Benvenuti al Sud!

In Italy, there is a clear distinction between north and south.  It’s not a physical distinction — it’s more of “oh you live in the south?” (followed by a grimace) or “oh, you are one of those northerners” (again followed by a grimace, famous Italian gesture, etc.) Benvenuti al Sud! Each region in Italy has strong pride and each region thinks it is better than all the others.  Then, the northern regions collectively band together and think they are better than the south and vice-versa.  There are several differences we’ve come to notice:

1. The north is cleaner; roads in the south frequently have trash and feces (yuck!) on the sidewalks and roads.

2. Southerners honk more.

3. Northerners (especially those in Florence) are snobbier and are less likely to strike up a conversation.  You may have a hard time getting a southerner to be quiet.

4. Southerners hang their laundry outside — literally from every window, door, or pipe — and even in the rain.

5. Southerners will drive 4-wide on a two lane road.

The Campania region (home to Naples, Mt. Vesuvius, Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, etc.) is one of the largest regions in the southern part of Italy.  Naples may be PAZZO (crazy) due to the traffic, disorganization, and trash that litters the road, but it is rich with culture.  I mean, the pizza was invented here, so it has to be good, right?  We spent 4 days in the Campania region and we visited as many of the cultural/historical sites we could manage.

Royal Palace of Caserta

Entrace to Royal Palace of Caserta

Our first stop, because it was the northern-most city on our journey, was the Royal Palace in Caserta.  The Royal Palace was built for the Bourbon kings of Naples and was meant to rival Versailles in France.  Construction took almost 30 years, from 1752-1780 and it has some 1,200 rooms, including two dozen state apartments, a large library, and a theatre.  The grounds are even grander – 120 hectares of cascading fountains, sculptures, and a large and very lush English garden.

View up to the cascade and multiple fountains

View down the cascade to the Palace of Caserta

One of the MANY statues

The Diana and Actaeon Fountain at the top of the cascade

English gardens with statue of Venus

Interior space in the English garden

The grounds may have been more beautiful than those at Versailles, but we left feeling as though the Italian government wasn’t preserving this UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.  Probably due to lack of funding (it’s always about the money, right?), the grounds just seemed a little dilapidated and untidy.  The inside of the palace was definitely not as lavish as Versailles.  Nevertheless, the palace was definitely grand and way over the top! (Here are 2 of the most palatial spaces.)

Interior chapel

One of the luxurious rooms in the palace


Gearing up for our Pompeii trip the next day, we wanted to visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples where many of the recovered treasures are held.

Entry to Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples

There are two large exhibits that we found very interesting.  The first is the sculpture collection from the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.  The Baths of Caracalla, a public bath structure from 200 BC (which lasted until the 6th century), served as one of the main social events in Roman times.  It had a capacity for 1,600 bathers, but also offered several gymnasiums, art galleries, libraries, gardens, and conference centers.  All of the rooms and gardens were adorned with marble decorations, but they were scavenged by the Farnese family in the 16th century for their palazzo.  It is from the Farnese family that the Museum eventually recovered these grand works.  The most famous work, the Farnese Bull sculpture, is the largest sculptural group to have survived from antiquity.

Farnese Bull sculpture from Baths of Caracalla

Statue from the Baths at Caracalla

Scale of the statues – they were huge!

The second major collection was the mosaics recovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum.  They are simply amazing.

Mosaic from the theater at Pompeii

Mosaic recovered from Pompeii

Mosaic recovered from Pompeii

The Battle of Alexander is the most famous of the mosaics in the collection.  It is from the House of Faun, the largest house in Pompeii.

Battle of Alexander the Great mosaic – recovered from Pompeii

Detail of Battle of Alexander the Great



Pompeii — where do I start?  An earthquake in 62 AD, which shook Pompeii and damaged many buildings, was merely a prelude to the tragedy that would occur on a day in August of 79 AD.  Mount Vesuvius erupted and because of the southeasterly winds, Pompeii was buried under 20 feet of ash.  The ancient city of Pompeii was first discovered in the 16th century, but it wasn’t until 1748 that serious excavation began, revealing a city basically frozen (well, I guess petrified is a better word) in time.  Many of the original buildings have been uncovered (most without roofs because of the hundreds of thousands of pounds of weight from the ash and pumice) as well as mosaics and paintings inside.  Excavators and scientists even injected plaster into many of the spaces left behind by organic matter, casting the forms of people that were smothered under the weight of the ash.  (I know, what a terrible thought, huh?)  With the remnants left behind, Bobby and I could imagine the grand Roman city that once was.  The Romans had built several temples in Pompeii, many houses and shops, an amphitheater, and two theaters!

The Basilica – dating back to 120 BC

The Basilica – evidence points to a roof covering the structure

The Forum (piazza space), Temple of Jove, and Mt. Vesuvius in the background

Pots recovered from excavations

Temple of Jove flanked by honorary arches

Most of the mosaics found in the Archeological Museum in Naples were found in the House of the Faun, dating from 200 BC.

House of the Faun – where the mosaic depicting the Battle of Alexander the Great was found

Public fountains were an important part of the street scene in Pompeii. Although the wealthiest Pompeii residents had water sources within their houses, most everyone else relied on public access to water.  Fountains were found at most of the street corners in Pompeii. Each had a large spout with constantly running water and a tank made of four large blocks of volcanic rock. Many had funny faces carved into the spout too!

Public water fountain

Another one of the many public water fountains

Public water fountain

Pompeii had paved streets that allowed animal-pulled carts to pass easily from one side of the city to another.  There is still evidence of the grooves in the stone streets where the carts were pulled.  Because sewage also ran in the public roads, the Romans invented a “sidewalk” of sorts, where one could pass from one side of the street to the other by a large boulder stepping stone.  There was space on each side of the boulder so the carts could still pass and the people didn’t have to step in the sewage water.  Pretty genius!

Public paved street in Pompeii with boulder stepping stone

The locals of Pompeii frequented snack shops that were located throughout the city.  Much like a lunch diner of today, the citizens would come to the “bar” and order one of 3 or 4 offerings of the day.  The soup, water, wine, etc. were placed in huge vats or bowls built in the counter top.

Snack shop

And here are some other shots from around Pompeii:

Temple outside the city walls

One of the only preserved painted structures in Pompeii

The Grand Theater (where the theater mask mosaic in the Naples Museum was found)

Staging area for theater/Part-time gladiator training ground

Small theater

Roman amphitheater

Road and cemetery outside the Pompeii city walls

Ercolano (ancient city of Herculaneum)

The ancient city of Herculaneum was also destroyed on the fateful day in August in 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted.  However, while most of the citizens of Pompeii perished due to the volcano, most of the residents of Herculaneum had time to escape.  Herculaneum was situated (as Ercolano is today) on the western slopes of Mt. Vesuvius.  Herculaneum was not covered in ash like Pompeii because of the winds.  Instead, a second blast occurred and the disaster came by way of boiling mud, preceded by a burning cloud at a temperature of 400 degrees Celcius (752 degrees F!)  Luckily, because they had heard of the destruction in Pompeii, the people of Herculaneum ran to the shore to be picked up by boats and most were brought to safety on the Amalfi Coast.

Over time, the mud solidified and formed a mass of very hard tuff between 16 and 25 meters thick.  Because of the flow, the shoreline was filled in by the mud and the present-day shoreline is now some 100 meters farther out to sea.  Also, for some reason, Herculaneum’s buildings did not collapse like Pompeii’s and many of the buildings are better preserved.  There are still brightly painted rooms, original mosaic floors, and some structures still have 2nd stories!

Original perimeter/shoreline of Herculaneum and the thick tuff wall

House with second story columns

Second story balcony still exists

Female bath with original floors

Water fountain and drainage ditch

Original mosaic still intact

Another mosaic partially intact

Brightly colored house


Pozzuoli is a small town just west of Naples that was also originally a Roman town.  We visited because there is a very cool Roman amphitheater called the Anfiteatro Flaviano Puteolano with an extensive network of underground passageways for gladiators/performers.  The arena could hold up to 20,000 spectators and is still used today for performances.

Entrance to the arena

Entrance ramp to the underground gladiator “pit” area

Outside portals for entry

Inside of the amphitheater

Underground “pit” area where they would hoist animals and/or people from

Underground hatch doors where they would hoist beasts from

Underground passageways


The last of our history tour occurred in Paestum, a town on the coast of Italy, south of Naples.  This ruins site is home to 3 Doric-style temples dating from the first half of the 6th century BC. The Temple of Hera is the oldest (and plainest) and was mistakenly called a basilica for many years because people thought it was a Roman structure (not a Greek structure like it really is.)

Temple of Hera

The second temple worshiped Hera and Zeus, but was dedicated to Poseidon (so it’s often called the Temple of Poseidon.)  On the east side of the temple, there are remains of two altars, one large and one smaller. The smaller one is a Roman addition, built when they cut through the larger one to build a road to the forum.

Temple of Poseidon (Hera II)

Temple of Poseidon (Hera II) – two rows of columns

Temple of Poseidon (Hera II) – it’s really large!

Double-height columns

The third, and last temple, named the Temple of Athena is separated from the other two temples on the highest point of town.  It was built in about 500 BC, and was for some time incorrectly thought to have been dedicated to Ceres. The architecture is transitional, being partly in the Ionic mode and partly early Doric. Three medieval Christian tombs in the floor show that the temple was at one time used as a Christian church.

Temple of Athena

Front of the Temple of Athena

….to get an idea of the size


Back of the Temple of Athena

Amalfi Coast

One night, because we didn’t want to return to our hotel, we decided to take a “short” drive down the Amalfi Coast.  Our “short” drive ended up being about 3 hours because the roads are incredibly windy (but beautiful!) and you have to travel through a series of small sea towns (Amalfi, Positano, Sorrento, etc.)  It was an incredible drive, although we were ready to be out of the car by the end.  I wouldn’t know, but Bobby said it reminded him of driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in California.

Driving down the northern coast towards Sorrento

Sunset on the northern coast

The beautiful southern coast – yes the water is that blue!

More of the southern coast


Sunset in Amalfi


  1. I’m exhausted from just looking at these photos. That was a amazing(ly tiring) trip.

  2. Stanford Chen says:

    Now I can be a proper blog voyeur since I’ve met both of you! Naples had a lot of dog poop in the street. Next time I’ll checkout the palace at the top looks awesome.


  1. […] rest of us just followed behind like ducklings)!  Because we didn’t see anything besides the National Archeological Museum (which displays mosaics taken from Pompeii) on our previous trip, Bobby and I got to see most of […]