Thursday, March 28, 2013

Capua and Casertavecchia

This post is long overdue. Like one and a half years overdue. We were just in the U.S. for about two weeks and since we don't have much planned for this weekend there's not much else to write about for the rest of March... and I must write about something! Alas, as I was looking through our old photos I realized that we never wrote about Capua and Casertavecchia. Hence, the reason for writing this post in March 2013 when the visit was all the way back when we were still living in a hotel in September 2011. Capisci?

We went to Capua when Jon's parents, Lori and Joe, were visiting us. Capua is home to the second largest amphitheater in Italy (next to the Colosseum in Rome) and is located about 16 miles north of Naples. The city of Capua dates back to at least the 7th century B.C. when Etruscans and Euboean Greeks settled the area. Today, this ancient city lies mostly underneath the modern town of Santa Maria Capua Vetere. The amphitheater was completed sometime in the 1st century and at its peak was able to hold 60,000 spectators.

It was interesting to explore this ancient stadium - for one, we were the only people there. And from what it sounds like from others who visit, there are usually no tourists there anytime you go. Also, unlike the Colosseum in Rome, here you are allowed to walk and explore the underground tunnels and the gladiator field. The network of tunnels are littered with fragments of large ornaments that once adorned the amphitheater. We saw the vaulted chambers where the animals were kept and where gladiators prepared to go to battle. Exploring Capua allowed us to truly appreciate the different techniques used in the underground area of a Roman amphitheater.

Next to the amphitheater is a Gladiator Museum, which contains two rooms of artifacts with a display of fighting gladiators. Though small, we spent a little bit of time here looking at original arches and inscriptions, the different displays, and original gladiator weapons.

On the right, what the amphitheater looked like
Room with marble inscriptions

Next we went to Casertavecchia (Old Caserta). This small hill-town overlooks Caserta and the rest of the area, including Capri and Ischia on a good day. This is the perfect town to wander the small narrow streets, which holds only a church, a bell tower, and a handful of restaurants. After we strolled through the town we came upon a fantastic restaurant to eat lunch.

Our cute lunch stop
While we don't need to go back to the Capua amphitheater, writing this post has made us want to see Casertavecchia again. It's the perfect place to go on a nice sunny day for the views, and has a lot of  romantic restaurants that we could stumble upon one night.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Famous Pizzeria & the Castles of Naples

The weather in Naples these past few weeks hasn't been the nicest. The winter here brings a lot of rain and wind, and since a majority of things to do and see in the area requires being outside we find ourselves enjoying longer Italian meals inside a cozy restaurant rather than walking around the city in bad weather. But then along came last Saturday with the sun shining bright and temperatures in the low 60s; a perfect day to get out and enjoy the weather.

We had been craving downtown Naples pizza for a while now. We typically get pizza once or twice a week from our favorite place by our house, and it is excellent. But there is something about the way the pizza is made in Naples center that is far different than the pizza in the surrounding areas. So we figured, why not go to the most famous pizzeria in Naples - Pizzeria da Michele. You might recognize it from the movie Eat, Pray, Love where Julia Roberts sits down to have a pie. When we first moved to Naples we went to this pizzeria with Jon's parents and waited almost TWO hours to sit down. This time we only waited about 20 minutes since it is the off season and we went earlier in the day. This is touted as being the best pizza in Naples so it got us thinking... if Italy has the best pizza in the world, and Naples has the best pizza in Italy, then I guess this must be the best pizza in the world! Oh, and it is. A gooey liquid center caused by the Buffalo Mozzarella, with a sweet doughy crust. It was perfection.

My margherita pizza
After a very satisfying meal we went to Castle Sant'Elmo, which is known for its incredible views of the city. The castle has existed since 1275 where over the years it had many uses. Relatives of royalty lived inside, it was used as a prison, it became property of the military, and in 1985 it was opened as a museum. The castle can be seen from various points in the city and highway. Once inside the castle there isn't much to see, but the views of Naples are STUNNING and that's the reason why most people visit this castle.

Naples and Mt. Vesuvius

Spaccanapoli - The street that splits Naples in two

The Amalfi Coast in the back

Taken from Artribune
After we left the castle we found ourselves back at sea level again and walked along Via Partenope, a long street right along the water with many runners, bikers, and people out for an afternoon stroll.

We walked right to Castle dell'Ovo, the Egg Castle. It is named such because according to a medieval legend, the Roman poet Virgil put a magical egg inside the foundation of castle (or according to another story, inside a cage in its dungeon). Legend has it that if the egg breaks, the city of Naples would experience death and destruction.

Castle dell'Ovo on a cloudy day in April 2012

There is yet another castle in Naples that is hard to miss if you are catching any ferry to any of the islands, as the castle towers over the port. Castle Nuovo, or the New Castle began construction in 1279 and was called the New Castle in order to distinguish it from Castle dell'Ovo. We didn't visit this castle on this particular day, but it seemed like a good time to put in what we did see last April.

The Grand Courtyard

On the archway of the entrance
In "Armory Hall" where the floor is made of glass and you can see ancient ruins & skeletons

Inside Baron's Hall
The dome of Baron's Hall
We had a fantastic day downtown and really enjoyed the amazing views and photo opportunities that we set out for. Delicious pizza, beautiful weather, and gorgeous scenery had us thinking that we must soak up these opportunities while we can... we don't have much time left here!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Baia Castle and Archaeological Museum

We're finding it hard to find another place in Europe that has so many items of archaeological, historical, and mythological interest squeezed into such a compact area as the Campi Flegrei (Phlegrean Fields) region of Naples. Above all of these wonders sits Baia Castle, about 10 minutes from our home. Baia Castle was thought to be the summer residence of Julius Ceasar, but archaeologists speculate that the villa belonged to Emperor Nero. The castle became an outlook point in order to scare pirates away from the shores.

Taken from here

When I arrived at the castle it was pretty deserted and I wasn't sure if it was open. Even with posted hours online, many places in Naples (even tourist sites) are unreliable in their hours. After I parked and walked up to the entrance a man came out and directed me where to go. Just as I was about to pay him the four euro entrance fee he said, "No no, oggi e' gratis!" meaning "Today it is free!" I still have no idea if he even worked there or not.

A statue inside the castle grounds

Entering the castle
The outside terraces of the castle boast stunning views of the sea. Unfortunately it was raining on the day that I visited so the views aren't the clearest. I guess we'll just have to go back on a clear sunny day!

The sea - Mt. Vesuvius is on the right

View from the top terrace

View of Monte di Procida
Inside the castle is the Archaeological Museum of Campi Flegrei. The museum has a long stretch of rooms displaying a wealth of archaeological material from the area.

Besides being a fortress that helped protect the Gulf of Naples, Baia Castle served other functions such as hosting visitors to the kingdom, serving as a base under the Spanish for early studies of volcanism in the Campi Flegrei area, and performing gruesome executions. After the unification of Italy it no longer served a military role and became an orphanage for the children of killed soldiers. After that it was neglected for years until after the earthquake of 1980 where it served as a shelter for those displaced from their homes. In 1993 the Archaeological Superintendency got a hold of the castle and instituted the Museum of Archaeology of Campi Flegrei inside of it.

Baia Castle lies right on the Bay of Naples, sitting about 94 meters above the sea, so it's hard to miss this impressive structure if you're in the area. It's definitely worth a visit just for the views alone!