All holidays have to come to an end but we had one last card up our sleeves. We had flown out to Naples but had booked our return flights from Rome.
Now being a bounder for adventure I hadn’t quite factored in the distance from Castellabate to Rome (348km) as I had been carried away by visiting the south, but all was not lost, as using the motorways would only take three and a half hours with a coffee break. At this point it was suggested that if we set off early we could pull in a trip to Herculaneum, just south of Naples, before continuing on to Rome for our overnight stay. I’m still mystified by speed limits in Italy but worked out that 150 Km/h is pretty quick and so we did well with time!
To say we crammed a lot into these last two days is an understatement. Arriving at Herculaneum before lunch, and being in a rush, we started our tour the wrong way round but stuck at it and did all the numbers in reverse order.
Herculaneum, destroyed when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, is now a World Heritage Site. Having now visited both Pompei and Herculaneum, I feel that the latter, though less well known is better preserved. Mosaics floors and wall art, timber structured buildings complete with roofs, beds and doors are all in a remarkable state of preservation. You have to get your head round the proximity of Herculaneum to the sea to understand why more than 400 cowering skeletons were discovered in 1981 under old arched boat buildings down by what was once the seashore.
The larva deposit that covered Herculaneum differed from the ash that covered Pompei leading to many things surviving intact there. A mix of ash and hot gases, hit the mostly evacuated town of Herculaneum at speeds of 100Mph. Six more flows and surges buried the buildings, causing small damage in some areas and preserving structures, objects and victims almost intact. Other areas suffered significant damage with walls being smashed and columns torn away and in some instances being moved huge distances including the marble statue of Herculaneum’s patron, Marcus Nonius Balbus, being found in two pieces –with head and torso separated. The partially repaired statue now stands in front of the Basilica. Excavation of the site began in the early 1700’s but took a back seat whilst it was found that Pompei was much easier to excavate.
When we visited Pompei years ago we had a tour guide and I would recommend doing the same when visiting Herculaneum. As we hadn’t booked one we had to eavesdrop on other tours. Not understanding Chinese, Russian, Swedish and many I couldn’t identify, didn’t help much so I was at a terrible disadvantage, not helped by going the wrong way round too!
We didn’t really do this fascinating site much justice as a long hot journey to our hotel just off Via Assisi, not far from The Appian Way in Rome beckoned. A much needed shower, dinner, and a Peroni in the bar ensued as we planned which sights we could pull in before our 7pm flight the next day and then it was lights out. The Trevi fountain for the grandchildren was chosen first (one having to be hauled out because his 5 year old brother, wreaked revenge for earlier holiday misgivings, and shoved him in!) He was rescued before the police got there. It’s sacred you see and you can’t go in. There is a lot of begging on the streets here. One man was so invalided that the only way he could move about was by sitting on a skateboard and using extremely deformed hands to propel him around. On a trip to Egypt we saw worse suffering with some of it inflicted by parents on their children to cause sympathetic people to donate spare cash. What awful times we live in when we have to resort to this.
Compared to Paestum and Herculaneum the Trevi Fountain is new! Built in the 1700’s and cramped in by buildings now used as shops to extract money from tourists who jostle to get to the front to get a picture. The ones in the brochure where there isn’t a soul around is far better unless you want a selfie of course. But I didn’t because I know what I look like! I wasn’t as impressed with the Trevi as I should apparently have been. Ah well there’s no accounting for taste. I prefer Aber Falls!
We made our way to the Pantheon in Piazza della Rotonda. One of Rome’s best preserved and visited buildings and one of the most recent completed by Hadrian around 126AD. Factoring in queueing time is important and wearing the right clothes too. Ladies with bare shoulders aren’t allowed and one of our party had to wait outside for a jumper swap. “It’s a religious building’ the security man armed with a gun explained in an annoyed voice.
The Pantheon is famous amongst other things for its hole in the roof. Let’s face it, not many people invite you round to look at the hole in their roof! I suggested that a big a cork could fix it. But this is a hole with a difference, you do come out with neck ache as you marvel at the superb architectural 142 feet high structure which is still the worlds largest unreinforced concrete dome. Amazing for a 2,000 year old building.
The famous painters Raphael and Annibale Carracci, the composer Arcangelo Corelli, and architect Baldassare Peruz are all buried here along with kings and queens. I had read that Voltaire was buried here but that’s an easy mistake to make as he’s buried at The Pantheon in Paris.
Changes over the years has seen parts of the building swallowed up by surrounding structures with some of the marble removed and the tops of two pillars are now in the British Museum. We just have to nick stuff don’t we? I suppose they fit snugly with the Elgin marbles. I used to get cross at school when kids used to pinch mine too!
Sightseeing over and it was time to hop on the bus. Tickets are for sale in various places if you can find them. I’ve no idea how the drivers know who has paid or who has not it’s so haphazard. I suppose in this country with only half a dozen people on the bus it’s easy to spot a dodger, but a crammed bus with people hanging on everywhere it must be a challenge. Our return flight was from Rome’s Fiumicino airport, much smaller and far less hassle. The final sting in the tail came when, looking at my car hire details it stated that I was dropping the car off at Ciampino airport but the Hertz man at Fiumicino never said a word.
Writing this article has made my mind up – I’m going back later this year with just a few tweaks. GP