Dr. Dawg

The Phlegraean Fields, a Sybil's hangout, and Pompeii

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Thought I’d forgotten about Italy? The world was too much with me when I re-entered Canada, and I was distracted by the rush of events. To those who follow these occasional travelogues, however, the next two posts are for you.

Vesuvius may be dormant—no eruption since 1944—but dormant doesn’t mean dead. Naples extends around and up its slopes without a care in the world, but it appears that the longer the time after eruptions, the worse it will eventually be, especially for those inhabitants—more than half a million—living in the “red zone.” I cannot believe that any evacuation measures, however well-planned, could save the whole population.

The Phlegraean Fields, on the other side of Naples, remind us that volcanic activity is ever-present in the area. This area is a vast caldera, sitting atop a huge reservoir of magma. We visited the crater of Solfatara, where fumaroles are a constant reminder:


And, this being Italy, visitors are informed that the hydrogen sulphide in the steam is supposedly a natural Viagra:


As a veteran of the NZ Hot Lakes District and Wai-O-Tapu in particular, I can’t say this is the most spectacular display in the world, but it serves to let us know that terra firma is a bit of an illusion hereabouts.

Indeed, I learned the word “bradyseism” on this trip, and saw its effects in nearby Pozzuoli. Check out those pillars in the first photo, above (the building was not, as some believe, a temple, but a marketplace). Once on dry land, then, as the land sank, virtually submerged in the sea, as indicated by mollusc activity near the top, then re-emerging as the land rose again. Between 1982 and 1984, the sea floor was raised by two metres or so, displacing tens of thousands of people.

Then we drove off to view the nearby Greek/Roman ruins of Cuma. To me, the most notable feature was the legendary Sybil of Cuma’s constructed cave.Here history, archaeology and mythology become one:


The Sybil’s cave:


The following day we visited the city of Pompeii, obliterated by a pyroclastic flow during an eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

I’m not sure what I had been expecting—while I had some general knowledge, I like to come upon a place with fresh eyes, so I’d avoided detailed descriptions. I should also add that Pompeii is indeed a city, so that my two or three hours of exploration did not, by any means, encompass the whole.

It is a well-maintained place, so far as I could see. But incredibly sterile. People and animals caught in the flow were not left in situ: obviously the weather would wreak serious havoc on these remains but putting models in their place would have helped to create the atmosphere that is lacking at present. The furniture is gone, and most of the ornate and detailed mosaics. The city is empty spaces, with occasional artefacts like fountains, statuary, ovens and gravestones.

By the open-air forum, the blogosphere of its day,


…there is a warehouse—the only possible description—wherein one can see amphoras, furniture, and occasional corpses stacked side-by-side:


A dog, in its death agony:



A corpse, with its accompanying material culture, on a shelf:


The House of the Little Fountain:


Mute ruins:


A grave vault:


And the triumph of the present:


Leaving the city, what I remember are scoured buildings, some eroding frescoes, and recreated “memories” aided by maps and guides. I thought I was going to see a snapshot, a moment in time, because the city literally died in a few seconds; instead, I wandered through a ghost town, stripped to the bare walls.

Afterwards we had lunch at a nearby ristorante where I was spoken to sharply by the proprietor for (briefly) putting my hat on the table. He was a character, actually, and I rather enjoyed his company as I scarfed down an inferior margherita. Then we made a quick stop to the slopes of Vesuvius, driving to about the 1000-metre mark. The remaining 200 metres was accessible by a leisurely spiral walk up the cone, which I was neither in the mood or the shape for.

On to Sorrento and the Amalfi coast.

[Photo of Pozzuoli: Ms. Mew]

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on June 9, 2014 10:11 AM.

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