Home > Travelogues > Naples 2009 > Archaeological Museum and subterranean Naples
Sunday May 24th, 2009
Naples' Archaeological Museum
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It isn't far from hotel Palazzo Decumani to Naples' archaeological museum, Museo Archeologico Nazionale.
The exhibitions with artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum are very impressive, and the newest finds from Villa of the Papyri are fantastic. You are allowed to take pictures as long as you don't use a flash.
We walk ourselves tired through hall after hall. The collection is enormous and you cannot help wonder if anything has been left in the ruins. It is crème de la crème.
Personally I have a soft spot for mosaics, and this is the place to be. There are mosaics galore, amazingly lively and with vibrant colours that make them look like paintings.
Pompeii and Herculaneum are magnificent, but until you visit the museum in Naples you cannot comprehend the treasure that was - and still is - hidden in the cities buried by Vesuvius August 24th, 79 AD. You can see some pictures of the antique artefacts on the page with photos from Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Archaeological Museum.
On the way home we enjoy refreshments in Piazza Dante. It is Sunday and families are out walking. The kids are eating ice cream and riding the electrical rocking horse outside the bar. At a table behind us men are playing cards, and the game has attracted a crowd of male spectators.
We buy some stuff for a simple lunch at the hotel. When we get home at one o'clock, the maid hasn't cleaned the room. We press the "non disturbare" button, and that is respected.
Napoli Sotterranea - the subterranean Naples
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At half past four we walk to Via dei Tribunali, where (Piazza San Gaetano 68) a guided tour in English starts to the subterranean Naples. A ticket costs 9.30, and we are 10 - 12 tourists in the group.
Our guide is a girl in her twenties, and she speaks good English. She takes two of the neighbourhood's teenage girls along, and from time to time she tells them something in Italian. The girls giggle and are quite sweet.
The first stop is an apartment a few streets away. There's a trapdoor under the bed. It leads to a staircase and a cellar, which is a tiny corner of Nero's old amphitheatre with room for an audience of 6000 people.
The society, Association Napoli Sotterranea, bought the apartment some years ago and excavated the cellar. There are old arches and brick walls. Several apartment blocks are built on top of the old theatre, and here and there antique arches, walls and columns are a part of the houses.
The mad emperor Nero performed here, and one antique source writes that the ground began to shake while Nero was singing. Nero continued to sing during the earthquake and finished by thanking both the gods and the audience for their applause.
You can read more about the apartment and the theatre at the society's homepage.
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Back in Via Tribunali we descend a staircase with many steps to the subterranean Naples 35 metres below.
The Greeks who founded Naples (Neapolis) carved stone blocks from the volcanic tuff and used them for buildings above. Later the industrious Romans extended the network of caves and tunnels considerably and turned them into a 400 km long aqueduct, which provided fresh water to the city. All you had to do was to dig a well.
As the city grew, it became necessary to extend the aqueduct, and that was done in 1629. During the horrible cholera epidemic in 1884 the aqueduct was closed and the wells filled with garbage. More than 2 million square metres of tunnels and cisterns were left to oblivion.
The subterranean Naples was closed until WW2, where it was used as a refuge during the bombardments. Thousands lived down here for months, and several died because of the unhealthy and humid environment.
It is a fascinating tour, and I am glad I brought my jacket, because it is cold down here. One place we walk through a 100 metres long and very narrow tunnel, where the only source of light is the candles we are carrying. This part of the tour is definitely not for people with claustrophobia or an XL waist; however you can drop it and wait for the adventurous to return.
You can visit the subterranean Naples several places, and some places there are catacombs from early Christian times. If you want more information on the subject you can do a search for "Napoli sotterranea" - several of the Italian sites suggested have English versions.
Evening in Naples
We pop in at the hotel and then leave for our waterhole in Via Tribunali. In one of the narrow streets someone pours dirty water on us. It comes from a balcony or window high above. It may have been a flooded window box, but looking up we see no-one, so I suspect it was some nasty kid.
Wet, furious and stained we return to the hotel to change. Damned kids! When we leave, we choose Via Duomo and notice that the planned restaurant, Antica osteria Pisano, is closed on Sundays. There aren't many alternatives in the neighbourhood, but on our way from the museum earlier today we noticed a ristorante in Piazza Dante.
However before the quest for food we pay a visit to the waterhole in Via Tribunali. Today there is a big flat screen, so the soccer-crazy Italians can follow a match between Aston Villa and Newcastle. We put our backs to the TV and watch the real world.
By a small detour we reach Piazza Dante in Via Toledo, and Ristorante 53 is open. We are seated inside, and a suntanned bloke about 20 summers old dumps two plates and cutlery onto the table from a considerable height. I am amazed the china doesn't break to pieces.
Sulky and indifferent he takes our order and returns with 1½ litres of tepid water and half a litre of tepid white wine. After some 20 minutes our penne with cream and ham arrive and later the main course. Helle has some oven-baked meat with potatoes and tomato, and I have scallopini with mushrooms.
The food is okay, but we have never felt so unwelcome, and it is not because we are tourists - Italians get the same rude treatment. I give the place one falling star, because at least the bread was fresh. The bill says 44 euro with 12 % service included. I don't add an extra tip - the 12 % are far too much.
Back at the hotel bar we enjoy a Scottish Drambui-bomb and try in vain to access the Internet from the hotel's new laptop. Bedtime.
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