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Among the major reasons we planned a week in the Italian region of Campania was the desire to see some of the world’s best-preserved examples of ancient life. Most people have heard of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the towns buried and preserved in volcanic ash. The Naples National Archaeological Museum contains the best of the art and artifacts recovered from these and other sites. Less well-known is Paestum, an ancient outpost of Magna Graecia that survived the centuries relatively intact, without the “benefit” of volcanic ash.

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Sorrento (see previous post) was our base for the week. We planned for a day each in Naples, Paestum, and either Pompeii or Herculaneum (to be decided after our visit to the museum in Naples).  Fate, in the form of broken toilets, conspired to change our plans for Naples and Pompeii, but more on that later. First, we’ll visit Paestum.

Paestum

Since we couldn’t include Greece on this European adventure, Paestum would be the closest we could come. We rented a car for the day and braved Italian roads to get there. It turned out to be one of the brightest highlights of the whole trip.

The National Archaeological Museum of Paestum gave us a good introduction to the life of the Greeks who built the settlement of Poseidonia around 600 BC.  When the Romans took over in the 3rd century BC, they changed the town’s name to Paestum.

Photographic representation of The Tomb of the Diver, shown as it would appear if the slabs were reassembled.

Photographic representation of The Tomb of the Diver, shown as it would appear if the slabs were reassembled.

The Tomb of the Diver, c. 480-470 BC, is arguably the most amazing antiquity in the museum. This panel from the lid of the tomb shows a man diving from life (the known) into death (the unknown). The three columns he leapt off of were on the Rock of Gibraltar, which, at the time, was the limit of the known world.

The Tomb of the Diver, c. 480-470 BC, is arguably the most amazing antiquity in the museum. This panel from the lid of the tomb shows a man diving from life (the known) into death (the unknown). The three columns he leapt off of were on the Rock of Gibraltar, which, at the time, was the limit of the known world.

Somehow numerous ceramic vases and jugs survived from the 5th century BC.

Somehow numerous ceramic vases and jugs survived from the 5th century BC.

Ancient votive offerings depict Hera on her throne. As wife of Zeus and Queen of Heaven, she had a very large cult following.

Ancient votive offerings depict Hera on her throne. As wife of Zeus and Queen of Heaven, she had a very large cult following.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Paestum archaeological site is best known for three remarkably intact Greek temples.  In order of age, they are the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Athena, and the Temple of Poseidon. All are Doric in style and were built within 100 years of each other, from 550-450 BC. Greece was moving from the Archaic to the Classical period during this time, and this evolution can be seen in the architecture of the temples.

Here you can see the Classical lines of the Temple of Poseidon, c. 460-450 BC, next to the more primitive lines of the Temple of Hera, c. 550 BC.

Here you can see the Classical lines of the Temple of Poseidon, c. 460-450 BC, next to the more primitive lines of the Temple of Hera, c. 550 BC.

The Temple of Hera has a colonnade right down its center that helped support the roof.

The Temple of Hera has a colonnade right down its center that helped support the roof.

Doric capitals on the Temple of Hera.

Doric capitals on the Temple of Hera show the ravages of time and weather. Still, not bad for surviving 2,565 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here I’m standing in front of the Temple of Athena, c. 500 B.C. Worshipers of the time also would have stood on this spot outside. Since temples were considered the homes of deities, the inner sanctums were open only to priests and their attendants.

Here I’m standing in front of the Temple of Athena, c. 500 B.C. Worshipers of the time also would have stood on this spot outside. Since temples were considered the homes of deities, the inner sanctums were open only to priests and their attendants.

The temples seem to rise out of the expansive ruins of Paestum. This Roman town was built right over the original Greek settlement of Poseidonia in the 3rd century BC.

The temples seem to rise out of the expansive ruins of Paestum. This Roman town was built right over the original Greek settlement of Poseidonia in the 3rd century BC.

Although most of Poseidonia was obliterated when the Romans conquered it, this roof top was part of a grave enclosure built by the Romans to preserve a Greek grave. Turns out the Romans were superstitious about disturbing graves. So they just built an enclosure around it, and kept on going.

Although most of Poseidonia was obliterated when the Romans conquered it, this roof top was part of a grave enclosure built by the Romans to preserve a Greek grave. Turns out the Romans were superstitious about disturbing graves. So they just built an enclosure around it, and kept on going.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Naples

Rick Steves had described Naples as a gritty place, teeming with life and character. It seemed fascinating, if a bit scary. But we wanted to visit the National Archaeological Museum there. We had loved the ancient Greek exhibits at Paestum, and were now looking forward to seeing the art and artifacts of early Roman civilization.

Added to this was the allure of the Secret Cabinet, a section of the museum only recently opened to the public, that contains the ancient erotica recovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum. For hundreds of years, the contents of the Secret Cabinet had been deemed too racy for all but the most serious scholars to see. Now it is available to members of the general public who know about it and who request to see it. That would be us!

Sarah aboard the Circumvesuviana, the inexpensive and convenient train that runs between Naples and Sorrento. We had taken it to get to Sorrento when we arrived in Naples from Rome. And we were on it again to visit Naples and the National Archaeological Museum.

Sarah aboard the Circumvesuviana, the inexpensive and convenient train that runs between Naples and Sorrento. We had taken it to get to Sorrento when we arrived in Naples from Rome. And we were on it again to visit Naples and the National Archaeological Museum.

A short subway ride brought us from the main train station in Naples to the museum stop. It was almost noon, so we trudged many blocks looking for a particular Rick Steves-recommended restaurant for lunch. We finally found it and enjoyed some justifiably famous Neopolitan pizza. Then it was off to the the museum.

We were next in line at the ticket counter when the attendant was interrupted by an official. The museum would have to close, unexpectedly and immediately, for the day. When we asked why, the official gave some non-answer. Pressed harder, he said the toilets had stopped working. We protested that we had come thousands of miles to visit this museum, and we didn’t need to go to the bathroom; but they still wouldn’t let us in. So no museum visit — and no Secret Cabinet — for us. At least for this trip.

We made our way back to the station and boarded the Circumvesuviana again. Pompeii Scavi (the excavation at Pompeii) is a stop on the Circumvesuviana on the way back to Sorrento, so the decision was made. We would visit Pompeii.

Oddly, I took no photographs while in Naples. We had been focused on the museum visit, and when that fell through, on trying to salvage the day. In the city, on the way to and from the museum, I didn’t see anything that caught my eye. Between the closing of the museum and rushing through the city, Naples was something of a bust for us. But the pizza was excellent!

Pompeii

The Circumvesuviana stops just outside the entrance to Pompeii. This is the first glimpse visitors get.

The Circumvesuviana stops just outside the entrance to Pompeii. This is the first glimpse visitors get.

We arrived as the afternoon shadows were creeping across the ground.

We arrived as the afternoon shadows were creeping across the ground.

It was immediately clear that Pompeii was once a fairly large and prosperous town.

It was immediately clear that Pompeii was once a fairly large and prosperous town.

Some of the sculptures in Pompeii are replicas of originals now housed in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

Some of the sculptures in Pompeii are replicas of originals now housed in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

But the buildings and columns are not replicas. Hard to believe these structures were once encased in volcanic ash.

But the buildings and columns are not replicas. Hard to believe these structures were once encased in volcanic ash.

Speaking of columns, this pillar reveals the fact that they were not carved from marble, as one might think, but were constructed of brick and then coated in plaster to make the vertical fluting.

Speaking of columns, this pillar reveals the fact that they were not carved from marble, as one might think, but were constructed of brick and then coated in plaster to make the vertical fluting.

In the background, Mount Vesuvius -- the source of all that ash -- still looms. One can imagine how frightening it must have been to see fire and smoke bursting from its top.

In the distance looms Mount Vesuvius, the source of the ash that buried the town. One can imagine how frightening it must have been to look up and see fire and smoke belching from its top.

Visitors can walk around inside many of the buildings. This is a public bathhouse.

Visitors can walk around inside many of the buildings. This is a public bathhouse.

Fine ornamentation adorns the structure.

Fine ornamentation adorns the structure.

One can imagine stacks of towels and bottles of oil placed conveniently in the alcoves.

One can imagine stacks of towels and bottles of oil placed conveniently in the alcoves.

We may have been denied a visit to the Secret Cabinet, but we made sure to visit Pompeii's famous brothel. Let's hope they put cushions on the stone beds.

We may have been denied a visit to the Secret Cabinet, but we made sure to visit Pompeii’s famous brothel. Let’s hope they put cushions on the stone beds!

Some of the rooms in the brothel were decorated with ancient erotic frescoes.

Some of the rooms in the brothel were decorated with ancient erotic frescoes.

Of course we saw the plaster casts of the citizens of Pompeii, whose forms were caught in their final moments of agony.

Of course we saw the plaster casts of the citizens of Pompeii, whose forms were caught in their final moments of agony.

Over the centuries their bodies had decayed to nothing. Archaeologists poured plaster into the voids they left, thus preserving their tortured poses.

Over the centuries their bodies had decayed to nothing. Archaeologists poured plaster into the voids they left, thus preserving their tortured poses.

One entrance to a lavish private home has "Cave Canem" (Beware of the Dog) integrated in the tile floor.

One entrance to a lavish private home has “Cave Canem” (Beware of the Dog) integrated in the tile floor.

We got to see most of Pompeii in the few afternoon hours we had, though we would have preferred more time to explore at our leisure.

We got to see most of Pompeii in the few afternoon hours we had, though we would have preferred more time to explore at our leisure.

Waiting at the Pompeii Scavi station for the Circumvesuviana to take us back to Sorrento, we made a new friend.

Waiting at the Pompeii Scavi station for the Circumvesuviana to take us back to Sorrento, we made a new friend.

He got off his chair and came to where we waited. Naturally, we shared our snack with him.

He got off his chair and came to where we waited. Naturally, we shared our snack with him.

We called him "Cave Canem," even though he didn't seem to be too threatening.

We called him “Cave Canem,” even though he didn’t seem to be too threatening.

It was dark by the time we caught the last train of the day back to Sorrento.

It was dark by the time we caught the last train of the day back to Sorrento.

When our week in Campania was over, we took the cheap and convenient morning shuttle bus from the Sorrento rail station directly to the Naples airport.

When our week in Campania was over, we took the cheap and convenient morning shuttle bus from the Sorrento rail station directly to the Naples airport.

So ended our amazing three months on the European continent. But the adventure was far from finished. We had tickets to London!

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