Friday, January 19, 2007

Pozzuoli and the Phlegraean Fields 12.27.06

Just after Christmas we visited the Phlegraean Fields, an enormous area of volcanic activity west of Naples made up of craters that form natural amphitheatres, bubbling mud pits (after a rain we assume, since we didn't see any) and geysers of scorching steam rising up from openings in the ground around deep gold and ochre colored rocks to create one of the most surreal landscapes we have ever seen. The activity underground was clearly felt as the intensity of the steam rising seemed to pulse and heighten and we became engulfed in it. Putting our hands close to these "fumaroles" we could feel the intense heat being generated by the still molten underground magma as the strong scent of sulpher filled the air.

The volcanic crater of Solfatara (itself a collapsed volcano!) is the name of the site we visited just outside the seaside town of Pozzuoli and is open from 8:30 in the morning until 1 hour before sunset. We had some difficulty finding it and eventually followed the sign to what seemed to be the parking area for the campground and there located the entrance. It was a bit of a challenge with some driving around in circles, but it was well worth it all the same.

The nearby city of Pozzuoli was founded by the Greeks around the 7th century BC and later became a Roman trade center with fancy upscale villas for the wealthy Romans. In the center of town there are Roman ruins, the ancient Serapeum, originally thought to be a temple but which turned out to be nothing more glamorous than a market place, but still pretty interesting. Outside of town is a large amphitheatre, which had a seating capacity of 40,000, underground areas for caged animals and a sophisticated drainage system to collect rainwater.

Pozzuoli is the birthplace of Sophia Loren, and today it is a pretty seaside town of around 80,000 people. We located the port where boats take off all day for the islands of Ischia and Procida and picked up a schedule. Going out to these islands is one of the things we still want to do.

Next up on my schedule to write about is our hike up to the top of the volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, and our visits to Pompeii, Herculaneum and Oplontis so I'm glad you are still with us.

Ciao amici,
Rosemary e Roberto

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