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Italy Ports Capri, Florence, Genoa, Naples, Palermo, portofino, Rome, Sardinia, Sorrento, Taormina, Venice

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  #1  
Old April 21st, 2012, 09:46 PM
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Default Naples -- Beyond Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast

With Naples being such a popular port on cruises and more and more folks repeating in the Mediterranean, I thought it might be helpful to point out some things to do in the vicinity of Naples if you've already visited Pompeii, Capri, and the Amalfi Coast previously, or if you're just looking for something else that's a bit more off the beaten track.

I was in Campania for a week and visited a lot of sites. This area was very popular in ancient Roman times (and actually even before that, back to the Greeks who colonized here). I stayed in Sorrento, but most are easy to access from either Sorrento or Naples.

I'll do one at a time. Hopefully anyone else with info or other ideas will also chime in. And, as always, I'm happy to answer any questions.
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Old April 21st, 2012, 10:24 PM
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Default Oplontis

If you've been to Pompeii, you've probably seen at least one or two of the houses of the wealthy. Have you ever wondered what a real Imperial villa of the time would've looked like? One that's so well preserved that you don't have to use your imagination, like you do to envision the palace on Palatine Hill?

Then I highly recommend that you visit the so-called Villa Oplontis, also sometimes called the Villa Poppeia after a possible connection with the wife of Emperor Nero. Like Pompeii, the Villa was also destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Unlike Pompeii, it's practically crowd-free.

The Villa is built on a grand scale. It has large rooms with soaring ceilings, built around several courtyards with large windows/openings to let in plenty of light....much more than you might see in Pompeii. This was a "country house", a retreat for the super-rich of the time, and it was once right on the water, with views to die for, I'm sure.

Now, like Herculaneum, the Villa sits below an area of modern development. But it still has a peaceful feeling about it (maybe due to the lack of other visitors). You enter it from what was formerly the back. Before entering you can pause above and take in the extent of the property:



Once inside, you're free to wander around. The frescoes are some of the best painted and best preserved to be found anywhere. Frankly, it's amazing to me that they are still on site and not in a museum. Here's a photo of the decoration in the grand atrium, where guests would've been welcomed:




Honestly, the photo doesn't do justice to the intricacy and richness of the painting, which truly "fools the eye". The golden columns appear to be dripping with gems. Another room that is equally richly decorated with theatrical motifs is one that would've probably served as a sort of grand parlor or living area:




Detail from the room above:




The Villa, as I said, has several courtyards. One is very small and serves as the hub for the private baths complex that's also well decorated. Another one was probably in the area where the servants lived and worked. The grandest one is shown below:



All of the garden and courtyard areas have been replanted with plants similar to those that would've been there when the Villa was destroyed (this has all been researched via plant remains that were found).

The Villa even had a separate wing for (it is assumed) guests. Built around an Olympic-sized pool, shown below, were a series of small bedrooms (to the left in the photo) with pleasant "garden rooms" attached -- each having a mix of real plants and beautifully painted frescoes of garden scenery.




Altogether over 100 rooms or areas of the Villa have been excavated. It's definitely a place worth spending a couple of hours. If you're lucky, you might have it virtually to yourself.

When Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the site, it appears to have been undergoing renovations. Bodies were not found.

To get to Oplontis, take the Circumvesuviana line train, just as if you were going to Pompeii. You'll get off one stop earlier (from Naples; one stop after Pompeii Scavi if you are coming from Sorrento), the name of the stop is Torre Annunziata. Underneath you may also see a sign that says Oplonti Scavi.

After getting off the train, you'll walk downhill along a main road for about 10 minutes, ending up at the site. There are places along the way to get a sandwich, water, etc.

Tickets cost 5,50 euro. Ask for a free mini guidebook (unfortunately they seem to be out of the English version quite often). Hours are 8:30 am to 7:30 pm during the summer season (6:00 pm from Nov-March).
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 01:21 AM
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Default Thanks for This Thread!

Hi, cruisemom, thanks so much for this thread. We have two days in Sorrento at the end of our October cruise, and while we hope finally to get to the Archaeological Museum in Naples (we spent so much more time last visit in Herculaneum than expected so still have not made it to Naples), perhaps we could stop here on the way back to Sorrento. (BTW, we have a day in Salerno, so will be visiting Paestum at long last.)

Your photos are wonderful; the wall paintings really reminded me of the lovely room at the Met in the Greek/Roman galleries which I visited in January.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 06:33 AM
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Cruisemom - you are always so helpful on the ports board. This is wonderful information. Thanks so much
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 06:43 AM
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Thank you very much for sharing you experience with us
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 08:31 AM
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Originally Posted by CintiPam View Post
Hi, cruisemom, thanks so much for this thread. We have two days in Sorrento at the end of our October cruise, and while we hope finally to get to the Archaeological Museum in Naples (we spent so much more time last visit in Herculaneum than expected so still have not made it to Naples), perhaps we could stop here on the way back to Sorrento. (BTW, we have a day in Salerno, so will be visiting Paestum at long last.)

Your photos are wonderful; the wall paintings really reminded me of the lovely room at the Met in the Greek/Roman galleries which I visited in January.
You'll love the Archaeological Museum; it's a place I could visit again and again.... I think it'd make a good day with Oplontis if you watch the time.

We also spent more time in Herculaneum than anticipated, it's easy to do.

I also visited Paestum on this trip and will cover it last, since it's really difficult to do it in a day from Naples but it could be done from Salerno or possibly a long day from Sorrento.

P.S. I love the frescoes from Boscoreale in the Met -- I can't believe the Italians let them get away; apparently they needed the money so they were sold.... Here are another couple photos of the wonderful frescoes at Oplontis that I couldn't fit into the above:



I love how they manage to convey the transparency of the glass bowl and the fruit inside it.

The one below is from one of the "garden rooms":

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Old April 22nd, 2012, 11:52 AM
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We were in Naples yesterday and enjoyed hiking up Mt. Vesuvius. Our visibility wasn't very good, and the wind made the hike difficult, but it was one of those things I just had to do!
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 11:54 AM
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Hi Cruisemom-

Thanks for all this info on Naples area. We will be there in two weeks and are planning on visiting Herculaneum and also climbing Vesuvius. I just read on another thread where someone did both in 4 hours...is that a reasonable amount of time to do both? I had planned more like 6. If 4 is normal is there somewhere else you would recommend for the remainder of the afternoon? Would the Torre Annunziata be within reach for us with that amount of time left?

Thanks for any info you can provide. Oh, one more question do you know if they have audio guides that they provide at Herculaneum, we were not planning on hiring a guide there. Thanks
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 12:07 PM
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Hi Cruisemom-

Thanks for all this info on Naples area. We will be there in two weeks and are planning on visiting Herculaneum and also climbing Vesuvius. I just read on another thread where someone did both in 4 hours...is that a reasonable amount of time to do both? I had planned more like 6. If 4 is normal is there somewhere else you would recommend for the remainder of the afternoon? Would the Torre Annunziata be within reach for us with that amount of time left?

Thanks for any info you can provide. Oh, one more question do you know if they have audio guides that they provide at Herculaneum, we were not planning on hiring a guide there. Thanks
Hmm, this kind of question is always hard for me to answer because I really enjoy spending time at sites and not rushing through them. Other people breeze through and are more than happy with a shorter amount of time. In my opinion, Herculaneum needs a minimum of 2 hours, and I'd be more comfortable recommending 3 hours. Unfortunately, I don't have an interest in climbing Vesuvius, so I really have no idea how long that might take.

Just as a barometer, we spent 5+ hours in Herculaneum. And that's even with some of the more opulent houses (the ones at the end of the streets that would've been facing the water) being closed. We didn't even go down to the boat houses (i.e., where most of the bodies were found) in that amount of time.

There is an audioguide at Herculaneum but I didn't use it. I seem to remember reading elsewhere that it is pretty good.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 12:10 PM
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Hmm, this kind of question is always hard for me to answer because I really enjoy spending time at sites and not rushing through them. Other people breeze through and are more than happy with a shorter amount of time. In my opinion, Herculaneum needs a minimum of 2 hours, and I'd be more comfortable recommending 3 hours. Unfortunately, I don't have an interest in climbing Vesuvius, so I really have no idea how long that might take.

Just as a barometer, we spent 5+ hours in Herculaneum. And that's even with some of the more opulent houses (the ones at the end of the streets that would've been facing the water) being closed. We didn't even go down to the boat houses (i.e., where most of the bodies were found) in that amount of time.

There is an audioguide at Herculaneum but I didn't use it. I seem to remember reading elsewhere that it is pretty good.

Thanks....I thought 2 hours seemed too short there also. We will leave our day as is and if there is time for something else we will deal with that then. Hopefully there will be something close enough to where we are that we will be able to do. Thanks again.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 12:30 PM
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Default ....and now for something completely different

I know there are a number of you cruisers out there that really enjoy sightseeing with a private driver in Naples (e.g., some combination of Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Sorrento, etc).

I'm going to propose an alternative for a very different day.

Everyone tends to head south from Naples, but just north of it, along the coast, is an area that was famous and heavily populated back in Greek and Roman times. It's an area that gets scant notice in most guidebooks and on most tours or cruise excursions. But there are a number of absolutely GREAT sites there that can make for a really interesting, different, and off-the-beaten track day of touring. It's not the Italy of the "beautiful and rich" like the Amalfi coast, but the real Italy, which appeals more to me.

Although you could see a couple of the sites on your own -- for example, it's easy to get to Pozzuoli from Naples on a line that's much like the Circumvesuviana and see the great amphitheatre (and its underground, see more below) there -- most of these sites would require having access to a car.

The entire area is often referred to as the "Campi Flegrei" which, loosely translated, is the "fields of fire" -- so called for all the volcanic activity in the area. The Greeks settled there (Cumae, one of the oldest Greek settlements in Italy), the Romans prized the area for the natural hot springs, but also for the great harbor at Pozzuoli (in those times called Puteoli). In the early years of the Empire (and when Rome was a Republic), Puteoli was THE harbor for Rome. It was where all the grain ships carrying grain from Sicily and Egypt put in -- this was before Ostia was developed as a port.

It's also celebrated in history and legend: it features prominently in Virgil's Aeneid, it is the area where the cave of the Sibyl is reputed to be and the entrance to Hades.

We spent two full days sightseeing in this area (renting a car but using the services of a local guide). There's more than enough for two days, but you could pick and choose the things we did, which I'll detail here, to make a one-day itinerary that appeals to you. Pozzuoli is only about 30 minutes from Naples by car and most of the sites in the area are very close together.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 12:54 PM
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Yes, we did Herculaneum and Vesuvius in four hours, but we have all been to Pompeii numerous times so we only spent 90 minutes in Herculaneum, and as it was Saturday, Naples was blissfully traffic free and it onl took us 15 minutes to get there.

The walk up Vesuvius is very strenuous. It's directly above Herculaneum so we were there 15 minutes after leaving the ruins. The walk itself (we did not do the entire circle of the rim) took 30 minutes. On a clear day you'd probably want to walk the rim as well.

Typically I would recommend at least six hours for both of these.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 01:41 PM
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Default Campi Flegrei sites

As I said above, you could plan a day in this area by mixing and matching the sites that appeal to you. Whatever you decide to do, though, I would include a visit to the Flavian Amphitheater in Pozzuoli as part of your day.

The Flavian amphitheater was built under Nero and Vespasian from AD 69-79. The exterior is crumbling, and it may only rank third in size (of amphitheatres in Italy) after the Colosseum at Rome and the nearby amphitheater at Capua —but unlike Rome's Colosseum, the flooring and subterrranean areas of the Pozzuoli amphitheater survive. The amphitheatre held around 20,000 spectators in its prime. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good photo of the entire structure.







You can still wander around the tunnels and chambers underneath, where the gladiators once awaited their next fights alongside caged wild beasts.
A long trench down the floor's middle (middle photo, below), now covered by a grating, was part of the elaborate staging system used to hoist animals and background scenery into view as needed. Smaller trapdoors (shown above) allowed for "surprise" appearances.

Today the underground corridors and chambers serve as storage for broken bits of statuary and columns. It's very scenic. From what I've read, the underground area here is actually better preserved than that of the Colosseum in Rome. So if you have an interest, you can get a great sense of how things worked (and there's no separate charge or tour for seeing the underground portion here).









The Flavian Amphitheater in Pozzuoli is open Wednesday to Monday, 9am to an hour before sunset.
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 02:19 PM
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Cynthia, I love your photos of Oplontis and the Amhitheater at Pozzuoli. I feel as though I've been there!
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Old April 22nd, 2012, 10:29 PM
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Another major sight worth visiting in the Campi Flegrei area includes the ruins of ancient Cumae, founded by Greeks -- in fact, the very first Greek colony on the mainland of Italy. Later it was incorporated into the growing territory of the Romans. Today, the ruins are part of the Cumae Archaeological Park, with extensive ruins on the top of the hill (remains of several temples, including Temple of Apollo and Temple of Jupiter):





and also an area on the ground at the bottom that includes a Forum, a large bath complex, and other remains:






Of course, for the Romans, the real draw of Cumae was the Cumean Sibyl. An oracle, like the one at Delphi, she lived in a cave near Cumae and was supposed to have been responsible for an important set of prophecies about Rome that were highly revered. Rich and famous Romans vacationing nearby at Baia wanted to come and hear their own fortunes told.

No one is sure where the exact location of the cave is, but one of the strongest possibilities is this one, which is also located near the Archaeological Park at Cumae. It's a highly unusual place, oddly shaped, and with some features inside that are difficult to explain if it were strictly a Roman tunnel (as some have suggested). Very interesting place to visit, although there is another "possible" Sibyl's cave in the area that is even more atmospheric -- more on this later:




Located in Pozzuoli, Cumae Archaeological Park is open daily, from 9am-1hr before sunset. Closed 1 Jan, 1 May, 25 Dec. Entry costs €2.50.
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