Friday, November 27, 2015


Naples may be the most interesting city we visited. The third largest in Italy, this port city on the southern coast of Italy is a city some people really hate. It certainly is different. With the fewest parks and squares of any city in Europe, it is easily the most crowded. It is also dirty and rife with pickpockets and organized crime. Rick Steves spends a couple of pages on how to avoid the dangers of pickpockets and describing the criminal element. We were sure to use our money belts and  watch carefully as we made our way through the crowds. Linda wore a backpack which was opened by the man coming down the escalator behind her in the train station. Fortunately, she had nothing of value in the pocket he opened, but it did put us on our guard and we turned the backpack around so no zippers were accessible just to make sure that it did not happen again. As far as organized crime goes, that really is not anything to worry tourists. That is more about government influence and control of neighborhoods within the town. The likelihood of any tourist getting in the middle of anything like that is virtually zero just as it would be in New York, Chicago, or Boston.

We arrived on the train and found our way to the subway which was both clean and on time. The station was well-lit, looking much better than many of the stations in New York City. We got off at our stop and asked a gentleman on the street which way to go to the museum. The trouble with subways is that you never really know where you are or what direction you are facing when you get above ground. He smiled and pointed us in the right direction along one of Naples’ few parks. A couple of blocks later we reached our destination, the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. This is where we would find the artworks removed from Pompeii.

Emperor Caracalla

Lifelike drapery on this Aphrodite
These Greek and Roman marbles were collected during the 16th-18th centuries begun by Alesssandro Farnese, Pope Paul III. Many came from the Rome’s Baths of Caracalla found as workers were scavenging building stone for the Pope’s family palace. They were brought to Naples by his grandson.

The two most impressive and important statues stand a opposite ends of a long hall. One is the Farnese Hercules. Hercules is posed after he has finished his eleventh labor and collected the golden apples only to be told he must do one more thing which means he must descend into hell. He is leaning wearily on his club with a tired and resigned look on his face. Copies of this statue have been made since the 16th century and are in palaces and gardens all over Europe. The curly-haired look has become the iconic way we see Hercules.

At the other end of the hall the Toro Farnese tells the Greek myth of Dirce. Dirce bewitched King Lycus who abandoned his pregnant wife Antiope who proceeded to give birth to twin sons. When they grew up they killed their father and tied Dirce to the horns of bull so he could bash her against a mountain. The statue, carved from a single piece of marble over 13 feet tall shows Dirce being tied to the bull while Antiope looks placidly on from behind.

I think she looks satisfied


These two powerful pieces are supplemented by dozens more on the ground floor of the museum. Actually, we would have been happy to have visited this museum if that were all it had to offer. We should also mention the statue of Doriforo. This 7 foot statue once stood in the Pompeii gym where is served as an example of the ideal body. It is so full of motion and realism that Donatello and Michelangelo would find inspiration from it at the beginning of the Renaissance.

Nevertheless, the reason we came (and most people come) is to see what is missing from Pompeii and Herculaneum. The middle floor holds the lovely 20 inch Dancing Faun who gave his name to the largest house in Pompeii. This is one of the few surviving Greek bronze statues dating from the 4th century BC. Another highlight is the Battle of Alexander during which he defeated the Persian king Darius which opened up the rest of Asia to the conqueror. Unfortunately, the exciting mosaic is no longer complete having been damaged as it was removed from the home in the floor of the House of the Faun.

Darius running away from Alexander
The real highlight is the “Secret Room” where the erotic frescos, mosaics, and statues are kept. No longer really a secret, it has only been fully open to the public since 2000. Prior to 2000, they were kept behind a variety of levels of rules allowing only certain people to view them. At one point, the Bourbon owners actually discussed destroying them. Now they are simply housed behind the enigmatic name and a sign that those under 14 may only enter with a parent. The variety of scenes and statuary, from the sublime to the grotesque is definitely worth the visit.

 The top floor has the rest of the frescos and statuary from the two cities. Scenes range from mythological stories to market scenes to landscapes and geometrical patterns. Household artifacts and decorative statues complete the picture of life in Pompeii before the eruption covered everything.
As we left the museum, we again followed a Rick Steves guidebook tour of a city. It was already early afternoon and we needed sustenance before walking too far so we found a nice restaurant off the main street where we had a pizza and pasta and a bit of wine to fortify ourselves for the walk back to the train station. Because it was Sunday, or perhaps just because it is, the Galleria Principe di Napole, a covered shopping gallery was closed. We’re not sure it is actually in use because there was no sign of life at all and one end was fenced off.

A variety of artifacts from the museum. We were especially impressed by the mosaics because the pieces were so small, much smaller than we have seen elsewhere.

Another view of Dirce getting her just desserts
We walked past the Bellini Theater and four and five story apartment buildings created from former palaces. Piazza Dante features an imposing statue of Dante. Neapolitans still feel a bit of sting from the unification of Italy. It fell from being the capital of a kingdom to a rather backwater city as its treasure and much of its bureaucracy was transferred north to Rome. Dante replace the statue of the king as a symbol of unity, something not appreciated by all Neapolitans. Some argue that having to deal with the distant Roman bureaucracy is what kept up the strength of organized crime here in Naples. One block later we shortcut Rick’s tour to head back to the railroad station. We intended to return to Naples on another day to finish the tour and visit the Royal Palace and waterfront area, but the weather did not cooperate. Walking through a city in the rain just doesn’t have that great appeal.
Typical street side cafe


We spent the next 90 minutes walking about a mile and a half along the Spaccanapoli (split Naples), a long straight narrow street that bisects the city. We passed a couple of major churches and small squares, but mostly we passed shop after shop after shop and wormed our way through the crowd that simply did not end until we reached the end of the street. The street is not wide enough for more than one small Italian car with its side mirrors pulled in. But it is wide enough for six or seven people to squeeze by one another for its full length. Linda is not fond of crowds so she did not find this as entertaining as I did, but even I got a bit tired of seeing the same shops and the same (not really the same; it just seemed that way) people again and again.

Remnants of the past in one of the squares
Christmas is definitely in the air with Christmas music in the background. At least half the shops were completely focused on selling Christmas items. Ornaments and toys led the list, but most interesting were the manger scenes and their accouterments. it seems that the thing to do here is to purchase a rustic scene made of wood, stone, twigs and moss with space for a manger and many additional characters. Then people will purchase the Holy Family as a start and gradually fill in the rest of the space. Depending on size this can take a few of several dozen characters which sell for up to €30 or €40. We saw several of these that were in a finished state which I suppose people could buy, but it seems the main idea is to populate it over the years.

When we finally reached the end of the Spaccanapoli, we had to ask a policeman the way to the train station. I misread the map thinking we were by this time within just a couple of blocks. It turned out to be another half mile and we ended up using the iPhone GPS to get there. Once in sight of the station we had to pass the gauntlet of hawkers selling all the usual stuff (using a nice word here) before we could actually reach the station and begin to try to figure out where to catch our train. Naples’ central train station is actually two stations and a metro stop, one on top of the other. The train from Naples to Sorrento is not a part of the national system for some reason. Signage is not obvious, but we knew we need to get downstairs to catch our train. So we wandered a bit and had to ask three times where we needed to go before we finally got to our train. Fortunately, we still had about five minutes before our train left and did not have to wait another hour. The ride home was uneventful.

Finishing with a couple of the more graphic erotic art. Remember that these would have been in people's homes, not just the taverns and brothels.

No comments:

Post a Comment