Monday, August 15, 2005

Log 38 - July 2005 - A Visit to Pompeii & Paestum En Route to the Strait of Messina

This Log covers July 2005 where we explore the west coast of Italy, which lies south of Rome.  We visit some great ruins, enjoy the beautiful area and then safely navigate the Strait of Messina.

Our Route Along Italy's South Coast

Map of our route through southern Italy

After a great great visit to Rome, we head south to our next area of interest, Pompeii.  This entire coast of Italy to the south of us is very difficult to cruise as there are very few natural anchorages and the entire coast is a lee shore in the prevailing westerly and northwesterly summer winds.  The nooks and crannies that were once available for boats are now occupied by marinas and harbours charging exorbitant rates.  For this reason, we pass relatively quickly down the coast, choosing to see a few highlights and some of the islands instead.

Monday, July 4th - The Bay of Naples and Mt. Vesuvius

Mt. Vesuvias in the distance.

We enter the very large Bay of Naples, passing it's namesake and most important city and seaport, Naples, built on the slopes and at the base of a range of hills bordering the bay.  The islands of Ischia and Capri, playgrounds for the rich and famous, flank the points marking the north and south sides of the bay respectively.   As we sail along the eastern shore of the bay, we can see the volcano Mount Vesuvius with the ruins of Pompeii at its foot as we approach Torre del Greco, our harbour base for the next few days .

Harbour at Torre Del Greco

Our first shock in this pretty but impoverished town is the harbour fees.   A man tells us with a straight face 220 Euro for 2 nights - that's $C 330 / $U 265 to be squeezed into no more than a corner of a pier!  We'd heard Italy was expensive for moorage, but this is ridiculous.  Chris works him for over half an hour finally settling in at 40 Euro per night.  It is still a lot, but it comes with a 24 hour guard, which is needed in these parts.    Apparently, if you leave your boat at anchor, someone will swim or row out while you are gone and help themselves.  Anyway, we tied up outside Rome for free in a canal so our average is still good and we can visit nearby Pompeii without the need to worry.

Introduction to Pompeii

Model of Pompeii before the eruption

This model depicts Pompeii, a city founded about 600 BC and which became a Roman colony in 80 BC and later a favorite resort for wealthy Romans, reaching a population of about 20,000 at the beginning of the Christian era. It was also a place of considerable trade and was the port town of Nola and other inland cities of the fertile valley of the Sarnus. The area had some bad luck.   Firstly, it was much damaged by an earthquake in 63 AD and was then completely demolished in 79 AD by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius that overwhelmed the towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. The eruption also changed the course of the Sarnus Valley and raised the sea beach, placing the river and the sea at a considerable distance from the ruined city and obscuring the original site.

Tuesday, July 5th - Tour of Pompeii

A cast of a man dead of asphyxiation

On a bright, sunny morning we hop a quick southbound train to the Pompeii archaeological site.  Once inside, our first stop is a covered storage area filled with recovered artifacts: pottery, toys and ... eerie casts of volcano victims. When Mount Vesuvius erupted, it emitted poisonous gases into the atmosphere and covered Pompeii with ash and mud. The ash mixed with rain and settled around the volcano’s victims, creating molds that remained intact long after the bodies had decayed. Archaeologists poured liquid plaster into the forms, preserving the exact shapes of the bodies at the moment of death.   About 2000 victims have been found, including several gladiators who had been placed in chains to prevent them from escaping or committing suicide.

One chamber in a Roman bath complex

The ash covered everything. For more than 1500 years Pompeii lay undisturbed beneath heaps of ashes and cinders, and not until 1748 were excavations undertaken.  New discoveries continued to be made throughout the 19th century and into the 20th. Today, more than one-fourth of the city remains unexcavated.

The degree of preservation of the ancient objects uncovered is remarkable.  Public structures, temples, theaters, shops, and private dwellings have all been found, often intact with bright frescoes and stucco work.  In this picture, we tour one of the chambers in a Roman gymnasium complex - one of the baths.  The double floor was even heated from below - so nice with bare feet! 

Street in Pompeii
Here, we are sneaking around in an area closed off from the tourists, hence the empty street.  Pompeii was a booming trading city and most streets, such as these, would have been lined with stalls and jammed with shoppers from sunup to sundown.  Notice the sidewalks and gutters, which eventually flushed into the sea.  The stones you see crossing the street allowed the pedestrians to cross the often gushing streets, fed either by aqueduct-supplied fountains or rainstorms, without getting their feet wet.  It's not so obvious in this picture, but chariot and oxcart wheel grooves are well worn between these and most crossing stones.

Joel and Gerrit contemplate a job at Pompeii's first McDonald's

Fast food stalls

Pompeii was an happening place.  It is estimated to have served 20,000 residents, with more than 40 bakeries, 30 brothels, and 130 bars, restaurants and hotels.  Fast food stands where as popular then as they are today.  Pots fit into holes on the counters, some with fire below. 


Model of fast food stall

To give you an idea of how things were decorated, we have included this picture of a full-sized model fast food stall, a display in the Archaeological Museum in Naples, which Chris visits later.



Baker's oven

We stumbled on a number of these ovens in our walkabout.  The ovens remind us of our modern-day pizza ovens.  The stubby stone towers are flour grinders.   After grain was poured into the top, donkeys pushed wooden bars that turned stones, and eventually powdered grain dropped out the bottom as flour.  Ahh, just what we want.  Donkeys in our kitchens. 

And while we are on lesser topics, how about this.  How did the Romans get their clothing so bright? (No, they did not have Tide).   It was from urine collected from the toilets.  The uriatic acid was used extensively for washing and cleaning.  The clothes were then freshened using bay leaves.

Oven and cooking stove model

11:37 am, Wednesday, July 6th - Archaeological Museum of Naples

Roman bedroom of a well-to-do couple

The day after visiting Pompeii, Chris made a day trip into Naples to see the Archeological Museum, where the best artifacts and art from Pompeii ended up.  Here you can see a recreation of a frescoed bedroom and below an intact wall-painting of a newly-wed couple.  You've seen a few of the other museum pictures from that visit above.

Newly-wed couple painting taken from Pompeii

From the buildings and objects found in Pompeii and other nearby sites archaeologists and other scientific professions have been able to develop a remarkably realistic and complete picture of life in an Italian provincial city of the 1st century AD.  And it is truely amazing.  The more we see on our trip, the more we are amazed at the complexity and development of this society, some 2000 years ago.

The museum has a lot more to offer, but unfortunately many of the salons where closed this day or too X-rated ( yes, it's true ) for this web page audience.

12:50 pm, Wednesday, July 6th - Downtown Naples

Busy street in Naples.  Colourful buildings.

Well, that rounds out the visit to Pompeii.  After the museum, Chris makes a quick walkabout to get a feel for the city. It's apparently a much safer place than, say, 20 years ago, due to an active city council.  In this picture, the traffic in Naples is in full 'honk' and scooters are the only way to really get around quickly.  But let us not dawdle - it's back to move the boat before we get dung for another outlandish moorage charge.

9:23 pm Thursday, July 7th - Capri Island, Italy

Anchored at the Island of Capri

Later in the day, having moved TIOGA a short distance to anchor outside of the small mountainous island of Capri, we relax to watch the comings and goings. With its great historical interest, resorts, beaches, and mild climate, this picturesque island receives most of its income from tourists.  Mega-yachts abound.   In this location, they are one after another as if in a parking lot, both to our right and left.   But who needs a lot of money to enjoy life??  I'd bet our supper and wine tastes just as good as theirs' and I know our crew is much more friendly and fun to be with! :)

Monday, July 11th - Ancient Greek Ruins at Paestum

Greek 'Doric' temples at Paestum - finest in the world

A little further down the coast, we spend a few days in the nice (and free) harbour at Agropoli.  From here we make a day trip to the very impressive temple ruins at Paestum.  According to our book, these three temples are probably the finest examples of early Greek architecture in the whole of Italy and the largest of them is claimed to be the most perfect 'Doric' temple in existence.  

Sheila, Gerrit, Joel and Chris at Paestum.

These 6th and 5th century BC temples are amazingly intact, though not much is left of the surrounding town.   The location is peaceful and uncrowded and we have a great day. 

Greek burial chamber

There is a small museum at Paestum with a number of interesting artifacts.   This structure is the rear and end-piece of a burial chamber.  On the blow-up of the picture, you can see the detail of some 2500-year old images depicting life back then.

After a hot day exploring the ruins, our guys befriend some local kids and they enjoy jumping off our boat and swimming in the lovely warm Mediterranean waters. 

Swimming with some local kids.

6:19 am, Wednesday, July 13th - Passing the Active Volcanic Island of Stromboli

Active volcano of Stromboli

Ahh, alas, if only we could have got the picture we wanted of the awe-inspiring volcano of Stromboli, often glowing red and spewing out lava to cascade 3000' down its steep NW slopes into the sea.  The "light house of the ancient world" has guided sailors for milleniums to and from the Strait of Messina.  We timed our exit from Agropoli to pass to the NW of the island before the light of dawn.  As you can see our timing was good, but clouds kept her top under veil.   For one brief moment, Sheila caught a glimpse, but she was so awed (initially confused) and what she saw, that she had not the time to roust the sleeping crew before the veil settled back in place.

5:23 pm, Friday, July 15th - The Strait of Messina

Locating the Strait of Messina

After a couple of days in Lipari, one of  the Aeolian Islands of which Stromboli belongs, we had the fair winds forecast that we wanted to tackle the Strait of Messina, the body of water separating mainland Italy from the island of Sicily and connecting the Tyrrhenian Sea with the Ionian Sea.  At the narrowest point, it is only 2 miles wide.  Because the tide occurs at different times to the north and south, there can be significant current, which, combined with different water temperatures and salinity levels, an uneven bottom, and any kind of fresh wind, can create hell on earth for smaller vessels.  The same factors give rise to famous whirlpools; huge, smooth, revolving, oily patches where the denser (saltier) water sinks and the other water boils up from the bottom.

Approaching the Strait from the north. Nice and calm.
'Thus we sailed up the straits," Odysseus told King Alcinous, "groaning in terror, for on the one hand we had Sicily, while on the other the mysterious Charybdis [the worst whirlpool] sucked down the salt water in her dreadful way.  When she vomited it up, she was stirred to her depths and seethed over like a cauldron on a blazing fire; and the spray she flung on high rained down on the tops of the crags on either sides.  But when she swallowed the salt water down, the whole interior of her vortex was exposed, the rocks re-echoed to her fearful roar, and the dark sands of the sea bottom came into view."

Dolphins in the distance.

Today, however, was an apparent rarity and thankfully all we saw was this pod of dolphins cruising past. No whirlpools to threaten us and a great sail south.  Though the afternoon wind and seas built up steadily, we were already through the narrows and out of her worst clutches.

Monday, July 18th - Rochelle Ionica - Stepping Stone to Greece

High on the sole of the boot of Italy.

Well, this ends Italy for now.  We are in the unfinished harbor of Rochelle Ionica, on the sole of the boot of Italy, once again attempting to time some favourable winds, this time for the 200 mile passage across the Ionian Sea to Greece.  From our vantage point in this picture, you can see the south end of the Strait of Messina and the Island of Sicily in the very distance.  We'll explore Sicily in spring of 2006.

Log 39 has us heading into some Greek Islands and the Corinth Canal. Join us for our next adventure.