Europe, Italy, Travel

Naples: Sorrento and Pompeii

Pulling into the port of Naples was a beautiful site – especially at first light.

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Naples is an interesting mix of a city.  Considered the “Crime Capital” of Italy, much of the city looks a bit run down and over-populated (then again, it was founded between 9th and 8th century B.C.).  It reminds me much of downtown Detroit with a whole heck of a lot more people.  However, the further up the coast you go, the more beautiful it becomes.  With each tunnel we went through, the industrial ship yards, urban farms, sky rises, and centuries old apartment buildings, gave way to lush cliff sides with stunning views of Napoli Bay.

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Sorrento

Through winding streets, up the Monte Lattari mountains, we finally made it to Sorrento (about a 1 1/2 hour drive from Naples). The drive up there offered some incredible, sweeping views of Napoli Bay.

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Once in Sorrento, you can’t help but notice the bustle of this town, and how it has more of a city feel.  It was definitely departure from the other Italian towns we had seen so far.

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Sorrento is known mainly for three things: it’s fresh mozzarella, its limoncello, and its woodwork. However, what people don’t realize when they come to other parts of Italy (other than Milan) is that well-made leather goods are everywhere – and for far less.  We found a little shop on Via S. Cesareo which sold every type of handmade leather good available.  I picked up three pairs of well-made leather gloves, two with real fur and one with lace, for a total of 35 euro, or $40 USD!

When we shopped ourselves out, we headed to Fauno Bar for a coffee.  If you ever decide to visit there, it’s one of the oldest (and most important) cafes in Sorrento, and they make an amazing Caffe Freddo.

For lunch, head over to Pizzeria Aurora for lunch and sit outside to take in the sites of Piazza Tazzo (the main square) – I highly recommend the Caprese salad (because how can you not have mozzarella in Sorrento?).

Pompeii

40 minutes from Sorrento, sits Pompeii.  Almost all of you reading this post have undoubtedly learned about this old city in school.  Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. and completely buried the city in ash.  About 3,000 of its inhabitants died, some of which were encased, perfectly in ash, as discovered by archaeologists centuries later.

Our tour guide (an archaeologist) took us through the streets of Pompeii, showing us not just what had been uncovered but also educating us on why buildings and streets were built as they were, as well as the art that adorned this mini city:

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These ceramic pots held food at certain temperatures for people to purchase and eat immediately. Think of it like fast food during that time.

 

These stone streets were actually meant to transport human waste - the three stones sticking out of each section were pedestrian cross areas.
These stone streets were actually meant to transport human waste – the three stones sticking out of each section were pedestrian cross areas.
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Wealthy homes had a receiving atrium that went straight out to a back garden, a large dining room off to the back right, and small bedrooms.

 

Roman spas

There were separate areas (both changing and baths) for men and women.  Off of that were gymnasiums that people would go to first, before going to the baths. People bathed everyday there.

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Amphitheaters

There were two on the side we were visiting – a large one for operas and plays, and one reserved for the wealthy that was much more intimate.

Frescos

Another highly interesting thing I learned (for the art lover in me) was how true frescos are made.  If you have never learned about the actual technique, it involves applying paint to wet cement, so that it seals itself into the wall.

Market Square

When we got to the Market Square (plaza), the scenery became breath taking, as you could almost picture it constructed as a bustling meeting place to do business.

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Also check out how prominent Mt. Vesuvius is, sitting behind this temple to Jupiter as an almost tribute to something that would later destroy their city.

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Artifacts

The final set of pics below will give you a glimpse of the artifacts found on the sites uncovered so far.  Note that there are two “bodies” included as well.  These are plaster casts of perfect human indentations found on the sites.

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Something to note  – The sea used to be 3,000 km closer to Pompeii than it is today.  Ships would sail right up, using Pompeii as a port.  But when Vesuvius erupted time and again, it pushed the sea out, as the lava started to create new land.  Ironically, the people of Pompeii used much of the lava to form their own city.

Suggestions/Tips

  1. Visit Pompeii in the morning – it gets very hot there with little shade.
  2. Bring a bottle of water and sunscreen to Pompeii!
  3. If you can, find an archaeologist to give you a guided tour – ours was booked through Princess Cruises.
  4. Spend a night or two in Sorrento to truly get the full experience
  5. Wander down the side streets in Sorrento for the best deals on handmade goods
  6. Take time to visit the Amalfi Coast, Capri, and Positano – three places I wish we had had had time for.
  7. Skip Naples altogether – rent a car and take it up the coast!

On a separate note, as we were leaving Naples, heading for Civitavecchia, we saw the most big, beautiful blood red moon: