bradyseim, or the gradual uplift or sinking of the earth's surface. (This is why a lot of archaeological sites in this area are currently underwater - it's not because the Romans were fish!) The Solfatara volcano is supposedly extinct, but that doesn't stop it from releasing steam, hot mud, and other things at various slow rates. It didn't take too long to walk around the crater, but I got to experience all sorts of geological marvels in that short distance.

For instance, this mud pit:

As I watched, the surface constantly roiled and bubbled, heated by some source well below the surface. Apparently, the mud is highly enriched with all sorts of beneficial minerals, and is used to make a string of high-end beauty products. The smell is terrible, though - reminded me of that time when Mike and I discovered Fart Lake in Yellowstone. (Sorry if I'm not getting all the geological lingo down pat - this is an art history blog!)

Then there were the fumaroles:

This one was emitting steam that could apparently reach temperatures up to 320 degrees Fahrenheit, with enough sulfur to turn the rocks surrounding it a lovely shade of Cheeto-orange. I really like the English text on the sign, which warns of "BURNING DANGER" (It's a hunk-a hunk-a burning danger!). Thanks for warning me, but I don't think I want to go anywhere near the farting Cheeto rocks. I'll just stay over here.

And here I am in the crater:

I've sure gotten my share of visiting volcanoes this weekend!

And finally, one gratuitous picture of the lovely Mediterranean:

Tomorrow, come hell or high water, I'm going to Capri. Can't believe I'm down to my last few days in Italy! I'm kind of looking forward to be back Stateside, where I can understand all the conversations around me and get free drink refills in a restaurant. It's been something trying to learn how to nurse one tiny can of Coke through an entire meal after being used to the American system. Anyway, I digress. I must try to get some of my things in order so that I can actually leave at a reasonable time tomorrow.


  1. That looks flatter than most calzones I've eaten.

  2. It was pretty flat, but there was plenty of ricotta inside.

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  4. Thank you for posting incredible pictures. All photos are amazing. It seems like country is very beautiful. I would surely make some plan there.
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