One hundred years in Europe is a much shorter time than in the United States. It’s been said a lot probably by anyone who’s ever been to Europe that there’s just so much history, but it really is true. And what hit me this weekend with my trip to the south of Italy was the immense scale of that history.
Everyone knows Pompeii from the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius way back in 79, but the thing is – people didn’t just abandon the site. They built in the same places that were destroyed then such that now, the ruins of the old city are in the middle of the new one. At the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, Baroque architecture houses Greek and Roman statues just as it did when the building was constructed in 1777 as the “Royal Bourbon Museum.” It houses such amazing works as the Tyrannicides and the Doryphoros of Polykleitos, which after studying them in history and art classes were pretty amazing to see.
I had an absolutely amazing time seeing some of these old places. By far the most exciting part though was seeing a mosaic of Alexander the Great in the Naples museum. It was originally part of a floor in Pompeii, but I didn’t know that I would actually be able to see it, which led to a very excited selfie in front of the mosaic. After touring the museum on Friday, we spent the afternoon in the ruins of Pompeii, which, thanks to restorations and careful preservation, still very much resembles a city. There’s a song I like about Pompeii that says, “If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing’s changed at all?” And, it really does. I could have spent several more hours exploring the city, but we hit the most important parts as a group (Villa of the Mysteries, House of the Faun, Amphitheater, etc.)
Saturday morning, we went first to a buffalo mozzarella factory where all the cheese is made with buffalo milk. We stayed there for a few hours to have lunch and pet the buffalo before moving on to Paestum (/ˈpɛs.təm/) which is home to three of the most well-preserved Greek temples in the world. They’re also really old, dating to somewhere between 600-450 BC. This is apparent in the structure since these temples have Doric columns rather than the more well-known Ionic or Corinthian ones. The Doric columns are basically wider and closer together than the later ones as the architects were still discovering how thin and how spaced out they could make them. Back in its day, the city of Paestum was part of Greater Greece before it was taken over by the Romans, which explains the Roman roads that were added. In later years, the Temple of Athena was also used as a Christian church, and, as a result, it is the best preserved temple in the world. These temples are also massive! You don’t realize in pictures how big they are, but standing in front of them, it’s pretty clear that these were massive building projects.
After a trip to the museum and some gelato, we retired to our hotel, which was only a five-minute walk from the beach, so naturally, everyone went to the beach to swim in the Mediterranean. The dinner that night was also spectacular, and really the whole day was fantastic. Finally, on Sunday, we went to Caserta. Today Caserta is the capital of the Province but way back when it was a residence for the Bourbon King of Naples. The building is essentially the epitome of the Baroque and is also one of the largest palaces constructed during the 18th century. Including the gardens, it is considered the largest royal residence in the entire world. And the gardens are definitely the best part of it (despite the 1200 interior rooms). The palace is dwarfed by the extent of its gardens, and it takes about an hour to walk out to the end. Once you reach the end point though with its beautiful waterfalls, you’ve also reached the expansive English Gardens that probably deserve a day to explore on their own. I didn’t get to see as much as I would have liked, but it was a beautiful day and perfect for posing for a lot of pictures.
That’s it for now! I’ll post again on Sunday!