Old World Craft

It’s not often you pass a lute maker’s shop, but I passed by this one today while exploring the incomparably interesting streets of Naples’ historical center. It was my last day in Naples, the end of a fantastic two-week visit. Tomorrow it’s off to Ravello/Amalfi and more adventures with a Smithsonian Journeys group; a 17-day trip through northern Italy.

Dante’s Real Inferno

This morning I took the train to Pozzuoli to see the Solfatara, the calderas of old fumaroles and volcanos created by the same geological forces that created nearby Mount Vesuvius. The yellow and orange are deposits of sulfur and other minerals, the stones too hot to touch. According to mythology, this very place was the home of the Roman god of fire, Vulcan. A couple of volcanologists were there with their equipment taking measurements. Of what I haven’t a clue, but it was interesting to watch them work, sticking tubes in the steam vents and injecting fluids. They were like volcano doctors probing their patient. The Solfatara is inside a larger geological area called the ‘Campi Flegri’ or ‘Phlegraean Fields’, known to volcanologists the world over. I wish I had a  scooter to go around and explore the area, which consists of several calderas. Maybe next time.

Naples by Foot

I walked many miles today, but saw some great things. I started by going to the Montesanto station, which is a complex nexus of transportation in Naples, intersecting a train station, a funicular station, and a metro station. I went for the train; the ‘Cumana’ line, which takes you out to Pozzuoli and other stations further west. At Pozzuoli there is a Roman amphitheater, one of the largest, and much better preserved than the one at Capua. Later in the day I visited the imperial bath complex at Baia, which was fantastic even in a light rain (I made a short video of part of the site, which you can see here). At the end I managed to fit in a quick visit to Cuma, an ancient site where, from the acropolis, you can see the island of Capri to the south. This picture was taken at the amphitheater at Pozzuoli, a Roman statue long ago snapped off at the ankles, leaving a disembodied foot for posterity.

Alice Pasquini, Naples

I did a little research and found out that ‘Alice’ is Alice Pasquini. She’s featured in a half-hour documentary on Naples street art called Street Heart (her part starts at about 12 minutes into the film). The film is imbedded in the website (link on title above). It gives a good sense of the streets of old Naples and how the artists use the decay of the city’s walls as an opportunity to create some aesthetic and colour where nothing but dissolution and grey walls otherwise appear.

Another Alice

This is the third work I’ve found in Naples done by the graffiti artist who signs her name ‘Alice’. She’s Naples’ best mural street artist. All three pieces are portraits of women (see earlier posting) and all beautifully realized in quick strokes of colour. The characters are preternaturally alive and seem to look out of the walls into the street, and all I’ve found are tucked into intimate facets of the city’s decaying and much vandalized walls. People respect her work; nobody ever paints over an ‘Alice’.


Even if you’re a struggling Indian fellow selling cheap umbrellas in Naples’ streets it’s hard not to notice the beautiful women of the city. I took this picture on the Via Benedetto Croce, named after the famous philosopher, who died in Naples in 1952. I appreciated the man’s brief and spontaneous delight in what otherwise must be a hugely difficult life. Their lives are separated by a huge cultural and socio-economic gulf, but in this picture they share an almost intimate space, if only for a millisecond. Only later did I notice the heart that was tucked into the right hand side of the picture.

Promising a Lot

This cafeteria promises a lot, and with the winning smile of the proprietor (note that beside his head is the word ‘PERFECTO’) it just might deliver. I just took the picture. Fewer calories. This is part of my series on Neapolitan store fronts.

Room of the Barons

In the mid-fifteenth century a huge ‘Room of the Barons’ was built in the Castello Nuovo in Naples. The room is unimpressive until you look up and see this huge rib vaulted dome overhead, designed like a giant flower’s petals. Just another of the great works of architecture to be found here in Naples.

Prayer Lamps

In a lot of Italian churches these days they don’t allow actual candles or flame lamps for the devoted to leave for prayers. Instead, there are little electric candles and you put a coin in and they flicker for a few hours. Somehow it doesn’t quite do the trick, though it’s much better for the air quality inside the church and better, too, for the works of art around the altars. This may be a devotional scene you won’t be able to see a few years from now. By then, there will be an app for that.

The Shepherd

In early Christian art it was much more common to depict Christ as a young shepherd rather than the bearded, long-haired hippie we usually associate with him. In these fourth-century mosaics in the baptistery of San Giovanni delle Fonte in Naples there are four such examples of Christ the shepherd; here’s one of them. These 1600 year-old images give us a rare glimpse into the early years of the religion, just decades after the once illegal cult had become the religion of the empire.


The Commedia dell’Arte character Pulcinella crops up at lot in Naples, in souvenirs, statues, posters… Here, he overlooks the Via Tribunali, one of Naples’ best historical streets. Storms are coming again tomorrow. Hoping for them to pass quickly.

You Laughin’ at Me?

This is a picture of a detail of some sculptures in the lunette of the Palatine Chapel of the Castello Nuovo in Naples. It shows the baby Christ on Mary’s lap with singing angels on both sides. But I noticed that some cheeky bastard had at some point shot Christ in the head, either intentionally or by accident. Or maybe the head fell off once and this is where it hit the ground (note the crappy patch job). Either way, you can see the impact point on Christ’s head. Anyway, it looks like a couple of the angels are laughing at him and he’s turning around to give them a dirty look.

Amphitheater at Capua

I took this picture today while visiting the ruins of the Roman amphitheater at Capua, just northeast of Naples. It was the second largest in the empire, second only to the more famous ‘Coliseum’ in Rome. It was here in Capua that the Thracian gladiator Spartacus fought before escaping and eventually leading a slave rebellion in the 70s BCE. Only the bones are left of this once giant structure. It was good to get here as my day was otherwise a disappointment. I’d gone to Capua to see the medieval 10th century church of Sant’Angelo in Formis, only to find it closed. Such is travel.

Triple Temples at Paestum

I took the train to Paestum today, a place I hadn’t been to in 34 years. When I first visited, in 1981, I was there with Martin Dent, who in those months I was running into with regularity as our itineraries seemed strangely synched. Later, we travelled together in Turkey and, as fate would have it, I’ve been able to keep in touch with him all these years as he lives in Santa Barbara. There are three 5th century BCE Greek temples at Paestum, the one in this picture the best preserved and one of the best preserved anywhere. It was a great day. The recent rains have fooled the plants: everywhere the grass is green and the spring flowers are blooming.