Waking up in the Villa Vergiliana was much more agreeable, I must admit. I have this really nice roommate for the stay, Juliana who lives in the UK but originally comes from Brazil, and has this typical Southern temperament and sense of humour. I like it!
We woke up at seven, and I really had to hurry to take a shower and make it to the nice breakfast at half past. And, with my warped sense of time, I had to hurry once more to get to the Sibylla Bus. For real, the bus company in Cumae is called Sybilla Bus, how cool is that!
Anyway, we drove off to the Piscina Mirabilis in Bacoli. Now that was really a sight to see, a hidden pearl and a truly amazing one! Since the Cape Misenum (Promunturium Misenum) was a naval basis in the Roman time, all those soldiers needed water. Fresh, clean, drinkable water, which was brought here from the mountains by the Aqua Augusta, a long aqueduct. But then, the water needed stored. So Agrippa let his architects and engineers divise a very clever and impressive Piscina, a water reservoir dug out in the mountain side, reinforced with columns and closed off. It’s huge, and you can walk around in it now. It’s, by the way, the starting point of Robert Harris’ Pompey (which I still need to read), and we could really imagine the boat on the water…
On our way back to the bus, we had a very nice view over the bay, a view which astounded me at the moment, but which – I’m sure – will definitely be improved the next couple of days. Oh, and I really had to take a picture of a pine tree to which, according to Plinius, the ash cloud of the Vesuvius bore a resemblance.
Next stop was the Museo Nazionale Archeologico di Napoli, in which we only got to spend a mere two hours. Leon – our trusted leader, as one of the guides pointed out – had warned us about that: we wouldn’t have enough time to even cover like a quarter of the museum, and we would really want to come back. As indeed, happened. I won’t post all of my pictures here, just a selection, but I took many more. Leon took us to several spots where he presented us with a real fine bit of explanation, drawing our attention to little details we never saw before, or feeding us exquisite little scraps of information.
After that, we returned to the Villa for a decent, warmly welcomed meal, and passed by the Arco Felice, a remains of an ancient 2nd century AD viaduct constructed by the emperor Domitianus, with still a lovely intact Roman road.
After coffee/tea we left again, this time really close – we could have walked, actually, were it not for the next visit we needed the bus for – to the Acropolis of Cumae. I thought the Piscina and the Museum already had blown my mind, but the afternoon just proved me wrong: going up on that lovely site, reading out the lines from Vergilius’ Aeneis, one could really feel the steps of Aeneas going up there to worship the gods, and we were retracing them. Standing in the temple of Apollo, we saw the coastline, heard the Latin verses of the ships mooring there, and we all kind of feeled really solemn. I think I even had goosebumps at a certain moment. It was so quiet, so serene, so beautiful, and yet so unbelievably familiar. This truly is the land of Vergilius…
And then we stood eye to eye with the entrance to the famous grotto of the Sybilla – which is, Leon hastened to burst the bubble, actually the beginning of fortifications high above the Cumae harbour. Yet, the place did inspire some awe, I must admit.
From there, it went to the Amphitheatre of Pozzuole, passing the famous (and sorely missed on Sunday, while I was lounging in different airports) Lacus Avernus, which Vergilius also describes in his Georgica as being one of the entrances of the Underworld. It’s actually an ancient crater which has filled up into a very nice lake. In Vergilius’ time it still must have been pretty sulphuric and poisonous though.
The amphitheater in itself was pretty special because you could really go in the catacombs, and see the way the wild animals would have been released into the arena. Oh, and apparently they did the Augias thingy to clean it, and let all the water from the Aqua Augusta run through it ^^
On our way down to the bus, we passed by the temple of Serapis, which is an excellent example of the height differences due to the volcanic activity: in the middle there’s a column that is full of shellfish holes, so at one point in history it must have been under water…
After a real nice stroll through the harbour and an icecream, we went back to the Villa for a really elaborate meal – think pasta, another dish of pasta, schnitzel and tiramisu – and a presentation by Merel about our assignments for the next day. Hey, it’s a study trip, not a holiday, so there are assignments! But I’ll tell you about those tomorrow, when we have completed them.
Anyway, this has been a very elaborate report of the first day, and my god, what a beautiful day it was!