Tag Archives: Naples

Naples Round Up

What photo takes you right back to Naples?

Vesuvius from across the Gulf of Naples

Although we didn’t get to climb Vesuvius it loomed over many of our activities in Naples, often surprising us as we rounded a corner, or appearing in an artwork, not to mention seeing its effect on Pompeii.

Summarise Naples in three words.

  • PizzaIt had to be didn’t it!
  • Scooters – There are almost as many zipping through the cobbled backstreets of Naples as there were in Vietnam
  • Rain – Sadly we weren’t blessed with great weather during our stay – it rained on all but four or five of our sixteen days in the city

You really know you’re in Naples when…

…there’s laundry hanging to dry from every balcony along the street. When it’s raining the local ladies hang a tarpaulin over the washing line.

What one item should you definitely pack when going to Naples?

Headphones. We found them really useful for listening to audioguides in museums and historic sites leaving our hands free to take photos or stay warm and dry in our pockets.

Reggia di Caserta, Naples, Italy

The Reggia di Caserta or Royal Palace of Caserta is the largest royal residence in the world. Started in 1752 by Charles VII of Naples, he abdicated just 7 years later to become becoming King Charles III of Spain before it was finished.

Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

The Royal Palace of Caserta. Largely inspired by the Palace of Versailles in Paris in terms of looks and choice of location away from the hustle and bustle

We thought we’d make the most of the nice morning and walked straight through the palace to start with the huge gardens..

View of the gardens, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

The view of the extensive gardens from the ground floor of the palace. Lovely!

Fountain of the dolphins on the cascade, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy!

The first of the waterfalls on the cascade that flows towards the palace is the Fountain of Dolphins. Its scale and lavishness reminded us of Peterhof palace in St. Petersburg, Russia

Fountain of Aeolus on the cascade, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

The largest of the fountains on the cascade – the Fountain of Aeolus, who was the ruler of the winds according to Greek mythology

Cascade, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

The sections of water are separated by long rectangular lawns that end at fountains or pools. It’s a really nice effect and beginning of the waterfall on the side of the hill also reminded us of Alnwick Gardens near home

At the final fountain we found the entrance to Il Giardino Inglese – the English Garden!

Ruins in the English Garden, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

Our favourite part of the English Garden was this deliberate ruin on an island in the middle of the lake

After a spot of lunch and a look around the garden’s greenhouse, we headed back down the formal cascade to check out the state and royal rooms of the palace.

Cappella Palatina, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

At the top of the grand entrance staircase is the Palatina Chapel. The chapel was badly damaged and the artwork was lost due to bombing in World War II, and has been reconstructed

Sala Alabardieri, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

The first of the grand rooms on the tour route is the Sale Alabardier, or room of the halberdier (men armed with a halberd). Sumptuous!

Throne Room, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

After the Sala Alabardieri, we walked through another 6 large state rooms, each as exquisitely decorated, before reaching the largest and most stately – the Throne Room. The Royal Palace of Caserta exceeds the Palace of Versailles in number of rooms decorated with frescoes

The tour route then goes through some of the more private royal apartment rooms such as bedrooms, bathrooms, studies and the library, before ending with a couple of armoury rooms and the royal nativity which is even bigger than the ones we saw on Via San Gregorio Armeno, the “Nativity Street”.

The Royal Nativity Scene, Royal Palace of Caserta, Naples, Italy

The massive nativity scene reminded us of Via San Gregorio Armeno in the centre of Naples, otherwise known as “Nativity Street”

The Palace of Caserta deservedly holds UNESCO World Heritage status. We loved wandering through the gardens reminiscing about home and the other places we’ve visited on our trip that it reminded us of. It’s also worth a final mention that you’ve probably seen it already, especially if you’re a fan of Star Wars, and it also doubles for The Vatican in the movie Angels and Demons!

Underground Naples

Bourbon Tunnel

The rock which Naples is built on must be something like a lace doily as there are at least two different companies running tours to ‘underground Naples’. We opted for the ‘standard’ tour of the Bourbon Tunnel.

Andrew with our Bourbon Tunnel guideAndrew and our guide, Mariarosaria

First we descended 30m below ground into 17th century water cisterns carved directly into the tuff stone. Mariarosaria showed us the footholds in the rock which the pozzari (mainenance man) for the cisterns would have used to climb in and out through the well shaft – a truly scary thought, even worse he would have been in pitch darkness and obliged to find his way by touch as obviously there was no electricity in those days.

Inside a cisternInside one of the cisterns [photographer: Vittorio Sciosa, source: Galleria Borbonica]

During WWII the cisterns were partially filled with soil and converted into an air raid shelter. We saw leftover pots and pans, a gas mask and toys as well as graffiti scratched into the walls which the volunteers found while working to clear the area from debris in the early 2000s. The shelters are so deep that those sheltering wouldn’t have been able to hear the bombs exploding and someone had to go up to the surface to check when the all clear could be sounded.

View down the Bourbon TunnelLooking down the Bourbon Tunnel

At one side the bomb shelter connects with the 530m long Bourbon tunnel, running in a straight line between the Royal Palace and military barracks in Via della Pace. It was built by King Ferdinand II in 1853 after the revolution. It was supposedly a gift to the city as the plan was that it would be lined with shops, but in reality it was intended as an escape route for him and his family in the event of another rebellion. His architect never achieved the full plan of 12m high and 12m wide as he kept hitting water cisterns which needed to be bridged and then he came across pyroclastic material (gravelly sand) which was difficult to tunnel through; work was abandoned when the king died in 1859.

Rusty VespasA row of rusty old Vespas in the Bourbon Tunnel [source: Galleria Borbonica]

From the 1950s-70s the police used the tunnel as storage for impounded vehicles and the remains of rusty old cars and motorbikes line the final stretch of the tunnel leading to Via Morelli. These were fascinating to see and hear stories about, many were impounded for illegal modifications, or because they were used for smuggling.

Battered car in the Bourbon TunnelA battered old car in the Bourbon Tunnel. The sign reads “Cars must be left open and with keys”

Cimitero delle Fontanelle

The Fontanelle Cemetery is situated inside a large cave in the side of the Capodimonte Hill to the north of the city centre. It has been in use as a burial site since the 1500s but received its first major influx in 1654 when plague struck Naples and there was nowhere to bury bodies.

Fontanelle Cemetery

The poor continued to be buried here through various epidemics and famines until the cholera epidemic of 1836. In 1872 a priest, Don Gaetano Barbati, catalogued and sorted the bones into the neat arrangements along the cave sides which are still found there today. We were surprised by how high and wide the cave is. Perhaps because of this the lighting seems to cause as much shadow as illumination and there were lots of spooky corners.

Fontanelle Cemetery crossNeat piles of skulls and thigh bones line the walls of the Fontanelle Cemetery

Fontanelle Cemetery skulls

A cult of leaving offerings for the skulls and praying for the souls in return for favours sprang up in the mid 19th century. It continued until 1969 when Cardinal Ursi decided it had gone too far and closed the cemetery. It was reopened as a historical monument in 2006 but obviously old habits die hard as we saw various offerings around the cemetery.

Fontanelle Cemetery offeringsMost of the offerings are small coins but we also saw rosary beads, pens and even cigarettes and a metro ticket!

Metro stations

We’ve seen beautifully decorated Metro stations before in Russia and Tashkent (unfortunately no photos allowed there). In Naples the subway system is still under construction and the city has engaged well known architects to design some of the stations and contemporary artists to decorate them. The aim is to create a regenerating effect in the impoverished city. I think public art is a good thing in general and I like it being integrated into the residents’ daily commute – much as we drove past the Angel of the North every day on our way to and from work at home.

Dante station, NaplesTraveller dashing through Dante station to catch her train

Although there are a few art stations on line 6 in the east of the city we confined ourselves to line 1 which has ten art stations. Armed with an all-day ticket and PDFs with information about the artworks to be found in each station we set off to explore.

Metro station artworks, NaplesClockwise from top left: Neon representation of the Fibonacci sequence by Mario Merz in Vanvitelli station; photograph by Raphaela Marniello in the connecting passageway between lines 1 and 2; “Fighters” by Marisa Albanese sits above the escalators in Quattro Giornate station

Some stations seem to just display a variety of artworks, while others are more of an artwork in themselves having a unified feel and decorated floors and walls as well as sculptures or pictures. As you might expect in a city as old as Naples, some archaeological remains were found during the construction and it was good to see those incorporated into the stations’ design.

Toledo metro station, NaplesOscar Tusquets Blanca installed a skylight over the elevators in Toledo station. Connecting the platform level with the street 40m above it is filled with an LED light installation. We rode around several times trying to get a centred photo!

Universita metro station, NaplesKarim Rashid designed Andrew’s favourite, Università station, creating an almost psychadelic effect

Cast of the Farnese HerculesThe Museo station which serves the National Archaeological Museum has casts of several pieces including this one of the Farnese Hercules

Salvator Rosa metro station, NaplesBy far my favourite piece was in the station closest to our apartment, Salvator Rosa. Called ‘The Subway is Safer’ the row of rusty Fiat Cinquecentos suggests that the metro is better than the car, safer and more environmentally friendly. Anyway, it always made me smile

We really enjoyed the diversity of the ‘underground’ activities in Naples, all the more so because they allowed us to get out of the rain which fell on most of our days there!

Art in Naples, Italy

Still keen for a change from the multitude of ancient Greek and Roman theatres and religious sights of amazing cathedral and church after amazing cathedral and church, we were delighted to find Naples has a wealth of art museums. As if we needed another reminder that our two year trip is nearing two years and we’ll soon be home in England, the weather turned decidedly British so we headed for cover!

Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

The Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte on a very grey, wet day. Fortunately the rain held off until we were safely inside

Located in the grand Palace of Capodimonte, the National Museum of the same name hosts special exhibitions as well as an extensive permanent collection displayed in exquisitely decorated rooms, which reminded us of the style, if not the scope, of the Hermitage in St Petersberg.

Royal Apartments, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

The Royal Apartments includes 18th century furniture, such as this table with numbered squares of different marble on the top, like a samples book for kitchen tops!

Started in 1738 by King Charles VII, then King of Naples and Sicily, initial plans for a hunting lodge were extended in favour of a larger Royal Palace to house his growing entourage and also somewhere to put the recently inherited Farnese Art Collection after the death of his mother, Elisabetta Farnese. We saw some of the large marble statues of the same Farnese Art Collection when we visited the the Archeological Museum.

Triptych with scenes from the Passion, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

The National Collection takes up most of the palace, and comprises art that ranges from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Among the rooms dedicated to religious art this one stood out as it’s from England! “Triptych with scenes from the Passion”, 2nd half of the 15th century

The Flagellation of Christ by Caravaggio, 1607, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

We continued our trail of Caravaggio from Malta with a highlight of the museum’s permanent collection – “The Flagellation of Christ” by Caravaggio, painted in Naples in 1607

Royal rooms, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

One of the many grand royal rooms gave us a break from painting and statue fatigue, this one is the ballroom and we thought it appropriate to waltz through it. Without music

Julie admiring works of the permanent collection, Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

Julie admiring works of the permanent collection. We also enjoyed the huge collection of banquet porcelain and the 3 rooms of armour and weaponry

Rainy day at the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy

A good day to be inside.. we saw flashes of lightning and heard huge crashes of thunder during our visit. We waited in the cafe for a lighter spell before heading home!

Pio Monte della Misericordia

View of the church from the private gallery, Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples, Italy

View of the Pio Monte della Misericordia church from the little choir on the first floor, with Caravaggio’s “The Seven Works of Mercy” in pride of place above the altar

The Pio Monte della Misericordia, loosely translated as the “Pious Mount of Mercy”, is a charitable brotherhood founded in August 1601 by seven young nobles, who met every Friday at the Hospital for Incurables and ministered to the sick. Through their own donations of time, money and encouragement, they built a reputation and with a little help established an institution and commissioned a small church.

"The Seven Works of Mercy" by Caravaggio, Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples, Italy

Close up of “The Seven Works of Mercy” by Caravaggio. He was originally commissioned to produce seven separate paintings, but presented a single painting depicting all 7 works instead. They are: Bury the dead; Visit the imprisoned, and feed the hungry; Shelter the homeless; Clothe the naked; Visit the sick; and Refresh the thirsty

Today the small circular church and attached museum is famous for the altarpiece that was commissioned for it entitled “The Seven Works of Mercy” by Caravaggio. We’d picked up Caravaggio’s trail in Malta where he’d fled after an altercation in Italy, and so we felt like we were retracing his steps as he returned to Italy through Sicily.

Brotherhood meeting table, Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples, Italy

This is the table the brotherhood met at every week to discuss the activities of the association. Today it’s housed in the museum rooms surrounding the church

An interesting part of the museum’s collection is a room filled with an artists example’s of compositional elements such as depictions of saints in various postures. It hadn’t really occurred to us that when commissioning artworks the painter might have such a ‘catalogue’ to call upon to help the commissioner decide. The museum’s information also explained that the artist would often produce rough sketches of the overall composition before starting work on the final painting.

Compositional artworks, Pio Monte della Misericordia, Naples, Italy

The contents of Francesco de Mura’s studio were donated to the brotherhood, and included these compositional artworks used to help clients decide on elements of their commissioned paintings. The four smaller paintings of the same subject have clearly visible numbers painted in the bottom corners

Cappella Sansevero

Inside the Chapel of Sansevero, Naples, Italy

Behind a large but otherwise unimposing doorway in a Neapolitan back street is the delightful Chapel of Sansevero. Photo source: Museo Sansevero

Originally built in 1590 as a family chapel and later converted to a burial chapel, the Cappella Sansevero or Chapel of Sansevero was given its final elaborate decor by the 7th Prince of San Severo, Raimondo di Sangro who asked his ancestors not to alter it in his will.

Known as an inventor, soldier, writer, scientist, alchemist and freemason, Raimondo was a prolific experimenter and re-designed the family chapel adorning it with astounding works of art such as the sculptures of his mother and father that take pride of place either side of the alter.

Sansevero Statues, Cappella Sansevero, Naples, Italy

Raimondo di Sangro commissioned many works to embellish the family chapel, such as these figures which continue the theme of virtues but also represent his parents. Photo source: Museo Sansevero

However, the most famous piece he commissioned is by Giuseppe Sanmartino called The Veiled Christ. A masterpiece of marble sculpture that depicts the body of Christ under a fine veil..

The Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino, Cappella Sansevero, Naples, Italy

The Veiled Christ by Giuseppe Sanmartino is a masterwork of sculpture. It’s not without controversy though, as Raimondo di Sangro had a reputation for trickery and not revealing the workings of his experiments. It is believed that the material or process used for The Veiled Christ is of his invention and it has an uncharacteristically high gloss sheen to it. He destroyed a lot of his records before he died so we will never know for sure. Regardless, it is beautiful to behold. Photo source: Museo Sansevero

Besides the amazing works of sculpture, another marble marvel caught our imagination. The original floor of the chapel consisted of a repeating geometric pattern with a dividing white marble line that was apparently unbroken. Said to represent the path to enlightenment, it was sadly broken beyond repair by an earthquake and only fragments of the floor remain.

The original floor of the Cappella Sansevero, Naples, Italy

The original flooring of the main chapel was this grand 3-dimensional grey marble. Photo source: Museo Sansevero

Via San Gregorio Armeno – “Nativity Street”

Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples, Italy

The narrow, busy Via San Gregorio Armeno, otherwise known as Nativity Street because almost every shopfront is a model factory

Not a museum as such, the street near Cappella Sansevero has long been home to workshops that make models primarily for elaborate nativity scenes. The street has a long history of modelling, as it was home to a statue of Ceres in the Classic era which was worshipped by leaving small clay figures that were produced in the vicinity.

Large Nativity Model, Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples, Italy

One of the biggest nativity scenes we saw was this one at the back of a shop that showed off all of the models they make – each figure is about 1 ½ inches tall

Today, most of the models are still made of clay and it was a nice change from the traditional arts of sculptures and paintings to see a sort of living art on display.

Nativity Street model collage, Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples, Italy

We liked the variation of the model subjects as they weren’t just limited to the Christian nativity. Clockwise from top-left: Joseph; Camel-mounted wise man; box of un-painted figures and body parts; One model maker had a stand of celebrities, here are our very own Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (let’s just ignore the hair colour of baby George that points towards the father being Prince Harry rather than Prince William..)

Museo d’Arte contemporanea DonnaREgina (MADRE)

Museo MADRE, Naples, Italy

The not-so-easy-to-find MADRE Museum of Contemporary Art is worth the hunt

We’ve visited quite a few modern art museums on our travels thus far, and we thought the Museo MADRE would be a nice change from the wonderful old architecture and baroque masterpieces. That is if we could find it! Our tourist map showed it on the main Via Foria and we saw the banners but couldn’t find the entrance anywhere nearby, so we stopped to ask someone who read the address on said banners and gestured that it was the parallel street south of Via Foria!

Line of Chance by Richard Long, Museo MADRE, Naples, Italy

The first piece we liked was ‘Line of Chance’ by Richard Long, a thick border line painted near the ceiling then covered in mud which is left splattered down the walls. We liked that the space had been used by schoolchildren and there were a couple of small hand prints on the walls near the sinks

Spirits by Rebecca Horn, Museo MADRE, Naples, Italy

One of my favourites was this installation of skulls, lights and moving mirrors called ‘Spirits’ by Rebecca Horn. Imagine three sides of the room with these at varying eye-height, the light and partial reflections slowly moving. Wonderfully weird! Photo source: Museo MADRE

Dark Brother by Anish Kapoor, Museo MADRE, Naples, Italy

Another piece that stood out was this one called ‘Dark Brother’ by Anish Kapoor. It’s an optical illusion that appears to be both a black hole in the ground, and a painted black rectangle. We tried looking at it from different angles behind the glass barrier but we couldn’t discern which it was. The museum staff member took a bit of delight watching us trying to work it out, and it reminded us of James Turrell’s work on Naoshima, Japan. Photo source: Museo MADRE

Gallerie d’Italia, Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano

Foyer, Gallerie d'Italia, Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Naples, Italy

The sumptuous central foyer of the Gallerie d’Italia, Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano. The art museum is on the second floor to the right

The Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano is 1 of 3 Gallerie d’Italia operated by the Cultural Project of the banking group Intesa Sanpaolo, the 2nd largest banking group in Italy. The beautiful baroque palace on via Toledo, the main shopping high street in Naples, is home to a small but important art collection that includes another of Caravaggio’s works..

The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula by Caravaggio, Gallerie d’Italia, Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Naples, Italy

The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula by Caravaggio, thought to be the last picture he painted before he died en-route to Rome

Thought to be his last work, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula depicts the moment Ursula, having refused the Hun king’s marriage request is dispatched by an arrow from his bow.

Gallery, Gallerie d’Italia, Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Naples, Italy

We really liked the small, intimate and lavishly decorated gallery rooms that didn’t leave us overwhelmed

Other highlights of this small but well-laid out museum where the Judith beheads Holophernes by Louis Finson, one of the first flemish Caravaggisti (to paint in the style of Caravaggio), and a small exhibition of Vincenzo Gemito whose work we saw in a special exhibition at the Capodimonte – the first museum we visited in Naples!

Special exhibit of Vincenzo Gemito, Gallerie d’Italia, Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Naples, Italy

The exhibit of Vincenzo Gemito was one of our favourites, even though we’d seen a lot of his work in the Capodimonte earlier in our stay

Archaeological Ruins of Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, and almost everyone knows the gist of the story of this city which was buried under ash when Mt Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. We’ve long wanted to visit, and it was near the top of our list of things to do in Naples (after eating pizza of course). We had to wait for almost a week into our stay for a day with no forecast of rain but it was worth being patient.

Vesuvius behind Pompeii's ForumVesuvius is visible from many places in the city. Here it looms over the Forum, the main public square

Vesuvius had been rumbling for several days, maybe weeks, before it erupted violently on 24th August 79AD, and many of the townspeople (an estimated 17,000 from a total of around 20,000) had already fled to safety leaving only those too poor, sick or otherwise unable to move. A violent tremor signalled the start of the eruption, and lapilli, small pumice rocks, rained down to a depth of three metres in just a few hours. Many were crushed as houses collapsed under the weight, those who survived were killed by the blasts of toxic gas and ash which followed and completely buried the city.

Via dell'Abbondanza, PompeiiOne of Pompeii’s main streets, Via dell’Abbondanza

During the early excavations, archaeologists found some cavities containing bones and the director, Giuseppe Fiorelli, had the genius idea to pour plaster of paris into them to form the shapes of the people buried in the ash. We’d heard about this before our visit and expected them to be positioned where they had fallen but for the most part the casts were in glass cases which I suppose makes sense from a preservation point of view. One of the rare information boards had a quote from a 19th century visitor describing them as “not art, nor imitation; it is the bones and relics of the flesh and clothing mixed with plaster” and this really hit home when we saw one cast where the skull was visible.

Plaster casts of some of Pompeii's victimsCasts of thirteen bodies which were found in a garden in Pompeii, now dubbed the Garden of the Fugitives

The Muleteer castThis cast, called the ‘Muleteer’ because he was found near the skeleton of a donkey, is kept in a storage area beside the Forum

As well as plaster casts of people, archaeologists have been able to make casts of animals such as a dog, as well as wooden items which have decyaed away over the centuries including a cupboard and a door. Even more ingeniously, more modern archaeologists have made casts of the roots of plants which decomposed under the ash enabling the reconstruction of whole gardens.

Courtyard of the House of MenanderMany of the houses have peaceful courtyard gardens

Pompeii had a clever water supply system. Water was collected in the hills and carried to the city by aqueduct. Because the city is on a gentle slope, taps throughout the streets could be fed by gravity. Most of them still work and, as the water is potable, they were handy for refilling our water bottle.

Pompeii street fountainMany of the streetside taps still dispense clean water

Unfortunately the sewerage system wasn’t so advanced and so waste liquids were thrown out into the street and washed downhill meaning that residents needed high pavements and stepping stones to prevent them treading in something they’d rather not. Donkey carts passed between the stepping stones and cart ruts are worn into the cobbled streets in many places.

Stepping stones in PompeiiUs on the high stepping stones across one of Pompeii’s streets

Not all of the site’s buildings are open every day – it is dependent on archaeology work, restoration, and staff availability so it’s not possible to make an exhaustive list of what you want to see before you arrive. We found a few recommendations online but pretty much just tried to tour as many as we could of the buildings that were open on the day we visited (helpfully assisted by the lady in the information office marking them up on our map). For that reason we never knew quite what we were going to find when we went into an open door.

Pompeii frescoWe were often surprised by the vibrancy and good condition of the frescoes – it’s hard to believe that these are 2000 years old and that they were painted onto someone’s living room wall – it beats wallpaper any day!

Fountain under restorationWe liked peering through gaps into some of the closed buildings to spot sights like this fountain undergoing restoration

When we visited the Stanze al Genio museum in Palermo, our guide Claudio showed us a tile picture of a dog and told us that it was based on a famous Pompeii mosaic so we were keen to find the original. It’s situated at the entrance to the ‘House of the Tragic Poet’ and the words on it, ‘Cave Canem’ translate as ‘Beware of the Dog’. It’s a bit classier than the little plaques used nowadays!

'Beware of the dog' mosaic and tilesThe original ‘Beware of the dog’ mosaic in Pompeii (left) and the tile version at Stanze al Genio

As well as houses there are a wide variety of commercial buildings – temples, public baths, fast food joints, theatres, even brothels! The wall paintings in the brothel are pretty explicit and apparently served as either a ‘shopping list’ or as inspiration for patrons! I really liked the thermopolia or snack bars, a U-shaped counter set with a number of terracotta pots from which food was served.

Public buildings, PompeiiSome of Pompeii’s public buildings (clockwise from top left): Temple of Apollo; lavishly decorated entrance to the men’s section of the Stabian baths; I joked to Andrew that these were giant spaghetti measurers and then we found out that it was actually the weights and measures house; us in the smaller of Pompeii’s two theatres

ThermopoliumThermopolium snack bar counter

For us one of the unexpected features of the site was the cemetery. Somehow we hadn’t thought about the fact that people had lived and died there before it was buried in ash. Roman law stated that burials should always be outside the city limits and so the grand tombs line the road outside the Nocera Gate. This also ensured that there would be plenty of passers-by to make offerings and pay tribute as they passed.

Tomb in Pompeii's cemeteryThis tomb was for freed slaves. Each niche contains either a bust of the deceased or a stone representation of a head

We rented audioguides to help us understand what we were seeing as we wandered around Pompeii and found them very useful as there are few information boards around the site. However it became a running joke that the explanation would say something along the lines of “The item displayed here is a replica, and the original can be found in the Archaeological Museum in Naples” and so to get the full story we thought that we should visit there as well…

On the first floor were several rooms with frescoes from Pompeii. The painted plaster has been cut out of the wall and put into frames for display. We thought they looked to be much brighter and of even better quality than most of the ones that we saw at Pompeii itself although we weren’t sure whether that was because the best examples were the ones chosen to be removed or because the museum’s environment was better for their preservation.

The Sacrifice of Iphigenia fresco‘The Sacrifice of Iphigenia’ comes from ‘The House of the Tragic Poet’ where we saw the ‘Beware of the Dog’ mosaic

FrescoesSometimes the look of a whole room could be reconstructed from its frescoes

I really enjoyed looking at the exhibit containing smaller items unearthed from Pompeii including pots and pans, door knockers, oil lamps, pottery and even glassware. Some of the glasses had been distorted into strange shapes by the heat but I was surprised that any at all had survived intact.

Artefacts from PompeiiClockwise from left: metal moulds and cookware; vitrines containing pottery items; a glass perfume flask

Apart from the ‘Beware of the Dog’ mosaic the only other one that we remembered was a replica in the ‘House of the Faun’. We sought out the original in the museum and were surprised to find lots of mosaics on display and of breathtaking detail. Even after seeing the floors at Villa Romana del Casale I’m still amazed at how good the Roman craftsmen were.

Mosaic of travelling musiciansThe mosaic of travelling musicians from the Villa of Cicerone was one of our favourites

After looking through the exhibits containing items from Pompeii we returned to the ground floor for a look around the collection of antique marble statuary acquired by the Farnese family in the 16th century and a whirlwind five minutes checking out the exquisitely carved semi-precious stones called the Farnese Gems (the guard was about to lock up for the day when we arrived but he let us in for a peak).

Farnese BullAndrew admiring the Farnese Bull. It was originally carved from a single piece of marble although it has needed a fair amount of sticking back together and replacement pieces over the centuries

We’re really pleased that we visited the Archaeology Museum as well and definitely think that we did them in the right order. Going to Pompeii first gave us an overview of the setting and context of the artefacts so that we could better appreciate the museum, and I think if we’d done them the other way round it might have given us an unrealistic expectation of what we would find at the archaeological site in terms of quality of artwork.