Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dinner in Sorrento

Here are the smiling faces of our CUA and Loyola students. What a pure pleasure to meet these young people in the classroom every week, and then to enjoy their company and their friendship on our road trips.


In the year 79 AD, Pompeii was buried under 4-6 meters of ash and pumice during a catastrophic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius. Over the centuries, several more meters of soil accumulated over the lost city. As a result, the once thriving city of Pompeii and its inhabitants were lost to memory until they were accidentally discovered in 1599.

The area has now been partially excavated and gives a vivid and poignant insight into daily life in a city of 20,000 people during the first century of the Roman empire. One can wander down paved streets lined with raised sidewalks, water pipes, and stepping stones to cross wet or messy streets. There is a huge amphitheatre, a forum with numerous temples, marketplaces for food and other goods, workshops, fountains, baths, gymnasiums, stores, residences, gardens, and even streetside snack bars for "fast food" and wine to go.

Many buildings retain their floor mosaics and wall decorations. There are even plaster casts of some of the bodies of the unfortunate victims who were unable to flee the city in time. Many of the most important artistic treasures have been removed to the Archeological Museum in Naples, which will be described in a future blog entry. Here are some pictures from our day in Pompeii.

Trip to Capri

Last weekend (April 16-18), we took a three-day bus trip with the students and faculty from the CUA Rome Program. This time, we headed south to the seaside region around the Bay of Naples, about a three-hour trip from Rome. We stayed in a very nice hotel in the fashionable seaside resort town of Sorrento, enjoying tasty meals and watching the full moon rise from the balcony.

One of our favorite experiences was a day-long excursion to the Island of Capri. Susie and I took a jet-powered ferry out to the island, which rises high above the sea on spectacular sheer cliffs. There are only two small villages on the island, but it has become something of a vacation paradise because of its scenic views, year-round beautiful climate, and expensive shops and restaurants.

We rode the funicular (cable car) to the village of Capri high above the harbor. From there, we strolled through the village, window-shopping at luxury goods and sampling tasty gelato. We also took a hike to the cliffs at the far northeast corner of the island to see the ruins of Villa Jovis, a massive palace built by the Emperor Tiberius in the 1st-century AD. The palace complex was supplied with water captured in massive cisterns. The emperor lived there for the final decade of his life, communicating his orders to the mainland via a lighthouse at night and a huge signal mirror by day. The Italian word "capri" means "goats," and we saw a few wild specimens in the woods.

Roman Antiquities

On Tuesday, I took my Latin Literature class on a "site visit" to the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, the main branch of the National Museum of Rome. Susie and I had been there before (see blog entry "Museum of Ancient Roman Art" from March 19), but we had only had time to visit one of the museum's four floors at that time.

A former Jesuit seminary, the building now houses four floors of art from republican, imperial, and late imperial Rome. The top floor includes numerous mosaics and wall paintings from ancient Roman villas, including all four walls of the the summer triclinium (dining area) from the villa of Livia, the wife Emperor Augustus. These walls (1st century BC) are masterpieces of painting, featuring lifelike images of plants, flowers, and birds. The ground floor and second floor house a fantastic collection of marble and bronze statuary. The basement has a collection of coins, jewelry, and everyday household objects. Here are a few pictures of things that caught my attention. (For the mosaics and wall paintings of the Villa of Livia, see the earlier blog entry.)