Europe Forums

Start a new topic Change Forum
Advanced search

Trip Report Rome - Naples - Paestum - Salerno - Ravello Trip Report

Jump to last reply

ITALY 2014 TRIP REPORT FOR FODORS

Rome – Naples – Paestum – Salerno – Ravello – Amalfi

During the fall idea stage, this trip was originally going to be Umbria-focused but it drifted south toward the Naples area by springtime. We have visited Rome several times and Pompeii, Sorrento and Naples (the archeological museum) before, so this time we moved on to other places.

General comments:

Us: late 60s, like walking, history, art, architecture (show us piles of ruins and we are happy), food, wine, and the Italian language. Have travelled several times to Italy, from Venice to Siracusa. Can’t get enough. We tried to plan a lot of variety in the 12-day trip: big city, small town, Greek ruins, big hotels, little B&B.

Weather: we went during the last two weeks of June. Several days we had very brief showers, then sun, and on most days very strong sun. We took along a couple of small umbrellas and we used them visiting the Paestum temples and a few other times when walking around during the intense mid-day sun. In the evenings the temps dropped down to the hi 60s or low 70s so all in all we had excellent weather.

Everyday life in this region: even with Italy’s financial crisis, we did not come across much evidence of distress. We used public transport—trains, buses, the Naples funiculars and metro—everything worked smoothly and on time. And people queued up gently and quietly, almost like Brits, getting on or off trains or buses. Amazing. Much friendliness and helpfulness everywhere.

Security and safety: we used money belts and all was well. However, we spoke with three women who each had safety issues in Naples. Two were young college women from Canada who were targeted in the Naples train station by three men, one texting to the others as they were getting on the train, apparently planning the theft. When they got on the train, they saw two men positioning themselves at each doorway. They asked an Italian man on the car to accompany them when they got out. He did so and nevertheless as they were walking the two thieves came up to them, bumped them, one held the shoulder of one woman, grabbed her bag and ran off with her cel phone. The third woman we spoke with, visiting in Ravello, was a 60-something retired American executive, well acquainted with Italy and very travel savvy. She said she would not return again to Naples even though she loved the city because she did not feel safe as a single woman walking around the centro. We love the Naples centro but I mention this for the sake of women travellers considering a visit to the city.

Rome

We drove from Burlington, Vermont, parked in long-term parking at Trudeau Airport in Montreal, and flew to Rome and stayed there the first two nights. We have seen most of the “big” sights before so we took things slowly and mainly walked around the Trastevere area, a new neighborhood for us. We stayed at our favorite hotel, Hotel Italia, an easy 15-minute walk from Termini, on Via Venezia, half a block from Via Nazionale and the 64, 170 and H bus stops. After settling in the hotel in mid-afternoon, we walked to San Pietro in Vincoli to see Michelangelo’s Moses. It’s always so powerful to see supreme works of art in real life, regardless of the number of photos one has seen before. The statue is now fenced off with an 8-foot space around it and a full-time guard watching over it. A good, but sad, thing.

Dinner in the evening at Da Teo: an excellent little spot in Trastevere in a little piazza one block from the river. Carciofi alla giudia, fried zucchini flowers stuffed with pecorino and anchovies, pasta with funghi and a very good bottle of Hernicus Cesanese del Piglio (a red from Roman Lazio region). We asked our waiter to choose a red for us and he did well.

The next morning we returned to Trastevere via the 170 bus. We first went to the east bank area just across from Trastevere, where the ancient cattle market, the Forum Boarium, was located. Saw the temples of Hercules, 2nd cent. BC, said to be the oldest marble structure, and of Portunus, the cattle god. The Portunus temple is very fine, a small version of the Nimes temple. Then across Tiber Island to the Villa Farnesina. Marvellous Raphael fresco of Galataea and the Hall of Perspectives by Peruzzi. One of the guards told us that Mussolini had an office just off this hall, but it was closed with no signage. In the 1920s and 30s there were excavations on the garden grounds and one of the finds, a big marble cattle drinking trough, now stands in the entry foyer.

Late lunch at Bir e Fud near the Trilussa square: friends of ours recommended this place. It is run by a young chef, has about 30 different Italian and British draft beers and serves very good lunch fare. We had one amber and one bitter beer and a sampler of three different kinds of suppli (=arancini fried rice balls) with different sauces, one small pizza with buffalo mozzarella, and eggplant croquettes with onion sauce and toasted rosemary twigs. Really fun and tasty. Just as we settled in for lunch there came a torrential downpour which lasted an hour, then cleared up and off we went.

Then on to the beautiful mosaics of Santa Maria Maggiore and Santa Cecilia before hopping the #8 tram to Piazza Venezia and a 10-minute walk back to the hotel.

Dinner: bus H back to Trastevere and dinner at Da Enzo on Via Vascellari, just a block from Da Teo where we had eaten the night before. We had reserved a week before. It’s a very small and popular place. Outstanding caccio e pepe, very good pasta alla gricia (guanciale), good but not great coda alla vaccinara, unacceptable abbacchio (lamb)—bony and gristly. All was redeemed by the waiter’s choice of wine: a Lazio red Baccarossa 2011. We do not know wine lore, we just asked waiters to choose a local wine to go with the meal, red or white, and “no bancarotta per favore” and they usually came up with very good bottles priced around 18 – 22 euros.

Naples

We caught the Frecciarossa fast train to Naples in the morning. I had bought our two fast train tickets (the Rome to Naples leg and another at the end of the trip, Salerno to Rome) two months ahead of time on the Trenitalia web site and printed out the email with the PRN number. I’m always wondering whether the conductor is going to look at my email printout and ask what the devil is that, but no, on the last three trips this has worked very well.

From the Naples train station we walked around the edge of the extensive construction going on in Piazza Garibaldi up Via Carbonara. A lot of the rebuilding of the piazza and the Garibaldi metro station is now completed, very snazzy, lots of shiny tubing interlaced beam kind of things on the surface and a new shiny entrance down to the Garibaldi metro.

People say “Napoli si ama o si odia, senza mezze misure” – you love Naples or you hate it, there’s no middle ground. (Borrowed from the excellent web blog of Maria, “skipblog.it”) Plunging into Garibaldi square was a sudden immersion into the South: sidewalk merchants selling everything from miniature sewing devices to kebabs to “iPads just like new we make you good price”, tourists like us dragging their suitcases through the crowd, Neapolitans blithely wading through the traffic (we following like baby ducklings), and lots and lots of noise. Once we reached Via Carbonara (it branches off the northwest end of Garibaldi square) it was an easy 10-minute walk past a couple of scruffy blocks into more sedate territory and eventually to our hotel, the Palazzo Caracciolo.

The Caracciolo family has been a major force in Naples history for centuries. The church of San Giovanni a Carbonara, half a block from the hotel, is chock full of splendid medieval and Renaissance tombs of the Caracciolo. The Palazzo Caracciolo was their palace, built in the late 1500s. It was also the palace of Joachim Murat, one of Napoleon’s generals who was made King of Naples by Mr. N. Murat reigned for a few years but was killed by the locals in 1815 when Mr. N. met with unpleasantness on the battlefield. We loved the place. A big, beautiful arched courtyard and a smaller garden court, lots of places to drink a prosecco in the afternoon or take your morning cappuccino. Big and varied breakfast offerings.

The hotel does a fair amount of convention and guided tour business. Usually we don’t like the atmosphere of a big convention hotel but this felt much more relaxed and comfortable, elegant but not slick. Very friendly and knowledgeable hotel staff. Strong air conditioning in the rooms. We asked for, and got, a room on the first floor (i.e., the American second floor), with big French doors opening onto a little terrace overlooking the big courtyard. A real deal for 100 euros a night.

Another reason we liked the Palazzo Caracciolo is that it was just beyond the old centro, an easy 10-minute walk past the Duomo to Tribunali. This meant that we were just beyond the noise and hectic energy of the centro, which we did not want to experience at night when time to sleep. Some comments on the web saw the location as a disadvantage but for us, it was a plus.

We had arrived in Naples on a Wednesday, mid-day. I had checked beforehand and knew that Capodimonte Museum and the San Martino Cloister were closed on Wednesdays so we had made other plans for Wednesday afternoon. We walked from the hotel to the Via Sofia, just on its eastern side. I wanted to check out a church on this northern part of the centro, the Santi Apostoli. The façade today is nothing but a blank stucco front and a doorway. Nothing prepares you for the baroque blast of the interior. Jeff Matthews, A Brit expat living in Naples, author of an excellent blog, “Naples: Life, Death & Miracles,” calls this a “Wizard of Oz Moment”. Not only is the interior loaded with baroque richness, but the interior has a powerful cohesiveness. The church was built relatively quickly in the mid-1600s and the interior has not been altered or disrupted by later additions. Even though this is not a huge structure, the visual impact is very strong. One of my baroque favorites of the entire trip.

Then down Via Duomo, visited the cathedral (a big jumble of beautiful pieces but the overall impression is uneven), then down Tribunali to have a late lunch at Sorbillo, the older 32 Tribunali place, not the newer one a few doors away. Everybody except us were Italians; pizzas were flying out of the kitchen. We ordered a margherita and a prosciutto and a bottle of water, wolfed them down, terrific. The bill came to 9.40 euros.

On to the Cappella San Severo. This has been described often in this forum and elsewhere, so no need to go into great detail. We found this to be a magical and spooky place. We talked to a couple of the guides about the symbolism, including the importance of the color green for the Freemasons. Raimondo di Sangro, an ardent Mason, apparently developed the green material which was used on the ceiling frescoes. The masonic symbolism represented by the Veiled Christ and the other statues was fascinating. The “anatomical devices” in the crypt, with the precise modeling of the arteries and veins of the human body, made me wonder why a simple DNA test could not be done to answer once and for all whether these things were in fact remains of human bodies or some kind of complex sculpture. But the Sangro family still owns this place, we were told, and maybe they just do not want to do any scientific testing.

Back to hotel, change, a prosecco from the bar served in the big courtyard as dusk arrived. This is a great place!

Dinner at Pulcinella Bistro in the centro, not far from Santa Chiara. This is a small family-run place in a beautifully restored space. For openers, suppli rice and anchovy balls and varied marinated seafood; mains – scialatelli (=fat spaghetti) with prawns and also with mussels; dolci – semifreddo with strawberries and amaretto. The waiter’s wine choice was a nice cold white Falanghina. 75 euros total, delish.

Thursday morning we had our first encounter with the massive breakfast buffet offered by the Caracciolo: plain and chocolate cornetti, sfogliatelli, various breads, salamis, cheeses, scrambled eggs, English-style bacon, scrambled eggs…..and fresh green beans (?!@*?!!!) Actually I had a big pile of green beans, a refreshing bit of vegetables for starting the day. And cappuccino for the asking. All under the massive arches surrounding the big courtyard.

I had gotten up early so after breakfast I crossed the street to visit San Giovanni a Carbonara. The name “Carbonara” was given to this area because the townsfolk used to burn their garbage in this area, which was just outside the walls of the town. San Giovanni is not visited very much. Founded as a church and a monastery by the Augustinians in 1343, it offers splendid medieval and Renaissance tombs and frescoes, many of them glorifying members of the Caracciolo family. Leopold Mozart brought little Wolfgang to Naples in May 1770 seeking music contracts and they stayed here in the monastery for a few days.

On entering the church I was dumbfounded by the immense sculpted tomb of King Ladislas and his sister, Giovanna II, 1428, 36 feet high. At the very top of the monument is a statue of the king mounted on horseback with his sword raised high, almost touching the ceiling of the church. Behind the main altar, walking through a doorway under the Ladislas monument, you enter the chapel of Caracciolo del Sole, 1427. It contains the (can I say “magnificent” again?) tomb of Sergianni Caracciolo and a floor paved with thousands of small majolica ceramic tiles with images of leaves, geometrical designs, and human heads.

This chapel’s walls are covered with frescoes depicting the life of the Virgin by Leonardo da Besozzo. Also frescoes of the lives of the hermit monks by Perinetto da Benevento. The monks are shown making bricks, preaching, and one scene shows a monk swatting the devil on his backside with a stick. The scenes of Mary’s life includes a crowded picture of the birth of Jesus, with all manner of everyday details, such as a cook preparing a chicken for dinner with the house cat perched on the kitchen table waiting to pounce on any stray chicken bits

To the left of the main altar is the chapel of Caracciolo di Vico, a Renaissance chapel completed in the early 1500s with tombs and sculptures of many members of the Caracciolo family. The dome is luminous and white, a small version of the Pantheon’s dome.

Today was the day we had planned for visiting two big sights, the museum of Capodimonte and and the monastery of San Martino. We got a taxi from the hotel to Capodimonte. The taxi driver regaled us in English with tales Naples history and he approved our lunch yesterday at Sorbillo 32. On approaching Capodimonte we saw a tall, modern, steel building and he said it was the Theological University, Naples having a very high percentage of theologians, as well as a multitude of lawyers and doctors. I said that if the town also had a high number of undertakers it would be the perfect combination.

Capodimonte is sometimes rated as a secondary sight in English language guidebooks. This seems bizarre. The palace and grounds are beautiful and the collection of paintings, thanks to the Farnese-Bourbon folks, is breathtaking. The palace itself is very un-Baroque, almost severe, with the ground floor dominated by tall grey stone arches and the exterior walls painted almost a Pompeiian red color. There are two huge interior courtyards and a handy coffee and snack bar for a break.

For me, the dominant space in the collection was the gallery containing several works showing Pope Paul III and his family. The central work is Titian’s, “Portrait of Paul III with Two Grandsons”. Sometimes this work is labeled “…with His Nephews”, but the Italian word can mean grandson, and in this case it definitely does. The pope himself is shown as an aged an aged spidery gnome, turning to his left, with a cagey look in his eye. He is balancing power politics and family politics (at this time in Italy they are the same), juggling his alliances among Spain, France, and the Emperor Charles V, maneuvering his grandsons into ecclesiastical positions and/or strategic marriages. The grandson on the left, Alessandro, is 24 years old, already a cardinal, and scheming to become pope after grand-dad departs this world. His left hand is on the back of Paul’s chair, indicating his intent. Grandson Ottavio, 21, on the right, is angling for the wealth of the Duchy of Parma; he is bowing in obsequious homage to grand-dad. This is a contrast to Alessandro’s stance, who turns his confident gaze directly to the viewer (or to Titian as he is painting the scene?) All the while we can hear Grandfather Paul chuckling to himself, “heh, heh, heh, little do they know what I am about to do….” A supreme portrayal of papal family dynamics.

This Titian portrait is flanked by another portrait of Paul III alone and by two fine sculpted busts of the pope. On the right wall is Raphael’s portrait of Paul III when he was a young, on-the-make cardinal allying himself with Medici wealth to climb up the slippery ladder of papal politics. He looks serene, assured, holding some piece of bureaucratic paperwork in his elegant hand, clothed in brilliant cardinal scarlet against a black background, with a small window scene of the countryside in the distance.

And we need to thank wily Paul III and his progeny for the bulk of the Capodimonte collection we’re enjoying as well as the antiquities in the archeology museum in the city below.

So many other wonders in Capodimonte, hard to focus. Especially wonderful is Masaccio’s Crucifixion, part of a large altarpiece composed of many paintings, now dispersed in different museums in Europe and the U.S. Masaccio has placed his realistic figures on a flat golden Byzantine background, a transition from medieval to early Renaissance. This Crucifixion piece was designed for the very top of the tall altarpiece and Masaccio elongated the mourners at the foot of the cross and foreshortened Christ’s head. The whole thing looks out of proportion today as we look at it at eye level, but it was designed to be seen looking up ten or more feet and His head would be sunk on His chest at the moment of death. The museum curators have placed this masterpiece in a single room, completely dark except for lighting directed on the painting. With the gold and scarlet and blue colors, it glows like a jewel.

A light lunch in the courtyard snack bar: a slice of pizza stuffed with slightly bitter friarelli greens and mozzarella, a toasted salami and mozzarella panino, followed by a good espresso. Then we took the R4 bus to Piazza Dante, hopped the Montesanto funicular to the Morghen stop on Vomero hill and walked to the San Martino Certosa.

San Martino: if I stop to describe this place I’ll never finish this trip report! Chapel, oratory, library, and other spaces chock-full of fine woodwork, sculpture, and frescoes. Baroque splendor high on the hill overlooking the city, the bay, Vesuvius, Sorrento, and Capri. When Naples is good, it is very, very good.

We took the funicular back to Montesanto and the metro to the Cavour stop on Via Foria. It started to drizzle, I missed our street for the hotel, and a downpour ensues. Water flooded the side streets. Where are our umbrellas? Back at the hotel, of course. We wandered and wandered, soaking wet, like drowned rats. Finally we found Via Carbonara, the rain let up, and we passed a little tavola calda and bought some suppli for moral support. Good grief they were wonderful, crispy crusts and stuffed with gooey cheese, a little meat, and peas. One euro each. The rain stopped. We sloshed back to the hotel, showered and got ready for dinner.

Dinner was at a family place often recommended by the hotel and well rated on web advisory sites, Pizzeria Lombardi on Via Foria, a few blocks from the hotel. We asked for advice on fresh seafood and boy did we get it: apps of marinated anchovies and fried anchovies and then paccheri with lobster, mussels, octopus, prawns, and squid with a little fresh tomato and parsley for the juices. The suggested wine is Aglianico Mastroberardino, excellent and priced around 20 euros. Dolci: a kind of ricotta-chocolate thing, called “cassatta” on the menu but not like what I thought cassatta was. No problem, it was delicious. Limoncello and amaro as digestivi. An outstanding, simple dinner, one of the best of the trip.

Back to the hotel and prep for the next leg: the Friday morning train to Paestum.

  • Report Abuse

    How delightful to encounter someone else who has visited San Giovanni a Carbonara! I think thousands of tourists must walk right past it on their way from the train station to the archeological museum. It is almost never mentioned in guidebooks.

    I am glad you reported the theft so that travelers stay on the alert in train stations, but while the 60 year old retired exec may have felt uncomfortable in the historic center, it doesn't appear objectively that anything happened to her. I'm not sure all solo female travelers find Naples so intimidating they would take it off their travel list. Many report otherwise.

    Glad to hear you were wowed by the Certosa. It is a tremendous treasure house with one of Europe's most fabulously historic views. And the Capodimonte is surely one of the most underrated and undervisited art museums of the world. The Titians alone -- all of them, the Annuciation being my favorite -- are the heart of an astonishing collection.

    And you haven't even gotten to Paestum yet. Sounds like your trip was rich and rewarding, and a lot more than just Pompei and pizza,.

  • Report Abuse

    what a terrific start to a TR. i love your descriptions of everything you are seeing and eating, and appreciate the italian too! I had just over half a day in Naples in February this year and your report has only re-inforced what i thought at the time which was that we had far too little time there.

    please keep it coming.

  • Report Abuse

    The more I read about Naples, the more determined I am to make it my next trip. When I first read of the treasures in the Capodimonte, I was shocked I had never even heard of it before! Thanks so much for this great report. I look forward to more, and am anxious to hear about your time in Salerno.

  • Report Abuse

    i think we must have been lucky with the Neapolitans we met. When we'd got a bit lost trying to find our way back to the station from the Spaccanapoli, a very nice shop-keeper guided us there through the rain and puddles, and another helped us to negotiate the awful traffic outside the station. but i was glad that i had two companions, especially when we went past many streets that were completely unlit.

  • Report Abuse

    I keep rereading your account of Naples because I can relate to all the things of which you write. I am happy that FINALLY someone other than I can sing the praises of Naples with such enthusiasm.

  • Report Abuse

    Paestum

    We took the 12:38 pm train to Paestum, arriving at 2:04 pm. This is a regionale, there are no fast Freccia trains stopping at Paestum. You can’t buy regionale tickets online and there’s no point trying—there are no reserved seats and they always seem to have space, that is, people can always cram into the cars. Our train was fairly new and not too crowded although this was a Friday and there were lots of passengers. The train goes around the eastern side of Vesuvius, stops at Salerno, Capaccio, Paestum, and then on to Agropoli at little farther.

    A few years ago the government ended the staffing of the Paestum station so there was no way to buy a return ticket from Paestum to one’s next destination. Travel advisory web sites are full of questions and comments about what to do. Now things have improved. When we arrived we encountered a helpful staffer in an Information office with brochures and maps. In Naples I had already bought our tickets from Naples to Paestum and also from Paestum to our next stop, Salerno. But the Paestum station now has a shiny new automatic ticket sales machine (note: the information office at the station does not sell tickets but the ticket machines have an English option, they have an easy user interface, and they accept credit cards. There is a very good how-to-use-these-machines amateur video posted on Youtube). It also has a shiny new ticket validation machine (“convalidare i biglietti!!!”) so conductors might now be less forgiving if one has an un-validated ticket.

    There’s nothing around the station. Not to worry. The walk to the archeological zone and to most little hotels and B&Bs around the zone is just about 15 or 20 minutes and it is a part of the whole experience, IMHO. Walking along the tree-shaded road toward the zone, you are actually walking on the eastern access road of the Romans and Greeks. Archeologists have excavated a section of this modern little road and they have found the ancient layers. We passed farm lands, peacocks (!), horses grazing. Soon we were facing the eastern gate of the ancient walled city, with a weathered sphinx head on the arch (keeps away evil spirits). These are the Roman walls, several miles of them encircling the ancient city, which is roughly square. A couple of dozen towers formerly existed; a few survive and the southeast tower apparently is being restored/reconstructed because it is covered in two stories of scaffolding.

    Walking a little way west of the gate we came to the north-south Via Magna Graecia, the eastern boundary of the fenced archeological zone, and our first sight of the temples. To our right (north) along this road are hotels, cafes, restaurants, the excellent museum (more on this below), and a very early Christian church. You buy a single ticket for the museum and the archeological zone. A one-day ticket costs 10 euros and a three-day ticket costs 11 euros. Were were staying the night and intended to spend a lot of time wandering around the temples for two days so we bought the latter. There are entry gates with guards on this eastern side as well as one entry gate with a guard on the southern side, next to the Ristorante Nettuno (more on this also, below).

    We turned left (south) to go to our hotel, the Villa Rita. Walking south on Via Magna Graecia a few hundred feet past the two southern temples, we turned west on Via Nettuno. This marks the southern boundary of the fenced zone. As mentioned above, there is an entry gate here.

    Just a few hundred feet beyond the Ristorante Nettuno, past the first road turnoff going left (south), continuing on the Via Nettuno, was the driveway entrance to Villa Rita. (There are many hotel signs at the intersection of Via Nettuno and the road branching off to the south, but for some reason Villa Rita has not posted a sign. Keep going west on Via Nettuno a little farther to get to the hotel entrance driveway.)

    We walked down the tree-lined driveway, with cornfields on either side, and approached the hotel. What a lovely place, several deep yellow buildings, palm trees, flowers everywhere, statuary and ceramic tilework and gardens and arbors and a good-sized swimming pool. We checked in with the owner, Luigi, such a welcoming host. He happily explained in English all the logistic details. He also told us a bit about his hotel. His grandfather purchased land and part of the wall and tower area around the southern zone gate in the 1920s. When Luigi was a young boy his bedroom was in the second floor of the Roman tower! Later, his parents bought more land and eventually built the Villa Rita, which Luigi greatly expanded, adding gardens, additional rooms, his own house next to the villa, and the swimming pool. This entire area, by the way, was part of the burial ground of ancient Paestum. Rita even showed us a small fragment of a painted Greek or Lucanian vase which she found recently near the driveway. Because this area has been farmed for many years, the plows have churned up the land and bits and pieces of ancient pottery turn up regularly.

    We got settled in the hotel and then walked back to the museum area and had a late lunch (it’s now 3:00 pm) at the Bar Museo, on the southern side of the museum, in a covered terrace overlooking the archeological park. There is another “bar museo” on the northern side of the museum, but we had lunch Friday and Saturday at the southern bar/ristorante: good fresh seafood pasta and insalate miste with a carafe of cold white wine and espresso.

    After this late lunch we went to the museum. This is an excellent museum, opened in the early 1950s but designed in the late 1930s in the spartan fascist style. I confess that I like the design, I think it is a simple, clear design suitable for the ancient treasures inside. The collection includes many Greek and Lucanian sculptures and vases, including one very large Lucanian amphora which was finally wrested from the Getty Museum a few years ago after Italian investigators conclusively proved that the Getty had purchased it from a black market dealer in stolen Italian antiquities.

    The highlight of the museum’s collection is the set of frescoed tomb panels from a Greek tomb of the 5th (?) century BC. This is now known as the Tomb of the Diver. These panels are unique, the only example of ancient Greek figurative painting in existence, discovered in 1968 by an Italian archeologist in a necropolis near Paestum. The side panels represent a symposium, i.e., a Greek drinking party, with flute player, wine server, male participants flirting with each other and playing the game of “kottabos,” pitching their wine goblets to throw the wine dregs across the room to hit a target. Sort of like a Budweiser beer party during the Super Bowl….except that this painting is set in the tomb of a young man. The lid of the tomb depicts a young man diving into the ocean, from a pillar-type structure which probably represents the Pillars of Hercules (=Gibraltar), the limits of the known world for the Greeks. The ancient Greeks did not practice swimming or diving as a sport; for them, the image of diving into the ocean most likely represented the act of dying and entering the next world. The combination of the scenes of the drinking party and the dive into the unknown of the next life feels like a quintessentially Greek take on life and death.

    Now for the big show: Archeology magazine wrote that ancient Paestum is “perhaps one of the most unjustly overlooked sites of the ancient Mediterranean world.” We entered the archeological zone and began slowly to drink in all the magnificence of the Greek temples as well as the remains of the Roman city, not magnificent by any means because only the building foundations remain but fascinating nonetheless. Paestum has a layered history (I guess you could say this about any place in Italy, but the farther south one goes, up goes the layer factor). The Greeks moved in, shoved aside the original inhabitants, built their city on the sea (the Mediterranean today is about half a mile farther west), then came the Lucanians, a regional tribe, followed by the Romans.

    Then comes decline. The empire dribbles away, barbarians come in waves, people start moving upland to found Capaccio. During this time the Paestum area has been deforested, the trees used for shipbuilding. The land becomes marshy, mosquitoes flourish and malaria spreads. By the millennium, Paestum has the reputation of an evil and haunted place. Few people go there. The Capaccio people have a little knowledge of the temples but the structures are overgrown with brush. The whole story is somewhat similar to the fate of Mayan cities like Chichen Itza and Uzmal: the locals know that some big buildings are in the jungle but they don’t go near them.

    This background was given to us by Rita, the daughter of the owner of Villa Rita, Luigi. Rita is 26 and a graduate student in archeology at the University of Salerno. In the 18th century, visitors from outside the region begin visiting Paestum. This is the time that Pompeii was “rediscovered”. The Bourbons acquire the zone around the visible temples (only their upper two-thirds or so are visible), not knowing that there are remains of the Roman city all around the temples. So the archeological zone we have today is the area taken as public property from the local farmers by the Bourbon. They also built the Via Magna Graecia, cutting through the Roman amphitheater. (Perhaps their workers were not even aware of what it was?)

    When I was reading about Paestum in the weeks before the trip, I looked at maps of the ancient city and the surrounding walls. West of the archeological zone is a large area of the city still within the walls, but it is not excavated because it is a functioning farm. I had thought that perhaps the farmer had dug in his heels and protested against any government plans to apply eminent domain and buy his land. But no, said Rita. The farmer might very well be willing to sell his land, she said, but the government has no money to buy. So maybe some time in the future this will happen. In the meantime, a lot of the Roman city is underneath the corn fields.

    We entered the zone in the northern part and walked around the Temple of Ceres, built about 500 BC. This has now been identified at the temple of Athena. The early explorers of Paestum misinterpreted the available evidence and applied incorrect names to the temples, but these inaccurate names have stuck. This was the first Greek temple we have visited since our trip to Sicily four years ago, visiting Agrigento and its Valley of the Temples. All of the Paestum temples are Doric, early, middle, and late Doric, from 550 BC to 450 BC. This Ceres/Athena temple was striking in the strong sunlight of mid-afternoon, but better was to come. We walked down one of the major Roman streets toward the two southern temples.

    The Romans destroyed most of the Greek city and rebuilt it on Roman plans, but they did not touch the three major temples, out of superstition and respect. On the southern end of the zone are the temples of Neptune (Poseidon), now considered the second temple of Hera, called “Hera II,” about 450 BC, and south of it the temple called by the 18th century visitors the Basilica, in fact an older temple of Hera, called “Hera I,” about 550 BC.

    Even for non-experts, the differences between these two southern temples are striking. I became addicted to learning some of the ins and outs of the design of these Doric temples. The spacing and dimensions of Hera I are over-strong, the visual effect is too muscular. The columns are close together. The echinus, the part directly on top of each column, is too “fat”; the abacus (the square flat part on top of the echinus) is too big, making the entire capital (=the echinus plus the abacus) look chunky. The columns bulge very visibly in the middle—this is the famous “entasis” designed to present to the eye the image of a strong, vertical column, but here the entasis is too extreme because one is conscious of it. The façade of Hera I has an uneven number of columns, nine. Very unusual. Archeologists speculate that the resulting double interior temple spaces may indicate worship of another deity in addition to Hera…maybe her husband, Zeus?

    Now we jump ahead one hundred years, to the temple of Neptune/Poseidon (Hera II) next to Hera I. This is the most beautiful work of the three. It is also the best survivor. It was built maybe around 450 BC. Some experts guess that it was inspired by the Great Temple of Zeus and designed by the same architect, Libon of Elis. Some archeologists believe that this temple may actually have inspired the design of the Parthenon, which was built a few years later. In any case, it is a supremely elegant example of Greek Doric temple design. The effect is stronger, more assured, with the columns spaced a bit more widely than in Hera I. The echinus of each column is more slender and the entire capital is much more in proportion to the column itself. The column’s entasis is barely noticeable, which is the whole point. We walked around and around the structure, taking in the shifting patterns of the shadows cast by the late afternoon sun on the columns and the foundations.

    Having sacrificed thousands of pixels for dozens of photos of these temples, we walked out the southern gate on the side of the Ristorante Nettuno and returned to the Villa Rita. The later afternoon was still warm so we went for a swim in the pool. This was bliss. We floated and splashed, looked at the palm trees and flowers and swallows darting around, then sat in the deck chairs wrapped up in the big towels the hotel gave us and digested the day. Yes, bliss. Then dressed for dinner at Ristorante Nettuno.

    We had reserved at Ristorante Nettuno because of its high web marks and especially because you could eat on the covered terrace overlooking the temples of Hera I and Hera II, which were illuminated at night. Dinner: mussels, gamberini, crespolini (=crepes) with cheese sauce, spaghetti with seafood, limoncello and Fernet. All in all: good, tasty, but just B+ (…or were we getting way too blasé about good Italian food?) However, totally worth it. How often can you have dinner on the terrace overlooking illuminated temples built before Plato was born?

    We walked back through the night to the Villa Rita.

    Saturday morning we had a delicious breakfast in the dining room of the hotel, served cappuccino by Luigi’s daughter, Rita. Then we walked down the Via Nettuno half an hour to see the Mediterranean beach, full of Italian familes settling in for the weekend. We retraced our steps a bit and turned into the Barlotti buffalo farm. This is one of the best buffalo cheese producers in the area (another, Tenuta Vannulo, was a couple of miles away, too far for us to walk). Buffalo herds have grazed in the Paestum plain for a long time; they come from Asia although no one knows for sure how they got here. Different from American buffalo, with long curving horns and, more importantly, with the ability to produce rich milk for making mozzarella, yogurt, and ice cream. We visited the herd of about 100 buffalo during their lunch, an extensive spread of stinking corn silage. Then we went to the Barlotti café, got some espresso and buffala yogurt with honey. And then some more espresso. Extremely tasty.

    We walked back to the temple zone for one last look at the temples of Hera I and Hera II, and walked across the Via Magna for a late lunch at the Bar Museo, scialatelli with frutta di mare and cold white wine. Then back to the hotel, picked up our suitcases, said goodbye to the folks with great regret, and Rita’s fiancé Vincenzo drove us to the Paestum station to catch the 3:00 pm train for the 30-minute trip to Salerno.

    Next stop: Salerno

  • Report Abuse

    >>The columns bulge very visibly in the middle—this is the famous “entasis” designed to present to the eye the image of a strong, vertical column, but here the entasis is too extreme because one is conscious of it.<<

    Did anything you read beforehand indicate whether the original intent was the appearance of this temple when approached from the sea? Or would that view have been impossible?

    I also enjoyed immensely the museum at Paestum, including a section that documents in interesting detail what went on Paestum during WW2 and the immediate aftermath. It is very well done. I feel the museum at Paestum is one of Europe's most enjoyable when it comes to the collection. It has a somewhat confusing layout, so it takes a little time to get one's bearings and see the best stuff.

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks everyone for your comments. Also thanks to the forum members in general; I benefitted greatly in the months before the trip by reading about members' impressions of the places on our itinerary.

    sandralist: It seems that Paestum was never directly on the sea, but was instead founded a little inland. The whole area is fairly flat, called the "Sele plain" from the name of the river just a few miles to the north. So perhaps the temples were not visible from the sea? Here is some information from a German traveler's website (he/she does not appear to be a professional archeologist and there are no visible footnotes for sources so take this for what it's worth:

    "The Greek settlers called the city Poseidonia in honor of the Greek sea God Poseidon. In spite of the name, Poseidonia probably did not have an important harbour. It was, at that time, separated from the sea by a shallow fresh water lagoon and could be reached only by small ships. Agropoli, which was situated only 6 kms to the south, was certainly a better choice for a harbour. The important role of Poseidonia was due to its central place in a very fertile plain +) . Not Poseidon but Hera, the goddess of fertility, became the predominant divinity of Poseidonia." The web site for this is: http://www.paestum.de/en/paestum.htm

  • Report Abuse

    Roses! I forgot the Roses!

    I forgot to add this bit in the Paestum section: when we were walking along the south wall, we passed many scattered blocks of stone which had been part of the walls. After a few minutes walk my partner spotted one large block with an inscription in Latin. I photographed it and wrote it down in my trip notebook: "CAETERA ITALIAE MEMORANDA NEC POETAE TACENT PAESTANA ROSARIA SCOPULOS SIRENARUM" Hmm. My high school Latin was not up to the task. I could just guess that it was something about Paestum roses? and Sirens? We continued walking, my partner walking ahead of me looking for more inscriptions and lo he found another: "VIDI PAESTANO GAUDERE ROSARIA CVLTV EX ORIENTE NOVO ROSCIDA LVCIFERO." Wow. More about roses, and a cult? or cultivation? And Lucifer? Where is Dan Brown when we need him? More walking, one more discovery down the road: "PAESTANIS PARITER DEPINGIT TERGA ROSETIS" Okay, we've got to ask Luigi about this when we get back to the hotel.

    As it turned out, we first saw Rita when we returned. She, of course, with her archeological background and some knowledge of Latin, was a big help. It turns out that Paestum was renowned in ancient and even in early medieval times for its abundant roses. She said that they had in their library a book written by a modern-day historian of Paestum, all about the cultivation of its roses. And he had stayed in their hotel. His name is Mario Mello.

    She went to the bookcase and rummaged around and pulled out his book: Mario Mello, "Rosae," published by Arte Tipografico, Naples, 2003. It covered several ancient sites famous for rose cultivation. She said that the chapter on Paestum surely would reference the inscriptions and she was right. Thumbing page by page I finally found the citations (for interested Paestum fans, page 76 footnotes 19, 23, and 25). Each of these inscriptions is by a different author, from the late empire to early medieval times. They praise the Paestum roses and the perfumes and creams that are produced from the flowers. One of the authors, a monk?, says that the emerging beauty and fragrance of a blooming Paestum rose is like the growth of the soul from the love of Christ. Okay, but the mystery is not quite solved. All three inscriptions, on three different tumbled wall blocks, were inscribed in identical styles, same height letters, against the same surface which had been chiselled smooth, setting the inscription apart from the rough-hewn surface of the wall block. So...who in the world did this? When? Why? Anyone have any knowledge of this?

  • Report Abuse

    Thanks, EYWandBTV! I had thought that Paestum was a harbor that silted up (just assumed it, no source for this), as is the case with so many other places in Italy, many of them with important monuments in what used to be port towns. So then maybe just 100 more years of practice improved the optics of those columns?

    However, this article seems to indicate that the coastline sunk, creating the marshy lagoons.

    http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/21776329

  • Report Abuse

    sandralist: What fascinating material you have found! The Australian paper which you mention describing the "new" excavations is dated 1932. So this would have been part of Mussolini's government's policy. In 1935 Mussolini visited Salerno and Paestum, part of the fascist glorification of imperial Rome. The government built the Paestum train station at this time to encourage visitors and it also cleared some of the walls and forbade any new construction near the walls. But the heritage of Paestum should not be tarnished by this episode.

  • Report Abuse

    Salerno

    We went to Salerno as part of our plan to wind up eventually in Ravello on the Amalfi coast. But we wanted to avoid the crush of visitors going from Sorrento in the morning for a day trip and then returning from Amalfi to Sorrento in the afternoon. So we planned the itinerary to go from Naples, down to Paestum, and then over to Salerno and up to to approach Amalfi from the south, using the ferry from Salerno. This worked out well. Salerno was a good stop for us: a historical centro, beautiful boulevards on the seacoast, a clean, well-run medium-sized city with a lot of history. I had had an interesting conversation with a shopkeeper from Salerno during our train trip from Naples to Paestum. She explained that Salerno has had a very progressive major, Vincenzo De Luca, for the past 20 years.

    There’s not much detailed coverage of Salerno in the most popular guidebooks. Rick Steves, the Blue Guide to Southern Italy, and the green Michelin give it short shrift. This is a gross oversight, IMHO. The city certainly deserves a visit of a couple of nights and art and history fans could easily spend more time here. It also makes a good transportation hub to visit the region: fast trains reach Rome in one and one-half hours; local trains go to places like Paestum and Agropoli. From here one can take ferries that go all along the Amalfi coast, thereby bypassing the crowded Sorrento-to-Amalfi route.

    We took the 3:02 pm train from Paestum, arriving in Salerno at 3:49 pm. We walked from the station west along the broad, pedestrianized Corso Vittorio Emanuele, which turns into the Via Mercanti as you enter the old centro. We had to meet our host, Ludovico, for the B&B Adelberga, at his jewelry shop on the Via Mercanti to get the keys. Ludovico was waiting for us, gave us an overview of the town (in English), then we walked to the Vicolo Adelberga, a narrow lane just around the corner from his store. (What kind of word/name is “Adelberga”? Well, Salerno was invaded, pillaged, and conquered by a number of folk after the disintegration of the empire—Goths, Byzantines, Normans, Lombards, Angevins, Bourbons. Adelberga was a princess of the Lombards; they came storming down from the north and took over the city for a time. Her husband was Prince Arechi, who built the castle on the peak of Bonadies Mountain, which overlooks the city.)

    Wandered around the centro, had dinner at Angolo Masuccio, a small place between Via Mercanti and the seafront. More pasta and seafood, still very very good—and from this point onward, this is what we ate every night, unless indicated otherwise; there’s no point repeating how good the fresh fish, octopus, squid, gamberi, and mussels are. So this is going to be the “default dinner”.

    Sunday: we toured the Norman-built Duomo, built in the 11th century. The cathedral entrance is preceded by a lovely semi-Moorish courtyard (an unusual placement for a church courtyard) surrounded by ancient columns, some of which were taken from Paestum. Magnificent 1000-year-old 14-foot high cathedral doors made in Constantinople with bronze panels depicting the life of Jesus. The Romanesque bell tower was added in the 12th century. The cathedral has double 12th century ambones (pulpits), covered with the most complex inlaid geometric marble work. These pulpits rest on columns with richly carved capitals covered with small Biblical figures. Four majestic lions support the columns of the ambone on the right side of the nave. The inlaid marble work looks very Islamic. (The Norman duchy stretching from the Salerno region all the way down to Sicily in this period was beginning several centuries of great artistic syncretism, blending the work of Islamic, Byzantine, and Norman Christian artisans and architects.) Sadly the crypt with the relics of St. Matthew was closed during our visit; from the photos I have seen on the web, it is baroque to the n-th degree. We will put it on the list for our next trip.

    Our host Ludovico had urged us to see the church of San Giorgio on Via Duomo, just a half block south of Via Mercanti. We stopped there after visiting the Duomo and saw the last part of a sung Mass. The church was packed (it was Sunday Mass), so we stayed at the rear entrance but we were still able to see the splendid Baroque interior. The Benedictines founded the present San Giorgio in the 9th century as a monastery. The church we see today was built in the 17th century by the Neapolitan architect Ferdinando Sanfelice, who also designed the double curving exterior stairway for the church of San Giovanni a Carbonara in Naples, the church we admired so much. The major interior frescoes were done by Neapolitan painter Angelo Solimena. The entire effect is glorious.

    Now it was late morning: our eyes and brains were on “visual overload,” so we continued south on Via Duomo toward the harbor to the intersection with Via Roma for a caffeine break. We stopped at Café L’Albatross, #59, on the corner with Piazza Santa Lucia. This café is located in an elegant 18th or 19th century building with tall arcades bordering the street. We settled in at a table under the arcades for a coffee. This is located at the western end of the long tree-shaded park which parallels the Lungomare Trieste. Lungomare Trieste is a beautifully designed harbor boulevard going east all the way to the Piazza Concordia, where the ferries depart for Amalfi. We enjoyed excellent chocolate-filled cornetti and more cappuccino added onto the cappuccino-drenched breakfast we already had consumed at the B&B. What’s wrong with that, I say?

    Fortified and refreshed, we then went back into the centro for more. We walked all around many little streets and alleys: Via Dogana Vecchia (The Old Customs Street), Vicolo Duca Ruggiero (Duke Roger Alley), Vicolo dei Amalfitani (The Amalfi Alley—where the Amalfi merchants and traders clustered), Via Torquato Tasso (this was an ancient Roman decumanus, the major east-west street of any Roman city), and others.

    We visited the crypt of San Pietro a Corte; this has been carefully excavated in the 1980s to reveal the Roman baths of the 1st century AD and early Christian structures built one or two centuries on top of the baths. Several large remnants of early Christian frescoes survive. The history of these structures is very complex and I followed neither the English nor the Italian explanation of the guide. One observes the excavated area from metal walkways about 20 feet above, giving almost a feeling of diving into two thousand years of Salerno history.

    We then began walking up steep narrow streets and steps to enter the old Norman district, the “Plaium Montis,” which is basically the base of the Bonadies Mountain which overlooks the city. There were families and friends chatting all along the streets and their speech did not sound like Italian at all. Instead, it was a soft, low sing-songy kind of speech. I later mentioned this to Ludovico and he said it was a very old dialect in that neighborhood and that he himself could not understand it very well.

    We continued up many steps to the Giardino della Minerva. This was a wonderful site and anyone visiting Salerno should definitely visit this historic garden. Its origins go back a thousand years to the foundation of the medical school. Salerno had the first medical school in Europe, founded in the 11th century. Men and women studied there. The medical school incorporated the Islamic medical discoveries and techniques as well as accumulating Islamic texts and translations of Roman and Greek medical works.

    In the 14th century, a medical researcher and teacher named Matteo Silvatico created this garden, essentially the first botanical garden in Europe. Silvatico was from a noble Salerno family; Boccaccio knew him and dedicated part of the “Decameron” to him. He grew all of the flowers, plants, and herbs which were considered to have medical value. During excavations in the last few decades, the remains of the original botanical garden were discovered (the garden is on a steep hill with many terraces, waterways, and little fountains and it was these structural remains which were uncovered). The garden was recreated on the site in the 1990s, using the most accurate historical records, and it opened in 2000.

    Today visitors can tour a small museum and have cold or hot herbal teas from a little café. I had a cold mint-fennel-rosemary tea with two delicious complimentary biscotti on the patio and enjoyed the panoramic view of the town hundreds of feet below and the Bay of Salerno. We walked up and around all of the garden terraces and rested a long while on one of the low terrace walls, just inhaling the beauty of the garden and the fresh air. Each plant in the garden is labeled with the standard botanical information as well as its ranking on the medieval medical classification system of the four elements (earth, air, fire, water), the four qualities (dry, cold, hot, moist), and the four humors. These are also spelled out in mosaics on the little courtyards of some of the terraces.

    This historic garden is very important because of the light it throws on the strong Islamic influence on early European medicine. Silvatico wrote a treatise on medicinal plants and Arabic plant names are far more numerous than names in Greek or Latin. As well, the design of the water channels and the fountains in the garden’s irrigation system was strongly influenced by Arab garden designs.

    Dinner at L’Unico in the centro: yes, we had you-know-what plus a delicious cold white Falanghina.

    Salerno not only rocks on Saturday night, it does the same thing Sunday night. The centro has several passeggiatas flowing through Via Mercanti (older folks, married couples) and down to the seaside through Via Roma (younger singles) and Lungomare Trieste. I couldn’t believe it. Don’t these people have to work on Monday? Well, no, they do not. Ludovico told us that on Monday the whole town shuts down, stores, museums, Duomo (except for early Mass) and people sleep late.

    So Sunday night, after dinner at L’Unico we wandered through various passeggiatas over to Via Roma, past many cafes and pizza places and snack bars with music blaring through the streets…to Punto Freddo Gelateria, Via Roma 63. Super unctuously good ice cream (or was it creamy gelato? Non lo so.) Thence to bed.

    Monday morning we said goodbye to Ludovico and Annalia and walked over to Via Roma for a final farewell cappuccino at L’Albatross, then strolled slowly, pulling our small carry-on suitcases behind us, along the Lungomare Trieste to the Piazza della Concordia to hop the ferry to Amalfi and then take the bus to Ravello.

    Next: Ravello

  • Report Abuse

    Ravello

    Monday morning we took the 11:40 am ferry for a 45-minute ride to Amalfi. This was a great, refreshing break, getting out on the water on a very sunny day. This was our first visit to the Amalfi coast and it is stunning, steep craggy mountains and ravines right to the sea’s edge, villages and small towns in nooks and crannies and high in the hills. Farm terraces perched improbably on the hillsides. Once docked in Amalfi harbor we bought our SITA bus tickets for the ride to Ravello. The ride is hair-raising, big buses careening around 180-degree hairpin turns, but do not worry, there is a one-foot high retaining wall to protect you from tumbling a thousand feet to the rocks below…Not.

    We got off the bus in Ravello and walked across the street to our hotel, the Hotel Garden, where we would stay three nights. This place is paradise! We met the manager, Patrizia, with whom I had communicated via emails months earlier, a charming person, fluent in English. We got on the elevator and she pushed the “minus 1” button: we had entered the top floor of the hotel, 2800 feet above the sea. Now we would go down the cliff to the next floor to find our room. We walked along an interior hallway, she opened the door, walked to the French doors which were covered by an exterior metal shutter. She pushed a button and up, slowly went the shutter to reveal a National Geographic-style sunny panorama of the mountainous coast and sea! Incredibly stunning. Walking out on our patio we could look east to the Littari Mountains and west out to the Mediterranean. It was a view we would soak up over and over the next few days. Footnote: Hotel Garden has a great 3-day package: 140 euros per day for a double room with terrace, with breakfast (baked goods-meats-cheeses-cereals-eggs-juices-limitless cappuccinos on request etc.) and a 15% discount on every lunch or dinner which you have during your stay.

    I won’t go into much detail about Ravello since it has been described so well all over the web and in every guidebook. We were lazy here, slowly walking around, taking breaks, soaking in places like the Villa Cimbrone with its amazing gardens and Terrace of Infinity, the Villa Rufolo, and the Duomo (loved the pulpit mosaics showing a before-and-after view of Jonah going into the whale’s mouth and then popping out). One day we took a late afternoon hike down through the Valley of the Dragon, past the abandoned paper mills, to Atrani and then over to Ravello, catching the bus back to Ravello.

    Food and drink:
    Pizzeria Vittoria for lunch: excellent, fresh, well-prepared pizzas and salads and welcoming wait staff.
    Hotel Rufolo café for lunch: beautiful umbrella’d terrace café for a late lunch of pizza, salad, white wine of the house, and espresso; the waiter pointed out the late Gore Vidal’s driveway next to the hotel leading to his home for 30 years, the Villa Rondinaia, now purchased by a company, closed to visitors; unclear if it will be transformed into a hotel, a rental villa, or a private residence.
    Cumpa Cosimo for dinner: great dinner and pampering by Mamma!
    Hotel Garden restaurant: two dinners and one lunch. Obviously we liked the food a lot.

    Ravello for us was a lotus land. Such beauty, and flowers everywhere. Also, the little town did not seem engulfed by day-visitors when we were there, late June. Everyone seemed to be moving in a slower mode, very different from the stressed-out visitors waiting in line to get into the Colosseum and such sights in Rome. I could go back to Ravello again, and again, for much longer stays. I’d especially like to do more walking in the mountains.

    We left Ravello on Thursday, bus to Amalfi, ferry to Salerno, Frecciarossa to Rome for the final bit of the trip. We had some time in Amalfi before the ferry and were able to visit the Duomo and a little of the town; a few details to follow.

    Next: Amalfi and back to Rome

  • Report Abuse

    hi again EYWandBTV:

    Something that has struck me traveling around Italy is how many malaria-ridden places became the focus of Mussolini's anti-malaria program. It was an extremely aggressive -- and successful-- program, and there are very large areas of Italy and important cities and monuments that would be almost off-limits had malaria not been eradicated.

    This is not to whitewash the destruction Mussolini brought upon beautiful cities like Salerno, which were so badly bombed during WW2 they never recovered. Salerno once was as enchanting as the entire rest of the coast to Sorrento, and would have occupied whole chapters in any guidebook had it remained so.

    I hope people will be encouraged to go to Salerno by your lovely report, and if the do, I encourage them to eat pizza there, which has its own style and I think is fully the equal of Rome and Napoli (and the mozzerella comes from right down the road).

    I too enjoyed my days in Ravello and the food there. (Although I dont know that the owner of Cumpa Cosima has children. For some reason I have the impression she does not.)

  • Report Abuse

    Thank you very much!! In all my visits to Naples (at least twenty five), I have never had the volition to go to Salerno, so I never even thought of going there. Now with your post on the city, I realize I was wrong. On my next visit to Naples, I am certainly gonna go there! Thanks again for showing me the errror of my ways.

  • Report Abuse

    Waldo: Try to see the crypt of St. Matthew, below the Duomo. From the photos I have seen on the web, it is spectacular. Check the opening times, they are different somewhat from the Duomo itself. BTW, if you take the train from Naples to Paestum (=easy), the Paestum stop is just after Cappacio, just before Agropoli.

  • Report Abuse

    If you ever come to Italy in late summer, try to include Aosta as part of your trip. It is not far by train from Milan. If you are really in heaven with ancient history, a trip that bookended Aosta with Ravenna would be an amazing sweep, and you could easily have Bologna in the middle.

  • Report Abuse

    Amalfi and back to Rome

    We arrived by bus in Amalfi in the morning with time to spare before catching the ferry, so we visited the 10th century Duomo and the attached cloister and museum. When I first went to the Duomo, the front door was open (usually you go to the left, buy a ticket, and start the tour of the complex by entering the cloister courtyard). Lo and behold it was the end of a high Mass, there was no ticket control and the attendant was letting ordinary folk such as myself in. The total impression was stunning: distribution of the Host, singing, incense, lots of candles, thunderous organ music, all this against the backdrop of this magnificent church interior.

    The cathedral cloister, the Cloister of Paradise, was almost oriental in its visual impact, with exaggeratedly narrow pointed arches and palm trees in the courtyard. The visitors’ route led around the cloisters to the first cathedral, the Cathedral of the Crucifixion, completed in 833 AD, now a museum. Fine fragments of the original frescoes remain. The museum is full of treasures, perhaps the greatest is the Angevin Mitre, a bishop’s mitre covered with 19,000 tiny pearls (who counted these? The number is provided by the industrious Amalfi tourist office).

    Unfortunately, time to go catch the ferry. Walking through a little of the town around the Duomo I resolved to return and spend some time exploring Amalfi at a much more leisurely pace. Before leaving I grabbed some take-out lunch for us from a tavola calda on the edge of the Duomo piazza: two suppli and slices of macaroni torta, pizza con salsiccia and pizza ripiena con friarelli. Great sidewalk food. I carried some of the leftover pizza on board the ferry and the crew was envious.

    We retraced our ferry route back to Salerno, caught the Frecciarossa for the speedy 90-minute trip to Rome, and settled into the Hotel Italia for our last night of the trip. We had reserved dinner at our favorite restaurant in Rome, the hard-to-find Osteria del Pegno, two blocks west of the Piazza Navona, on the Vicolo del Montevecchio.

    Even though we have been there several times, and in spite of writing down detailed instructions, I still had to ask as we approached the final choice of which “vicolo” to take. Massimo welcomed us and we simply followed his suggestions for the evening meal. He showed us a bowl of big brown fresh funghi and that’s what we had for the primo plus a small casserole of eggplant parmigiana. For the antipasto, he said they had fresh figs and prosciutto so that’s what we chose. We asked him to select a good red for the meal and he brought a Sartori 2011 Valdimezzo Valpolicella Ripasso, superb. And to finish, a “tris” or trio of chocolate semifreddo—very dark, medium dark, and white chocolate layers of creamy deliciousness. Digestivi: limoncello and amaro. A perfect final dinner in Rome.

    We had a little time to spare Friday morning so I got up early, primed myself with a couple of the hotel’s excellent cappuccinos and then set out to do a “six-minute” Rome tour (actually 90 minutes) of some places near the hotel which I had been wanting to visit. Partner slept in. Off to see: Bernini’s Triton Fountain, Bernini’s Saint Teresa in Ecstasy in Santa Maria della Vittoria. I’ve seen this work before, surely the Baroque sculpture ensemble which most pushes the envelope, almost creepy in its mix of sacred-erotic power with the various cardinals and nobles of the Cornaro family looking on, their mouths agape, in two opera boxes on either side of the main event. This entire sculptural ensemble is set inside the Cornaro Chapel, designed by Bernini. An extraordinary piece of work.

    Then toward the Palazzo Barberini, but first a quick stop to try to get inside the small church of San Bernardo alle Terme. I had been wanting to visit this church for years. It is built on the reconstructed western round tower of the exedra of Diocletian’s Baths (another large chunk was reconstructed by Michelangelo and today is the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli). The exedra’s outside walls can be imagined if one stands around the central fountain of the Piazza della Repubblica and looks at the two curving buildings on either side of Via Nazionale. Inside, San Bernardo has a beautiful circular design with geometric marble flooring and a light-filled coffered ceiling with an oculus, a small version of the Pantheon’s dome.

    Onward to the Palazzo Barberini. This is listed as a secondary sight in Rome, a testimony to the extraordinary artistic wealth of this city. In most other cities this would almost be a pilgrimage site. Home of the powerful Barberini clan, it has not one but two staircases designed by Baroque geniuses. To the right of the entryway is Borromini’s splendid spiraling staircase. To the left, Bernini’s, which is surprisingly staid in light of Borromini’s fluid design. The palace has ancient sculpture and an abundance of medieval and Renaissance paintings. In the brief time I had left, feeling the clock ticking away and the deadline for catching the Leonard Express back to the airport, I truly did a “three minute Louvre,” walking quickly to take a look at: Holbein’s portrait of Big Fat Powerful Henry VIII, Metsys’ portrait of Erasmus, two evanescent El Grecos, and some beautiful early medieval works.

    Then hoofed back to the hotel, collected partner and bags, Leonardo’ed out to the airport and then home. Friends back home asked, “How was your trip?” Answer: “It was Italy….how could it not be outstanding?”

  • Report Abuse

    when we were in Amalfi in February, the cloisters were shut, so we just toured the Cathedral; an excuse to go back?

    incidentally, if you walk up the main street, there is a little niche set into a grotto on the right where there is a lovely presepe [nativity scene] of Amalfi itself. it's just after an electrical shop where i bought a very nice Mokka machine at a surprisingly good price. And the cafe del Duomo does very nice coffee and cakes, also at reasonable prices.

  • Report Abuse

    It's so nice to see someone else commend Salerno -- such an under appreciated place! I'm glad you got to see and that you took advantage of it.

    Thanks for your report!

31 Replies |Back to top

| Add a Reply

Sign in to comment.

Recent Activity

  • Announcements:
  • Writers Needed for Georgia Coast
    by Emily_D Fodor's Editor | Posted on Jul 18, 14 at 03:12 PM
  • Writers Needed for Rwanda and Uganda
    by Emily_D Fodor's Editor | Posted on Jul 18, 14 at 03:12 PM
  • Writers Needed for Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania
    by Emily_D Fodor's Editor | Posted on Jul 18, 14 at 03:11 PM
View all Europe activity »
  1. 1 Portugal Private Tours
  2. 2 Itinerey help for a 27 day trip to Europe for April of 2015
  3. 3 New !travel handbags, an update please!
  4. 4 Speeding ticket in Germany: how do I handle this?
  5. 5 Accomodation detail in VISA application
  6. 6 Portugal
  7. 7 Which hotel in Lisbon?
  8. 8 Spain - Mallorca vs. Canary Islands
  9. 9 A1 to A12 vs. A14: Which is the easier drive from Sulmona to Mondovi?
  10. 10 Trip Report Trip report: solo female traveler in Spain
  11. 11 specific question about my possible trip to europe with Schengen law
  12. 12 restaurants / pubs near British museum / Bloomsbury
  13. 13 What do you wish you'd known about Iceland before you went?
  14. 14 England, Scotland, Ireland, and France... Where do I start?! (three weeks)
  15. 15 Crete at Christmas-which 3 towns to base ourselves?
  16. 16 Paris and South Of France/Possibly Cinque Terre
  17. 17 Greek Islands: Naxos, Paros, Milos or Chania Town? May 2014
  18. 18 Florence/Tuscany and Rome - help with details!!
  19. 19 Amalfi Coast vs Greece
  20. 20 Villa Borghese - Neighborhood restaurants?
  21. 21 Trip Report TR: Solo in LONDON for ten days on unfinished business ...
  22. 22 Porto to Lisbon
  23. 23 How much time in Lisbon?
  24. 24 Trip Report Italy Trip: Another Scrap With Friction
  25. 25 5 or 6 day tours from Lisbon, HELP !
View next 25 » Back to the top