Castel Sant'Elmo, Stabiae and Ischia (Italy)

March 28 to 30, 2018

The star-shaped Castel Sant'Elmo, known originally as Belforte was likely a fortified residence surrounded by walls.

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Castel Sant'Elmo, Naples

 

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Castel Sant'Elmo

In 1349, it was turned into a castle. Later it was occupied by the Crown of Aragon, composed by the Kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona.

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Castel Sant'Elmo

Catalonia (that part of Spain that doesn't seem to get along with the rest of the country) used to be part of this old Kingdom that later became part of the Spanish Empire.

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Panoramic Views from Castel Sant'Elmo

Today the castle is better known for its 360° jaw-dropping panoramic views of the city and the bay.

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Panoramic Views from Castel Sant'Elmo

With the departure of the Bourbon garrison in 1860, it remained a military prison until 1952.

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Basilica dello Spirito Santo and Spaccanapoli Street

From here you can see Spaccanapoli (which literally means "split Naples) street, the main promenade for tourists visiting the city as it provides access to a number of important sights.

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Ventaglieri Park

Spaccanapoli was part of the grid of the original Greco-Roman city of Neapolis.

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The 2-km Spaccanapoli street and Santa Chiara complex (green roof)

The castle has a museum housed in the ex-high prison, Carcere Alto in Piazza d'Armi.

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Castel Sant'Elmo

This museum, the Novecento a Napoli Museum features a collection of 20th Century (Neapolitan) Modern Art.

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Castel Sant'Elmo

You can descent using one of Naples oldest stairways, Salita della Pedamentina. It was used to transport building materials.

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Le Scale di Napoli, Salita della Pedamentina

It also provided protection to the old Castel Sant'Elmo (not the one from the 1500s) against those annoying medieval sieges.

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Spaccanapoli street

Spaccanapoli slices a working-class neighborhood of full-blooded-live-out-loud Napolitani.  

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Here high-energy street drama plays out among the piazzas, palazzos, churches, galleries, bars, and street vendors. 

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Very fresh food

Stabiae is a string of enormous luxury villas such as Villa San Marco and Villa Arianna.

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Villa Arianna - Road and stairs leading to the original coastline

The villas were sited on a 50 m high headland overlooking the Gulf of Naples. 

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The original coastline started were the buildings are now.
Background: Mount Vesuvius

This seaside resort was largely buried by two meters of volcanic ash in 79 AD.

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Villa Arianna

The villa was first excavated between 1757 and 1762.

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Mosaic showing a range of black and white decorative motifs

After the removal of the best furnishings and frescoes, the villa was reburied.

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The digger at that time, Swiss-born engineer-archaeologist Karl Weber, died in 1764 at 52 of pneumonia. Probably due to the exposure of putrid air of the deep tunnels while excavating Herculaneum.

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Villa Arianna

Excavations resumed in 1950 and it was during this time that the villa was named Arianna after a fresco was found depicting the mythological scene of Ariadne abandoned by Theseus.

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Fresco

Some of the most important frescoes of ancient Stabiae were removed during the Bourbon period and can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

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The presence of other villas is certain, they are called Villa Pastore, villa of Anteros, villa of Heraclo and villa of Petraro, and nevertheless, they are still partially or entirely covered.

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Some rooms have walls decorated in reds or yellows with minimalist decor composed of cupids, flying figures, miniature landscapes and medallions containing busts.

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The exact extent of Villa Arianna may never be determined, as large parts of the rooms nearest the sea have collapsed down the cliff

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The villa has an unconventional layout, due in part to its continuous development but also to the sloping nature of the site.

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Took me a while to figure out but the next picture shows a graffiti in both Greek (top) and Latin or Roman cursive (bottom).

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Graffiti

For Greek, I recognized the Phi (the O on top), Epsilon and lambda symbols which I used in math quite a bit. From the bottom S, M, H and A in cursiva antigua which I have seen in other places.

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Graffiti depicting gladiator

This room is quite cool, it has what is called second style decoration.

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Second style decoration is based on architectural illusion and takes the form of fluted Ionic columns set on a raised wall supporting a coffered ceiling.

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Next is the Second Complex which is separated from Villa Ariana by a narrow alley. Because of its proximity is often confused as the same villa. Only about 1000 m2 has been brought to light.

The walls of the atrium use the third style on a red and black ground

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The Atrium

The atrium served as the focus of the entire house plan. Here the male head-of-household (paterfamilias) would receive visitors.

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The second complex had its own private bath suite. There are also numerous service areas as well as stables and farm buildings at the southeastern limit of the property.

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Stairs leading to a now destroyed second floor

Next stop was Villa San Marco.

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Villa San Marco

After crossing the gate you will see the atrium. Atriums in ancient Rome sported a central aperture in the roof (compluvium) and a pool (impluvium) set in the floor used to collect water which was stored underground.

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Atrium (Compluvium - Roof - and Impluvium - Sunken Part)

On one of the walls, you can see what is called a lararium adorned with frescoes imitating precious marbles.

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Lararium

A lararium is a shrine to the household gods of a Roman house, equivalent to a gurdwara in a Sikh home or the altar in Catholic homes.

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Very close is the kitchen where I spent quite a bit of time looking at a large number of graffitis, mainly Roman numbers, testifying to the activities of daily life conducted there.

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Peristyle

The service corridor opens onto a large peristyle containing a 30m long garden and pool.

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These villas were the Roman world’s equivalent of Malibu or Aspen.

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These homes were mostly vacation homes and belonged to the who’s who of the ancient world.

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Julius Caesar, Cicero, Augustus and the rest of the Classical smart set spent their summers wallowing in the sweet excesses of the Roman world.

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And here I confirmed what I have thought for a long time:

Nothing seems to have changed, nothing seems to be changing and perhaps nothing will change

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Awesome pool, originally fully covered by marble

The Roman elites lived lives that are at once so much the same as ours. These people had disposable income, they took vacations, they sent their kids to college, etc.

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Experiences like this are what allows me to understand our past and realize that we’re not so different after all.

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Nymphaeum

At the end of the pool, a nymphaeum caught my attention with its painted facade and a central fountain.

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Another Peristyle

A nymphaeum is a grotto with a natural water supply dedicated to the nymphs - later an artificial grotto or fountain building.

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A nymph is a nature spirit in the guise of an attractive maiden.

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Castel Nuovo in central Naples

To get to Ischia island, you take an hour-long ferry from Naples.

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Italy is beautiful, the landscape, the food, the wine, and the art. The idyll can end if you step on dog feces as many people don't clean up after their pets.

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Mind the merde

If you only have one day and like me, you travel on a budget, just forget the island’s manicured capital, Ischia Porto and walk towards the Aragonese castle following the seaside.

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Aragonese Castle

The Aragonese Castle is the most impressive historical monument in Ischia, built by Hiero I of Syracuse in 474 BC.

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At the same time, two towers were built to control enemy fleets' movements. The rock was then occupied by Parthenopeans (the ancient inhabitants of Naples).

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In 326 BC the fortress was captured by Romans, and then again by the Parthenopeans.

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In 1441 Alfonso V of Aragon connected the rock to the island with a stone bridge instead of the prior wood bridge and fortified the walls in order to defend the inhabitants against the raids of pirates.

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Ischia is a volcanic island also known for its mineral-rich thermal waters.

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Hot springs bubble up at Maronti Beach, in the south.

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East, Roman remains lie beneath the seafloor at Cartaromana Beach.

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Torre di Michelangelo

Very close by is the Torre de Michelangelo. Its construction, dating back to the end of the 15th century, is probably the work of Don Giovanni De Guevara.

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Another member of the same family, Francesco De Guevara was appointed life governor of the island by Charles V.

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The tower was therefore built not only for housing needs but also to perform functions of defense of the coast and the castle, as established by the sovereign according to the edict of 1433.