April-May 2005 in Italy and Malta
Click on any thumbnail to see a larger image
April 24-27 Capri
May 6-7 Sicily, Scilla and Charybdis
May 7-8 Tropea (Capo Vaticano)
May 10-12 Abruzzi National Park
May 12 Tivoli, Villa Adriana
The morning after the meeting finished we collected the car from a garage near the end of the Termini station. It was a beautiful bright day for a drive, though driving out of the centre of Rome in an unfamiliar car was a bit nerve-racking. We made it without a scratch, but with some U-turns and taking routes we hadn't quite anticipated from the map the Avis lady had provided. Finally, we got on the Autostrada to Napoli, which is a toll road. It costs €10 for the full distance Rome-Napoli.
Napoli (from the Greek "Neapolis" or "New Town" is at the northwest end of the coastal plain below Vesuvius. Pompeii is at the southeast end. Herculaneum (modern Ercolano) is right below the volcano on what was the coast before the great eruption of 79 AD. Whereas Pompeii was overwhelmed mainly by an ashfall and poison gases that suffocated and encased people and animals, Herculaneum took the brunt of a pyroclastic flow — an avalanche of material and gas in a kind of fluid state, at a temperature that could reach 500°C, moving very fast. But it didn't happen until relatively late in the eruption, after just about everybody had left the town itself, and most had been rescued from the shore. Those that still huddled in the shoreline warehouses were incinerated before they were covered with many meters of material that fused into a relatively hard rock, and that extended the shore about half a kilometer seaward.
I had visted Herculaneum around 1990. On that occasion there had been four of us, and we had had a personal guide. The house shown in the third and fourth pictures had been locked, but he unlocked it for us. I remember the so-called "Poseidon" mosaic picture as having been flanked by two very beautiful pictures that I thought of as almost French Impressionistic. On this visit, one could hardly tell that they were pictures at all, especially the one on the left. Either my memory has embellished what I saw 15 years ago, or there's been substantial degradation.
Above the "fireplace" there are three white masks. When we were there in 1990, there was only one, and the guide told us that up to a few weeks earlier there had been three, but two had been stolen. He said a lot of things were being stolen from the site, which was why many of the houses were locked by iron grillwork. I imagine that the masks we saw in 2005 were replicas.
Not all the pictures were grandiose like those shown above. On the left are two of many frescos framed to look as if they were pictures hung on the wall. People painted still life pictures 2000 years ago, just as they do now. But the picture I call "Silly Bird" is beyond me to understand. I've enhanced these a bit in Photoshop to see through the dust on the wall, but otherwise they are not retouched in any way.
You can see lots more photos of Herculaneum, and get more of its story, here.
We visited Herculaneum as a stop on the way through to Sorrento. That's on the next page.