Archaeological site of Pompeii

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Pompeii – Temple of Apollo

Among the cities buried by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, Pompeii is surely the most famous and the most visited of all. A stroll among its remains is a unique marvellous experience. The ancient city offers an opportunity to travel back into the past and to capture the feeling of its life. Monuments, public bath complexes, luxurious dwellings, temples and shops reveal the most evocative aspects of the town life in ancient times.
Perched on a hill overlooking the bay of Naples, the ancient town of Pompeii was also close to the Sarno river and it was very well connected with other river towns of the Sarno valley. Its strategic position made it a bustling commercial city and one of the most frequented towns in the area. The highly fertile volcanic soil, the favourable mild climate and the close proximity to the port of Puteoli (actual town of Pozzuoli), which was the most important port of the Roman Empire, gave Pompeians the opportunity to live a very comfortable life which is still evident from the remains of its buildings. The sumptuous and elegant houses, in particular those which were overlooking the sea and the river, still maintain amazing mosaics on the floor which, with the light of the sun, give us an idea of the prosperous life of its inhabitants. One of the most famous and grandiose mosaics is the one depicting the battle of Issus, which was discovered in the so-called House of the Faun. The original mosaic is now displayed in Naples National Archaeological Museum while a copy has been replacing it on the floor of the exedra room which lies between the two gardens of the magnificent residence.

The walls of the dwellings in Pompeii were decorated with exclusive and delicate frescoes depicting the life of Pompeians, their trades, their temples and their exhuberant gardens. Paintings were usually indicating the cultural and social status of the owner of the house and even the most humble homes were painted and reveal the owner’s cultivated taste for eye-catching art. The educated upper class inhabitants used to depict Greek mythological matters on the plaster walls of their residences. Some designs represented images of deities or narrated episodes from Greek history. The newly rich people used to decorate walls with frescoes representing still life subjects, illusionistic perspectives, landscapes of all sorts, like harbours, rivers, deserts or mountains but also animals and figurative compositions. Some of the walls and ceilings were also elegantly refined in stucco reliefs. Shops were also decorated with frescoes either depicting the lares and gods, who were supposed to protect business, or showing the goods that were sold. Brothels walls were decorated with grotesquely erotic caricatures or with scenes showing sexual activities. Each private or public building was also decorated with marble or bronze statues representing, most of times, gods, emperors, politicians or vip subjects. The marble relief of the frame surrounding the entrance door to the Eumachia clothes market, in the Forum, is one of the examples of the level reached by sculptors during the Roman time. They had been practising, for long time, the art of engraving derived from the Hellenistic art, and they became so skilled that they produced many marble carved artworks still visible in the archaeological site.

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Pompeii – A rebuilt private garden

During the Roman Empire most of the rich upper class members started to express their social level and wealth by collecting luxury objects which would impress and delight the guests visiting a house. Most of those objects like silver vessels, glass bottles, miniature works of sculpture, precious stones, cameos and gems are now on display in Naples at the National Archaeological Museum but sometimes copies are replacing them inside the ruins.
Gardens had also an important role in the life of Pompeii. Considered a place of relaxation the gardens were the heart of the house. Whether large or small, the internal gardens of the houses of Pompeii were usually embellished with marble fountains and spouts, various litlle statues, small temples and splendid mosaics. Most of those gardens have been rebuilt thanks to the plaster casts of the trees which were obtained by pouring liquid cement into the cavities left by the plants in the layers of ash. The gardens were usually surrounded by porticos, covered by tiled roofs, which were useful in case of rain or shine.
Other buildings which are really worth a visit are the bathhouses. The most beautiful ones are the so-called Suburban Thermae placed outside the town in proximity of the Marina Gate entrance.
They are embellished by floor and wall mosaics, frescoes and stucco reliefs. Here it is possible to note the heating system that Romans were using in the thermal bath structures. The thermae were divided into sections for men and women and there were at least seven of those buildings in the entire town. However, the Forum baths, close to the Forum square and the Stabianae baths, the oldest ones in Pompeii, are the only other two bathhouses still open to the public for a visit.

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Pompeii – Large Theatre

The theatre district, close to the Sarno river, is another area which is really interesting. Besides the Samnites Palestra (the Gym) and the Triangular Forum where the temple of Hercules was, this section of the town is famous for the Egyptian Temple of Isis where the remains of stucco reliefs and a hall, where the sacred water from the Nile river was kept, are still visible. The temple itself was visited by Wolfgang Amedeus Mozarth among other very famous travellers. Most of the frescoes and objects which were embellishing the temple were removed from Pompei and they were brought to Naples National Archaeological Museum.
The nearby large theatre, which could host some five thousand spectators, was decorated with marble reliefs and the names of the spectators are still engraved on the private seats. The small theatre, known as the Odeon, was used for music and for reading poetry and it was decorated with grey lava rock sculptures. Close to the two theatres there is still the beautiful Quadriportico which was the square where spectators used to gather before and after the theatre performances. After the earthquake of the year 62 AD, this area was used as a gym by gladiators.

To participate in a private guided tour, with a qualified tourist guide, please send me an e-mail at belsannino@gmail.com or reach me on the phone at +39 339 3982433
More info at  www.herculaneum.net  or www.ercolanonline.it

© 2016-2017 Dr Maria Sannino

Traditional Neapolitan desserts: the Struffoli

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The struffoli are considered to be Naples oldest desserts. They were, in fact, introduced by the Greek settlers when they built the famous town of Partenope (the old name of the town) during the seventh century b. C. Together with other typical Neapolitan pastries they are always present among the whole range of delicious Christmas desserts.

They are easy and quick to make and they turn into a special after dinner treat.They simply taste delicious.

Here is my recipe

Ingredients

400 gr all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

6 eggs

1 tablespoon anise liqueur

zest from half a lemon

zest from half an orange

1 pinch of salt

270 gr sugar

250 gr honey

150 gr candied fruit (orange peel, lemon peel, cedro peel)

50 gr colorful Diavolini sprinkles

50 gr Cannellini sprinkles – long shaped white confetti (bonbons)

20 gr yeast

Vegetable oil for deep-frying

In order to prepare the dough, combine flour and sugar in a large bowl or on a lightly floured surface. Stir in a pinch of salt. Make a well in the centre of the mound and add the eggs and the yeast crumbled. Use your hands to knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Then punch down the centre of the dough with your fist and add a few drops of the anise liqueur, the lemon zest and the orange zest. Stir the mixture until well combined and add some more flour if the dough is still sticky. When it is smooth and elastic again, create a ball and place the dough into a bowl, cover it with a damp tea towel and set it aside in a warm place for at least 30 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, tip it on a clean and floured surface and cut the dough into small pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Then, using your hands, roll each ball into a long rope, like a thin sausage, ¼ inch thick. Cut it into small pieces about the size of a hazelnut and place them all on parchment paper. Continue until you have used up all the dough.

Fill a deep saucepan with vegetable frying oil until it is at least 5 centimeters high and place it on medium heat. When the oil reaches the boiling temperature carefully drop the balls, one by one, into it and watch the balls bubble up into a golden brown, about 1 or 2 minutes. Stir them until they are golden brown on all sides. They should be crunchy on the outside but light in texture. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the struffoli on a tray lined with kitchen paper and toss them to make sure that they drain properly. Quiclky continue frying all the remaining dough balls until all of them turn into a golden brown colour and let them drip.

Pour the honey into a large pot and heat it until it is slightly runny, then turn off the heat and add all the cooked struffoli, the candied fruit (orange, lemon or cedro peels) and the bonbons (confetti). Stir until they are completely coated in the honey mixture. Transfer the struffoli onto a serving dish and arrange them into a Christmas round wreath shape or a large mound or any other shape you may desire. Drizzle the remaining honey over the struffoli and decorate them with colorful sprinkles and anything else sweet and tempting. Let them cool and serve them after a few hours at room temperature.

Merry Christmas!

Elena Ferrante’s Tour of Naples

 

In the recent years the successful and best selling Neapolitan series of epic meta-fiction novels written by Elena Ferrante, who writes under a pseudonym, has put the town of Naples in the spotlight. The superb ancient capital of southern Italy has been described in gritty detail and yet it seems to have wooed thousands of fans around the world like the sirens did with sailors many centuries ago.

Ferrante describes how violent life was in the outskirts of Naples, how many cultural diversities there were among people living in the same neighborhood, and how many possibilities had young people who tried to escape a very sad fate. Ferrante gives us a detailed description of the cracked surfaces of walls along the streets, graphiti everywhere, clothing and linen strung across the narrow streets of the ancient city centre but she also reveals stunning views from the Posillipo hill to the hilltop neighbourhood of Vomero.

The quadrilogy enables us to know how the daily life of families in Naples was in the past and how it has changed during the last decades showing all the contradictions of a big city which had been a great capital in the past and which is confronting now with a revival especially in terms of tourism relevance.

As many fans want to see the city true character for themselves, I thought it was worth offering a few tours in order to trace the places described in the novels while discussing the four books: “My brilliant friend”,  “The story of a new name”,  “Those who live and those who stay”,  and “The lost child”.

On our tour, we will visit the “rione” where Elena and Lila lived, the church, the centre of the ancient and historic town and many other spots described in the worldwide famous quartet.

Please contact me for an unforgettable tour of Elena Ferrante’s Novels locations led by a true “Neapolitan” and qualified tourist guide.

My email is belsannino@gmail.com and my telephone number is +39 3393982433

© Dr Maria Sannino 2016

Tracing templars in Campania

 

Knight Templars

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As we all know, the origins and the history of the mystical powerful Order of the Templars are shrouded in mystery.

According to the legend the founder of the Order of the Poor Fellow Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, known as the Order of the Knight Templars, was Hughes of Payens ( a French fellow coming from a not yet identified place). According to a few Italian scholars, Hughes of Payens should be identified with Ugo dei Pagani from the Italian Pagani city, close to Nocera in the province of Salerno, where many pilgrims used to live. His origins were Norman although his family had been living in Nocera for more than a century when Hughes gave birth to the Order in 1118 A. D. The symbol of the Templars was found among the shields of the most powerful families of French origins living in the area close to Nocera and many other evidences can be traced in this city. We have to take into account that Nocera is quite close to Amalfi and during the 11th century, Amalfi was one of the most powerful marine republics in the Mediterranean area and many noble people from the neighbourhood had already established contacts with Jerusalem. In fact, the monks soon received the support of Baldwin II, king of Jerulasem, who donated them part of the Temple of Solomon. Coming back to Europe, Hughes de Payens started a recruitment campaign in order to create a military force which might have offered its services to the Church and to the Kings or nobles who required them. The Order received the recognition and help of Bernard, the Cistercian abbot of Clairvaux in France in 1128. The knights were provided with a rule and Hughes de Payens became the first Master of the Temple. The Church, ruled at that time by Honorius II recognized the order and gave its support to the warrior monks who were then assigned the task of defending the Christian world. The Knight Templars established their Headquarters in Jerusalem.

Known as brave knights on the battlefield and pious monks when in convents, during the Crusades those noble warrior-knight-monks became very popular among the popes who granted them their protection and many privileges so that the Knight Templars started acquiring properties and donations which made them economically independent. They btemplareecame a very powerful military force that protected pilgrims travelling to and from the Holy Land. Thanks to their reliability and honesty many nobles entrusted them their funds and the Templars established such a secure international banking system that even kings and popes gave them custody of their own money.

In a very short lapse of time the Templars gained a huge wealth which was then deposited in Paris and London. They became so powerful at the apogee of their prosperity that they also interfered in the government of Jerusalem which had meanwhile become very weak. Their rising power was soon opposed by other military orders, like the Hospitallers, which confronted them, but also by the same king and the Church that together decided to suppress the order of the Templars accusing them of loving too much the power. All the properties belonging to the Templars were passed on to the Hospitallers after many Templars had been executed by orders of the king of France. The last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, was burned at the stake together with another dignitary and legend states that while he was burning, he summoned both the king of France and the pope to appear before God in the course of the year. And as a sort of coincidence, both the king and the pope died the same year as the Grand Master. Even more astonishing is the legend reporting that the architraves of all Catholic churches cracked when the stake holding the Grand Master completely blazed.

The Order was officially suppressed in 1312 but many members either joined other military orders or continued to participate in a secret line meetings, which according to the Larmenius Charter, gave birth to the legendary stories that for centuries were narrated about them. One of the secrets held by the Templars was linked to the Grail as they called themselves “the keepers and defenders of the Holy Grail”. They in fact dedicated themselves to preserving the blood line of Jesus and also relics which where then given to other people. During the 18th century, in fact, the Freemasons claimed to have secretly received information regarding the Holy Grail and esoteric knowledge which was once possessed by the Knight Templars.

Goleto Abbey

Goleto Abbey

In the Campania region (South Italy) there are many traces of the Knight Templar’s presence in convents and churches which still hold symbols linked to the Templars and their activity. One of the most important hermitage used by the Templars is the Goleto Abbey near Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi in the province of Avellino. Vestiges of the Knight Templars can still be seen in Nocera, in Casaluce but also in the same town of Naples.

For lovers of the Knight Templars it might be an idea to participate in a private guided tour booking directly at belsannino@gmail.com or calling me on the phone at +39 339 3982433

More info at  www.herculaneum.net/trackingTemplars/html

© Dr Maria Sannino

 

Is Dracula’s tomb in Naples?

Is Dracula’s grave in Naples?

Dracula's tomb

Dracula’s tomb © Dr Maria Sannino

 

Recent Estonian research works made scholars from the University of Tallin claim that they traced Dracula’s tomb in the heart of Naples. The bas-relief of a Dragon between two sphinxes, which might be the symbol of Vlad Tepes III, prince of Wallachia, was found on the grave belonging to Dracula’s son-in-law, count Giacomo Alfonso Ferrillo, in the church of Santa Maria La Nova. Vlad III, known as the Impaler for his cruelty, was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order which was supposed to protect Christianity in Eastern Europe. The institution, held in 1408, had a dragon as its symbol.

Vlad III, also known as Dracula (the devil) mysteriously disappeared during a battle against the Ottomans and the Estonian researchers think that somehow he managed to reach his daughter, Maria, who had been sent to the Court of Alphonse of Aragon who let her marry the count Ferrillo, in Naples.

A masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, the marble tomb has become one of the most visited spots in Naples, thanks to the interest shown by tourists for the occult and for the mysteries linked to the “king of the vampires”.

The presence of Dracula’s relics is not the only mystery linked to that marble tomb. Let’s discover together what else is hidden behind that marvellous grave. Join me on a private qualified guided tour.

Please do not hesitate to contact me at belsannino@katamail.com or reach me on the phone at +39 339 39 82 433

Masterpieces of Naples: Caravaggio

The Flagellation, The 7 Acts of Mercy and the Martyrdom of Saint Ursula

© by Dr Maria Sannino

Caravaggio's self-portrait

Caravaggio’s self-portrait

The town of Naples has always been a magnet attracting the most exceptional people. As a matter of fact, there have been extraordinary people who came to Naples, apparently for specific reasons, and they ended up leaving their prints in the cultural life of this unique wondrous town.

One of those remarkable fellow was Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio. He was twice in Naples but only for a couple of months. Neverthless he produced here many of his masterpieces, three of which are still kept in this beautiful town.
Caravaggio came to Naples in 1606 when he was forced to leave the town of Rome, having killed a man after a fight, and he stopped in Naples, a city which has always been ready to welcome those who lost their ways.
Naples proved to be the most suitable environment for the subjects of Caravaggio’s works: the darkness of the intriguing maze of narrow lanes of the ancient city, the Spanish quarters, taverners, delinquents, gamblers, beautiful women and young boys resembling angels.
The muscular, strong men that Caravaggio used as subjects of most of his works were met in the streets of Naples and looking at them carefully, we notice that their feet are dirty, meaning that they were also poor people or outcasts, and those were the ideal subjects for a painter who used to live in misery notwithstanding the enormous amount of works that he produced during his short life. The Church commissioned him various paintings and although Caravaggio created masterpieces, the clergy did not always appreciated them, nay it often rejected them, as it considered those paintings halfway between the sacred and profan. Caravaggio’s works were snapshots of reality which were in contrast with the idea of spirituality that the Church required. Nevertheless Caravaggio’s works were appreciated by other people and they were soon acquired by private collectors. His production was always attracting artists who noticed the grandeur of this promising young painter and many followed his prints.

7 Acts of Mercy

7 Acts of Mercy

The 7 acts of Mercy was one of those impressive paintings that caused such an astonishing reaction by the public and art critics, that it may be considered one of the most beautiful works ever produced by Caravaggio and surely one of the most superb religious paintings of the 17th century. It could even claim to having given birth to the Neapolitan Baroque.
Caravaggio was commissioned this work by the Pio Monte di Misericordia deputation and he was supposed to represent all the 7 works of Mercy in one painting. This was not an easy task but Caravaggio never refused a challenge, so he decided to divide the work into two parts: the bottom of the painting illustrating the earthly 7 works of Mercy and the top part of it portraying the spiritual side of it, with the Virgin and the angels overlooking the entire scene of Mercy. He created a very dynamic composition exalting the contrasts of human experiences represented in a torch-lighted street scene where the characters are performing the acts of Mercy in a natural and realistic way.

Flagellation

Flagellation

Another splendid work that Caravaggio made for a rich Neapolitan family was the Flagellation, now kept in the Capodimonte museum. It is one of Caravaggio’s best works. Tied to the column, Christ is surrounded by three men trying to hurt him. Their faces seem not to show any regret for what they are doing while Christ seems to be reacting to whipping as any human being would do. The use of colour in Caravaggio is very unusual but the right usage of some palettes of warm flesh tones renders its works very peculiar. The figures of the torturers are revealed in such a natural and realistic way that it seems that they are moving. For the first time a brawny Christ is portrayed almost naked, wearing only a single piece of cloth wrapped round the hips. His head reclining to the left. The entire scene seems to come out of a dark street corner or a dungeon where nobody could see what is happening and Christ is left alone in the hands of those violent soldiers.

The martyrdom of Saint Ursula

The martyrdom of Saint Ursula

A red colour, linked to blood, characterizes the last work, the famous Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, that Caravaggio created a few days before his tragic lonely death. A woman who was the symbol of beauty was killed by an arrow that Attila shot in anger . Here the killer’s face ( a self-portrait) seems to be a regretful one while, behind the wounded lady, Caravaggio’s face is once more clearly visible. He was regretting his omicide and from this last work all his sorrow is expressed without any doubt. It seems that Caravaggio’s self-portriat was reproduce three times in this work, the third being drawn by the slightly visible hand close to Ursula’s body, that Caravaggio added as if he was trying to avoid Attila’s omicide, without any success.
The tree works can be admired in Naples on the special Caravaggio’s tour that I lead.  The Flagellation is in the Capodimonte Museum, the 7 works of Mercy is in the Pio Monte della Misericordia and the Saint Ursula is in the famous Palazzo Zevallos museum.

For those interested in the guided tour, please do not hesitate to contact me at: belsannino@gmail.com or at 3393982433