Category: Naples.

Naple’s remarkable bay

By WAYNE JOHNSON

The Bay of Naples is where glamour, history and culture come together, and there’s even a hint of danger to the place.

FROM ancient times, the Bay of Naples has attracted visitors and residents with its warm climate, passionate people and epic coastline.

Today, people still flock here, to sites such as the glamorous island of Capri, the preserved remains of the Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum and Mount Vesuvius. And, despite the fact that it has lost some of its charm, the city of Naples too draw in the visitor.

Capri Town rising from the beach.

Popular as a riviera destination in ancient times, the Bay of Naples was where wealthy Romans during the days of empire used to flock to, converging on the villas and resorts hugging the shore. The Emperor Tiberius himself made Capri his home for 17 years.

Its popularity and prosperity gave rise to a number of thriving towns, two of which – Pompeii and Herculaneum – have been remarkably preserved to this day. This preservation is due to the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD which buried the towns under a thick layer of ash, and in this state did they remain undiscovered until centuries later.

The larger of the two sites is Pompeii. Here you can still walk down a high street rutted with marks caused by chariots and wagon wheels, and where drinking troughs and hole-in-the-wall restaurants still stand. The forum with its temples, theatre and markets are all remarkably intact, and the villas of the wealthy still wear painted frescoes and murals on the walls and floors.

An imposing fortress.

However, if you have children, be aware that the paintings in the town brothel leave little to the imagination and may even make some adults blush.

The smaller town of Hercula-neum was also smothered by ash in the eruption. Although it doesn’t have the feel of a bustling ancient metropolis, the town boasts large houses and villas that are better preserved than in Pompeii. Some even have their roofs still in place, and as such give a remarkable insight into the lives of rich Romans all those many hundreds of years ago.

At both sites there are guides available, as well as museums displaying excavated artifacts. There are also numerous plaster cast displays of mummified bodies caught in various poses as they died instantly 2,000 years ago. The volcano which destroyed Pompeii still looms over Naples and, perhaps worryingly, is one of the most active in the world.

However, despite its fiery temperament, Vesuvius is open to pedestrians, with a hike up to the crater taking about 30 minutes from the highest car park. It’s compulsory, however, to take a guide on the path through the twisted lava landscape to the summit.

The bottom of the crater is often hidden by swirling clouds of sulphuric smoke. Thankfully, it was clear when I visited, and I could peer into its ominous depths. The view across the fertile land and blue sea of the bay from up here makes the climb up the volcano a journey worth taking … just pray that the next big eruption waits until after you have left.

See Naples and die

The above line was a phrase coined in the 18th century, when the city, which was the capital of an independent kingdom, was renowned for its beauty. The conventional wisdom then was that once you had visited the city, you could die in peace in the knowledge that nowhere else would you find a place as beautiful as Naples.

Unfortunately, much of this legendary beauty has crumbled through neglect and decay, although some people would say that this faded glory only adds to the city’s allure. Whatever your views of the modern version of the city, however, it is still a place that demands your attention.

As befit its status as a historic place, Naples offers lots interesting places and buildings to the visitor. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale houses some of the best relics from Pompeii and other classical sites, and naturally attracts a lot of visitors. But, more morbid and – for me, personally – more interesting are the catacombs of San Gennaro.

Sprawling under the city, this labyrinth of ancient tunnels contains 2,000-year-old Christian frescoes and tombs alongside numerous hidden alcoves and mysterious passageways leading off into the darkness…

The best way to appreciate Naples, though, is to absorb the craziness and passion of the locals while wandering around the cramped streets of Spaccanapoli in the old city quarter, or eating the famous Neopolitan pizza in Da Michele pizzeria.

Sorrento and Capri

At the southern end of the bay lie the glamorous resorts of Sorrento and the island of Capri. Sorrento’s streets perch themselves spectacularly upon a cliff and, although they can be crowded in the summer, they offer a genteel respite from hectic Naples.

There are numerous upmarket cafes and hotels in Sorrento, and a small strip of sand here enables you to sample the deep blue waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. But for a visit to a place which makes even Sorrento look like a hang-out for commoners, you will have to take a short boat ride to the island of Capri.

Mount Vesuvius looms over Bay of naples.

Favoured by the rich and powerful through the centuries, from Roman Emperors to movie stars like Sophia Loren and Tom Cruise, the island oozes glamour and natural beauty. Expensive and exclusive restaurants, shops and clubs are dotted around the almost car-free Capri town, but if you want your trip to be easy on the wallet, then walk around its clifftop coastline and soak up the natural beauty which has always attracted influential people.

The ruins of Emperor Tiberius’ villa can still be viewed along with medieval castles, luxurious villas, wildflowers and birds on a stroll away from the towns. But if you want to mimic the jet-set lifestyle, then sit in one of the street-side cafes wearing your shades and sip a cappuccino at leisure before heading down to the beach for a swim or a ride on a luxury yacht.

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Category: Naples