(Aug 8) - The Zaro Wood near Forio on the island of Ischia is known for both religious and secular reasons. First, it has been the site of remarkable religious pilgrimages to recall the apparitions of the Virgin Mary, which the faithful believe began in October of 1994 in these woods. Second, the wood is the site of an important cultural institution, the William Walton Foundation on the premises of La Mortella gardens, still thriving. Third (and the focus of this brief note), it is the site of another important cultural institution, the Colombaia Foundation, on the premises (image) of the villa of that name, not thriving at the moment, and that is a shame.
The villa was the home for many years of one of Italy's great film directors, Luchino Visconti (1906 - 1976); the Colombaia Foundation, itself, was formed in 2001 to serve as a showcase for Visconti's life and career in the world of cinema, opera and theater. There is a museum on the grounds, and the premises hold his cremated remains. "Not thriving" is an understatement, since the villa is not now officially open nor perhaps even in condition to be reopened since it has, by all accounts, fallen into dangerous disrepair. It was for a few years the target of its own pilgrimage, if you will, from around the globe of those who wished to visit the Visconti museum dedicated to the works of this remarkable artist. Now, however, it is no longer possible to do that and will not be possible until,as usual, they figure out how restoration and maintenance is to be paid for.
(Aug 8) - The July/August on-line edition of Smithsonian Magazine contains a fine article by Joshua Hammer entitled "The Rise and Fall of Pompei". The lead is
The famous archaeological treasure is falling into scandalous decline, even as its sister city Herculaneum is rising from the ashes [...] On a sweltering summer afternoon, Antonio Irlando leads me down the Via dell'Abbondanza, the main thoroughfare in first-century Pompeii. The architect and conservation activist gingerly makes his way over huge, uneven paving stones that once bore the weight of horse-drawn chariots. We pass stone houses richly decorated with interior mosaics and frescoes, and a two-millennial-old snack bar, or Thermopolium, where workmen long ago stopped for lunchtime pick-me-ups of cheese and honey. Abruptly, we reach an orange-mesh barricade. "Vietato L'Ingresso," the sign says -- entry forbidden. It marks the end of the road for visitors to this storied corner of ancient Rome.
Just down the street lies what Turin's newspaper La Stampa called Italy's "shame": the shattered remains of the Schola Armaturarum Juventus Pompeiani, a Roman gladiators' headquarters with magnificent paintings depicting a series of Winged Victories-goddesses carrying weapons and shields. Five years ago, following several days of heavy rains, the 2,000-year-old structure collapsed into rubble, generating international headlines and embarrassing the government of then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The catastrophe renewed concern about one of the world's greatest vestiges of antiquity. "I almost had a heart attack," the site's archaeological director, Grete Stefani, later confided to me.
The entire article is available here.
(Aug 9) - The Night of St. Lawrence & the Perseid meteor shower - Friends from Napoli Underground report that the Vesuvio Natura Association has planned a night-time excursion into the natural amphitheater in the Valley of the Inferno on Mt. Vesuvius on the night between the 9th and 10th of August -- that is, the night of St. Lawrence. Weather permitting, participants hope to see some of the fabled "Tears of St. Lawrence". It is the night of the shooting stars -- that is, the annual display put on by the Perseid meteor shower associated with the Swift-Tuttle comet. They are called the Perseids because they appear to come from a point in the constellation of Perseus. The shower is visible from mid-July each year, with the peak in activity between 9 and 14 August. During the peak, the rate of meteors reaches 60 or more per hour. The "tears of St. Lawrence" is a later Christian bit of syncretism; 10 August is the date of that saint's martyrdom. In ancient Rome they said that the meteor shower was an ejaculation of Priapus, the fertility God, at work fertilizing the fields.
(Aug 11) - "Nestor's Cup" for sale? No, that's just an unfortunate rumor, a bit of gossip that a Neapolitan paper ran as news. That happens more and more these days as traditional news sources hustle to keep up with social media and blog sites that operate on the principle of "today's gossip is tomorrow's news." Run it. It might be true. If not, who really cares? People like gossip, too! After all, said a journalist from Ischia, in scolding national media, it's August, and the truth needs a vacation, too! In any event, "Nestor's Cup" is nor for sale. It is true, however, that the town of Lacco Ameno needs money for the museum in the way that every town always needs money for something. That's a problem, but hardly a new one. They usually find a way.
If the term "Nestor's Cup" is not familiar to you, the complete story is here, but, briefly, it is either (1) a reference to Homer's Iliad and the golden cup belonging to Nestor, the wise, or in this case (2) a "parody" cup on display at the Archaeological Museum of Pithecusa in the 18th-century Villa Arbusto in Lacco Ameno on the island of Ischia. The cup is important --I'm tempted to say priceless-- because it bears an inscription in an early Euboean form of the Greek alphabet. This is the forerunner of our modern alphabet and was in existence in Greece by about 800 b.c., and there are enough samples from 700- 600 b.c. to show that writing was widespread enough in the Aegean by then to serve as a practical means of communication, for commerce and even early literature. The small cup in this museum is very possibly and plausibly --and outright claims to be-- the oldest example of Greek writing in existence! (If true, "priceless" sounds about right.) You can have Pompeii; I'll take the cup!)
(Aug 14) - These billionaires must really like the Bay of Naples! This tub just dropped anchor out in front this morning. I've mentioned her before (here and here) (she really is a "she"-named the "A" for Alexandra, the skipper's companion. Of course, his name is Andrey [Melnichenko], too, so you never know) as either the ugliest boat ever built or the "coolest Bond Villain boat" ever. If you are too rotten lazy to check the links (above), the vital stats on "A" are: length: 390 feet (119 meters!); launched in 2008; original cost, US$300 million; built by Blohm & Voss, Germany. Carries a crew of 42, has three swimming pools, a helipad and three 30-foot speedboats. The ship was designed by French product designer Phillipe Stark and is totally enclosed. Port of registry: Hamilton, Bermuda; launched in January 2008; displacement: 5,959 tonnes; Installed power: 9,000 kW (12,000 hp); propulsion: 2 × MAN RK280 diesel engines; speed: 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph); range: 6,500 NM (12,000 km; 7,500 mi). Call sign: ZCDW2; IMO / MMSI: 1009340 / 310557000. Armament unknown (at least to me) but is said not to welcome boarding parties. Furthermore, Andrey Melnichenko, the skipper, is building what will be the largest private sailing yacht ever built,* at a length of around 480 feet (146 meters). It is to be called "The White Pearl". It is currently under construction at the Nobiskrug shipyard in Kiel, Germany, and is expected to launch in July of 2016. According to yacht workers in Germany familiar with the project, "this thing is huge"; they also say that "this guy must have a lot of moolah." Alas, Andrey is only 97th in the world of the well-heeled. Hah! I smirk in his general direction. My friend, Larry Ray, says,
...the idea of three masts more for decoration than functionality seems to continue Andy's Russkie clodishness...looks like it will all also be mostly enclosed...I guess they look out the windows? A three-master with no open decks beneath them is a reminder of the nouveau rich Texans after the big oil boom of the early 20th century. All that money sent them out buying whole fleets of Cadillacs with outrageous custom paint jobs, huge Longhorn curved horns for hood ornaments and gaudy upholstery. Their rambling ranch houses were full of mismatched stuff, real expensive stuff, that the Mistress of the house would yammer on and on about...*update: He finally built it, named it something else, and it's about what you'd expect.
(Aug 15) - Gaiola update: I see that the last time I wrote about Gaiola (at this link) was in July 2003, only a few months after I started this website. At the time, I said:
This tiny isle, Gaiola, is but a few yards from shore, just east of Cape Posillipo. It is the site of an ancient navigators' shrine to Venus as well as near the site of the few Roman ruins of "the sorcerer's house" where the poet Virgil, also renowned as a magician, is said to have taught. In this picture, it is watched by a small statue of St. Francis. Gaiola has two small neighbor islets. The modern house on it is abandoned and, at last notice, the isle and house were up for sale --with no takers! Over the centuries, Gaiola has developed a reputation of being haunted and there are many rumors about the misfortunes, including violent death, that befall those who inhabit it. These rumors, obviously, were not started by real estate agents.
That was at about the time that the cultural and environmental resources in the city started to focus on turning a section of the Posillipo coast into a Marine Protected Area. That area was largely at the western end of the Posillipo coastline and included Marechiaro, the Gaiola isle, and on out to the end almost to the isle of Nisida. There are archaeological remains, both submerged and on dry land, of a number of items of interest from ancient Rome, including the Seiano Grotta and the Villa of Vedius Pollio; as well, the biological underwater environment of the area is of great interest, as is the geology, since the Posillipo coast marks the end of the Flegrean Fields. All of this was proposed in 2002 and has had a precarious development, but it looks like they made it. Papers report today on the completed restoration of structures on Gaiola that will serve as the visitors center of the Marine Protected Area of the Gaioloa Underwaterpark. It was inaugurated today.
Cape Miseno, part of the Campi Flegrei, at the
extreme western end of the Gulf of Naples
(Aug 24) - Regional Parks in Campania - This is a link to the English-language pages of a website containing information on the eight regional parks in the Campania region of Italy, of which Naples is the capital: that is, the Campi Flegrei, Matese, Partenio, the hydrographic basin of the Sarno River, Monti Lattari, Monti Picentini, Roccamonfina & Mouth of the Garigliano river, and Taburno-Camposauro. The pages are well-done; they contain further links to regional and national parks, marine protected areas and other protected zones in all of the other Italian regions as well as extensive photography and zoom-in maps of the areas. Very helpful.
(Aug 25) -
The protected area of the Campo Soriano Natural Monument park (shaded in red in the image) is part of the Regional National Park of the Ausoni Mountains in the Italian region of Lazio, 7 km/5 mi inland, due north of the coastal town of Terracina about 100 km/60 mi up the coast from Naples. The monument consists of 2400 acres of one of the most interesting karst areas in Italy; karst --that is, the limestone landforms associated with the presence of sinkholes, caverns, and those glorious stone freaks called speliothems: stalactites and stalagmites. (Also see "Karst & Caving".) Precisely, the area is a large karst basin of the type termed "polje"; that is, a "solution depression" (a basin caused by chemical weathering in which solid materials are dissolved by water); the surface is coated in alluvium, the sand and clay produced by sedimentation that occurs in rivers and lakes. Thus, we can say that the basin at one time was under water, and the uneven surface reflects the collapse of former cave systems. Such basins are surrounded by steep marginal walls up to 100 meters in height and often contain striking surface features such as the stone symbol of Campo Soriano, called, among other things, the "Cathedral" (pictured), 18 meters/54 feet in height. The microclimate around the sinkholes favors the growth of laurel, flowering ash, the ilex tree, lote trees, butcher's broom, and a rare vine for the production of the well-known wine, Moscato di Terracina. Local animal life includes the hawk and buzzard and mammals such as the badger, fox, porcupine, and the rare Italian Wolf.
(Aug 26) - And one more "boat of the bay" of Naples this summer (there is still a month left, so you never know) to add to here and here. I like 3-masted vessels, especially those built a while back because there is open deck space directly beneath the sails like the "tall ships" of once upon a time. Today, modern materials provide for free-standing masts that can be mounted above closed cabins. They look like airplanes with sails. This is the FLEURTJE. She is a remodeled "gulet", a traditional two- or 3-masted vessel of the eastern Mediterranean, typified by a large back deck, low board and roomy cabin space on the deck, yielding a flat, even sleek contour. Fleurtje sails under the flag of Malta. Callsign: 9HB3652; MMSI: 229693000. Length -183.73ft /56m, Beam - 28.08ft /8.56m. Cruising Speed, 11 Knots. Built in 1960 by De Vries Lentsch (Amsterdam) and last refitted in 2014. Previously named Caritas. Now sails as a luxury charter vessel. Sleeps up to 12 guests in 6 staterooms. Carries up to 10 crew.
(Aug 26) - Ferdinandea and the Regional Nature Park of Serre in Calabria
Marmarico Falls, 114 meters high,
near the town of Bivongi in the Serre
The Calabrian Serre is a mountainous, wooded area of Calabria, that region of southern Italy that makes up the "toe of the boot." The area is spread over the Calabrian provinces of Catanzaro, Reggio Calabria and Vibo Valentia just below the narrowest part of the "toe" (marked in green on map). In spite of development, it is still beautiful, rugged and lonely, one of those increasingly rare places where you can still find "the middle of nowhere" without really trying. Matilde Serao wrote of it (Corriere di Roma, 19 Sept. 1886):
Ferdinandea, named for Ferdinand II of Bourbon (1810-1859), the next-to-last ruler of the Kingdom of Naples, used 3600 hectares (almost 9000 acres) of the Serre as a hunting reserve. That same area also contained, however, the Royal Ironworks and Foundry, an important early steel mill for the kingdom as well as a barracks, saw-mill, stables, administrative offices, and housing for workers. Today it all serves as an historical reminder of the kingdom that is no more, and is, as well, an important addition to the ever-increasing displays in Italy of "industrial archaeology"-- that is, old mills, mines, factories and other relics of the industrial revolution. There is a Ferdinandea museum on the premises today. Ferdinandea is a solid part of the entire Regional Nature Park of Serre, established in 1990. The entire park is 17,687 hectares (almost 44,000 acres) in area. After the unification of Italy in 1861, the area was gradually converted to farmland, and the extension of rail lines into the area made the Serre an important economic center in Calabria. These days, with the building of new roads, the Serre is a growing target for tourism. Part of the "tourist charm" of the area is following the old Trail of the Brigands, for in the mid-1800s this area was pretty much as isolated as you could get in Italy, perhaps along with parts of Sicily and Sardinia. It was crawling with very uncharming bandits. If you were a member of the national army and got posted to these hills...forget Fort Apache.
The fresh deep green forest, where the mild light is delicate and the sky endlessly distant; the cool air is delicious; rivers sing deep in the gorges and brooks murmur beneath the ferns...you go up and up midst silence and thick brush, for a long way...human voices cease...There is nothing but the forest, immense and boundless: there is nothing else. We are hundreds of miles from people: perhaps the world has died behind us. Then, amid the quiet of the woods, there is a patch of white through the high beech trees. Fernandea.
photo-Marmarico Falls: Marcuscalabresus-Wikipedia
(Aug 27) - In memory of Khaled al-Asaad (1934-2015), the town of Torre Annunziata, near Naples, will host an archaeological exhibit of items from the nearby site of Oplontis in October and November. The exhibit will be dedicated to the memory of Khaled al-Asaad, the Syrian archaeologist and head of antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra (pictured,photo: James Gordon) north-east of Damascus. He was brutally murdered by the forces of ISIS earlier this month. His fate and the senseless destruction of a "pagan temple" in the ancient city that he spent his professional life trying to protect are yet more chapters in how the current conflict has ravaged documentation of some of the great cultures of antiquity. Palmyra is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, which describes the site as being......the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences...Recognition of the splendour of the ruins of Palmyra by travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries contributed greatly to the subsequent revival of classical architectural styles and urban design in the West...Palmyra, for a short period (270-273), was the center of its own empire, a splinter state that broke away from the Roman Empire. It encompassed various provinces, Egypt and large parts of Asia Minor and was ruled by Queen Zenobia, a name that has inspired references in later literature, music and art...she was "The scourge of kings and emperors..." (Chaucer, "The Monk's Tales", The Canterbury Tales.)
(Aug 31) - Another landslide -
The image (left -- north is at the top) shows the town of Monte di Procida at the western end of the gulf of Naples. It's a good-sized community (all the buildings in the left half of the image). The promontory at lower right is Cape Miseno, which had its own landslide earlier this year. (Cuma is just out of the picture at top left along the coast.) The Gulf of Naples starts at the right, past the cape; that is the bay of Pozzuoli within the gulf of Naples. The broad stretch of coast angling roughly SE to NW at the bottom is about 5 km long and is directly across the water from the island of Procida. The coast line of Monte di Procida has very little beach. Most of the stretch is back-dropped by high cliffs that can collapse and endanger the homes on top (the name does tell you that it's a mountain!). As well, there is a small boat harbor (lower left in image) and the tiny island of San Martino just above that (see next item). A relatively small slide (image, right), injuring no one but setting off emotional alarms throughout the community, occurred this morning at that small island, adjacent to a narrow wooden bridge (visible in image) that connects the mainland to the islet. I have driven through the tunnel from the mainland (alternating one-way traffic through 250 meters of solid rock, dug by the Germans in WWII). The wooden bridge (about 150 meters long) that starts at the exit of the tunnel is a little less reliable. There is some tourist traffic through the tunnel and across the bridge because there have been on-and-off-again tourist facilities, but most people like to get there by boat, and I don't blame them. That bridge will now be closed, at least until they can figure out how precarious the cliff-face above it is. I'll save them the trouble. Very.
(Sep 1) - The tiny island, San Martino, mentioned above, is 16,000 meters2 (about 4 acres) in area. Sources from the late 1400s speak of it as a promontory; thus it was joined to the mainland and probably broke off due to some geological event, perhaps an earthquake or landslide. The terrain was pozzolana rock, a building material, so the site must have been mined as a quarry before it became an island, which fact may have also contributed to it splitting off from the mainland. The elevation now is only 16 meters a.s.l. at the highest point. In the 1500s and 1600s, it was a base for local tuna fishermen. In 1917, it was developed as an industrial plant to produce torpedoes. That lasted until the late 1930s when that facility was transferred to within the gulf of Naples, itself, near Baia. Currently, a local businessman has committed himself to building back the tourist potential, which has included, in the past, dining facilities and even a limited number of berths for small pleasure craft. That was before this latest incident, described above.
(Sep 4) - The world's most beautiful unused underground train station! When the Montecalvario entrance (pictured in CGI) to the new Metropolitana station of via Toledo was opened two years ago (read all about it here), it was billed by architects, artists and city planners as the completion of the most "impressive underground train station in Europe." (The main entrance had opened the year before.) Indeed, the new entrance had some of the longest escalators in the world, murals, ornamental tiles, photo exhibits, and even a 70-meter frieze bordering the conveyor belt with a display of 2,000 Neapolitans in a "family portrait". In every respect, Barcelona architect, Oscar Tusquets Blanca's subway entrance is an art gallery worthy of your attention on your way to the train. Urban planners hailed it, as they say in Italian, as a "requalificaton" of the area, by which they mean that if you put beauty into a seedy area, beauty will seep into and heal the area like sprinkles of pixie penicillin on an open wound. (They've tried that before. It doesn't work —see this link.) The area where the Montecalvario entrance is located is called the Spanish Quarters. Indeed, it was run-down. We can withhold judgment for a fair amount of time to see if the lights of beauty may yet sparkle to life in the Spanish Quarters and turn the Montecalvario entrance into the "outdoor living room" that the designers had hoped for, but one thing is certain: the entrance may be beautiful but almost no one uses it. Even when it opened, some predicted as much; after all, it's really just an entrance to get over to the tracks and trains on via Toledo, which is (gasp!) all of 170 meters away (less than 200 yards). That is, if you stay on the surface, you can walk from where they put that beautiful entrance to the real station in two minutes. If you go down into the splendid station, down the escalator, along the splendid art gallery of a passageway and back up at the other end it takes almost 11 minutes. The other day, a local journalist reported that he watched the station entrance much of the day and counted only 10 persons going in or out! All day.
(Sep 6) - I keep saying “last boat this summer”, but I can't resist quondam ice-breakers converted into luxury yachts—or maybe it just looks that way. This is the Arctic P, IMO number 1006207, MMSI 308753000, call sign C6MA9, sailing under the flag of Bahamas, built in 1969 by Schichau Unterwesser in Bremerhaven, Germany. Size: 88 x 14 m./c.287 x 42 feet. Recently refit. Carries 12 passengers and a crew of 25. Has a steel hull with a steel superstructure and bow thrusters to assist maneuverability at low speeds. Fitted with two Deutz-MWM diesel engines, ARCTIC P has a maximum speed of 22 knots. She has a single screw propeller and a range of 18000 nautical miles at her cruising speed of 20 knots. Material used for deck is steel-teak, a clever compound of steel and teak (I suppose). Arctic P is supposedly #50 on the list of largest private yachts in the world. Owned by Australian godzillionaire James Packer, who got the boat from daddy. James worked as a jackaroo, which really did nothing to set him up for boats. His girl-friend is Maria Carey, and she is not pregnant. If you secretly like the other boat in this picture better than you like the Arctic P, so do I.
(Sep 9) - While I wasn't paying attention, the city finally finished restoring the Formiello fountain (pictured), one of the many historic monument fountains of Naples. That news was announced in April of this year, but restoration measures go back at least to 2004 when the fountain was put in order such that the water spouts worked; as well, the area in front of the fountain was repaved at that time. The fountain faces Piazza Enrico De Nicola in back of the old Castel Capuano (in background of photo), the old Vicaria (Hall of Justice), the front of which is at the east end of via dei Tribunali. The entire square of Enrico De Nicola is part of the “monument complex” of the church of Santa Caterina a Formiello, across the square from the fountain. There was an original fountain on the site built as a water trough for horses in 1490; it was upgraded to a Fontana Reale [royal fountain] con Abeveratoio [trough] in 1537. Like all such fountains of that era, this one served a purpose: reliable aqueducts brought water to the fountains (in this case, the water was channeled to the fountain from the Bolla aqueduct, the most ancient one in Naples). Modern high-pressure aqueducts have made all of that unnecessary, of course; everyone has running water at home. Even today's spoiled horses probably drink bottled water, so restorations such as this are only aesthetic, purely ornamental and, in my view, a wonderful idea. The term "Formiello" is either a diminutive of the word formale, which is what they called the main channel of an underground aqueduct in those days or it derives from forme [forms], the name for small water containers that were kept in the monastery of the church. The large fountain was placed in storage during the late 19th century (when new aqueducts came in), was then reconstructed at this site in 1930 and, after that, simply degraded. It looks fine now. A plaque in Latin reminds us that "While Philip II [of Spain] governed, travellers stopped here to honor the waters of the Sebeto [River]...". Thus, while the river has now disappeared, at least the fountain is back!
(Sep 17) - Hiking to Punta Campanella by way of San Costanzo. This is certainly one of the most beautiful hikes you can take in the Gulf of Naples. As a matter of fact, you'll be in two gulfs; the path will take you into the lovely hills of Massa Lubrense and up to the vantage point shown in this photo (courtesy of Napoli Underground - NUg), with Capri straight across from you, the Gulf of Naples on the right and the Gulf of Salerno on the left. From the top you will then descend to the Minerva Tower, the old structure at the very tip of the Sorrentine peninsula.