On my first full day in Naples I went south: Paestum, Pompeii, Herculaneum. For my second full day, it was time to go north: Campi Flegri.
From how Campi Flegri was described to me I assumed it was one giant tourist park: no shops, houses or life, just ruins, sulphuric lakes and emptiness. It is not. It is, in fact, where Neopolitan people go for their days out to the beach. It was full of kids, ice cream, inflatable toys and sun oil. If I’d known this, I would’ve brought my swimsuit. As it was, I arrived ready for a day of high level sightseeing.
In fact, I should’ve been prepared. The Romans used this area for exactly the same thing: days out, sunbathing, relaxing. All of the sights I saw this day were built by the Romans for this purpose. Nothing ever really changes, I guess.
I got here on the metro, Line 2, from Pizazzo Cavour to Pozzouli Solfatara. This was the third biggest amphitheatre of the Roman world and in 2015 it was entirely empty. As in: me, a cat and around 65 seagulls. It was absurdly empty. The woman at the gate was definitely angry that I’d shown up. She was probably planning to have lunch.
Having the place to myself gave it a completely different atmosphere to the Colosseum. It’s also nowhere near as well preserved, so the sense of scale is really quite lost.
The best thing about this amphitheatre was the access to the underground parts. You can walk around the entire amphitheatre and, although there are no informative plaques, you can guess and imagine where the doors, cages and corridors would have been. Mostly it’s just beautifully eerie and very very awesome.
To get to my next location, I walked down the hill to a different train station: Pozzouli, on the Cumana line, in the direction of Torregaveta. This was a lovely train that went along the coast, right by the beach. It was also packed with day trippers and holiday makers. This is when I realised I should’ve brought a towel.
I got off at Lucrino, although Fusaro would’ve been closer. I tried to find a bus, but it was one of those situations where you wait for the bus, it doesn’t come, you start to walk and three pass you in the space of 5 minutes. Sometime it’s just not meant to be.
I walked along a very terrifying motorway (don’t tell my mum) to get from Lucrino to Baia. From Baia, I walked along the road and up the hill. Finally, I arrived at the castle.
Castello Aragonese is not a very old castle: it was only really built in the 18th century or so. You also shouldn’t confuse it with the Aragonese Castle, which is on Ischia. Nonetheless, it’s got everything a castle should have (moat, towers, turrets) and it was definitely worth the walk.
It also has the Museo Archeologico dei Campi Flegrei within it, which was surprisingly extensive: hundreds of very well preserved Roman statues; Greek vases; small ornaments and burial residue. It was nice to be in the cool, shady museum, although I couldn’t charge my phone in the plugs which was confusing.
The Baths at Baia
You can’t access this from the main road. I ended up going a long way out of my way to get here. It looks like there should have been some sort of cut through up some steps from the beachfront but I totally missed that.
Once I was there, it was lovely. I stopped off in the office to charge my phone and fill up my water before heading to the site itself. It was built to be a spa for the Romans and it’s just so well preserved. For example, the picture below is of the changing rooms. I mean, you could still use it now!
Once again, me and a cat were the only people there (that’s right, cats are people too). Later in the afternoon a tour group showed up but I was basically leaving then. Mostly it was just me and the cat, wandering around these two thousand year old buildings. I read my book. I ate some apricots straight from the tree. It was a exceptionally pleasant interlude (apart from how it would have been nicer to be in the sea, if only I’d brought my swimming costume).
What I love most about the archeological sites in this area of Italy is how it is all integrated into the modern buildings. In Naples, there are theatres and Roman houses which are literally the foundation of the current buildings. Baia is very similar: they seem to have cleared some parts (or just left them entirely untouched for centuries) but at the edge of the site modern apartment blocks are built using walls from the Roman site. It’s a wonderful, relaxed acceptance that is so beautiful.
After Baia I was going to go to Cuma, but it was very far away. In fact, it took me 40 minutes from seeing the train station just to get onto the platform (but that was mostly because of the building works and my poor sense of direction..). Instead, I hopped on the train back into Naples and got off at Montesanto station to get the funicular up to Morghen. From there, it was a quick jog (it was about to close) to my final destination.
Certosa di San Martino
This is an old monastery and it has all the lovely things you expect from an old monastery: cloisters, art, fabulous churches. It also has a strangely large collection of naivety scenes, which was a bit odd but perfectly fine. One of them fills a whole room and has every type of different thing going on. Marching bands, people dancing, dozens of different type of animal, children running around… and in the top left hand corner is a small hut with a few people sat quietly inside. I suppose it’s intentional to undermine and therefore emphasise the frailty and insignificance of the whole event but I wonder if everyone totally got the symbolism, instead of getting distracted by the circus and the drunken brawl and the bear fight.
It was also the perfect place to end my day. It is on a hill and has beautiful views over Naples. I watched the lovely evening light and all the Neopolitans doing evening things. There was a skateboarding competition going on in the square outside San Martino. It was very nice.