Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I thought we were in Italy...

...but today we took a trip to ancient Greece.  Or rather, an ancient Greek settlement.  The town is called "Paestum", and was settled around 700 B.C.  It has some of the most complete temples from the time that are still visible today -- including in Greece itself.  Apparently, knowledge of it was lost, and then some invading Allied forces rediscovered it during the landing at Sorrento.  Can you imagine coming across these as you're in the middle of a war?


But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

It was a bit humid in there.
This morning, we drove along the Sorrento coast to Amalfi.  On the way, we stopped by the Emerald Grotto.  It is a large, one-chamber cave with stalagtites and -mites and other formations.  It has a special feature: one section of the cave allows light in through the sea floor, and it glows turquoise.  It's extremely pretty.  The guide takes you on a short tour (it's large for a one-chamber cave, but not really huge) by flat-bottomed boat; you never get out of sight of the dock.  The whole time, the guide was babbling in spaghetti English; the point at which we cracked up was when he used the paddle to move the water in such a way to display a ceramic baby Jesus.  He proclaimed, "Looky, eetsa mee-ra-cul-ah!" proudly as the baby Jesus was revealed, thus providing our newest family saying.

What doesn't show is the large amount of bright turquoise.
We also bought a "cedro" which is a large lemony-looking fruit.  I couldn't resist.  The man on the side of the road selling them told me that they were sweet like an orange.  He weighed them using a handheld brass balance, much as his ancestors must have done!

The trip along the coast road was absolutely lovely, if hair-raising for our poor driver.  We had an apparently suicidal bike rider (yes, BIKE, not motorcycle) passing a car on the outside of a blind curve going in the opposite direction from us.  If my dad hadn't been quick on the brakes, we would have been learning first hand how quickly the ambulance arrives in Italy.  The view, however, was gorgeous.

Only one of 1000s of views...

When we arrived in Amalfi (having averaged about 12 miles an hour), we went to the big surface parking lot just off the coast road.  It was crammed to the gills -- we have no idea what happens during peak tourist season, nor are we anxious to find out.  As the van was drawing its skirts close together to pass a car going in the opposite direction, the other car (with HUGE loudspeakers mounted to the top) started blaring opera at us.  We looked at each other and just started cracking up...only in Italy.  It turned out later to be part of an election campaign.
We found the car again later, so I caught a picture of it.

Having found niente in the way of parking, we continued up the coast road.  Fortune smiled, and a subterranean parking lot appeared in front of us.  Hurray!  We parked the car, and were able to go to the cathedral -- St. Andrew's.  It has a gorgeous crypt with all kinds of inlaid stone throughout, and paintings on the ceiling.  There were also some fragments of mosaics from somewhere around (Italy is so rich in culture that the inhabitants occasionally forget to document this stuff for those of us who haven't grown up with it).

St. Andrew's facade

The campanile

The doors, which are incredibly old (sorry, don't have a date for you)

Notice the Moorish influence here?

Some of the mosaic work

A detail of the mosaic

A close-up of the border

Another type -- floor, I believe

A view of the campanile from the cloister

Fresco in the cloister

I love the way the halos are 3-dimensional!

A monstrance

Treasures, continued

And yet more...

She's from the 15th century

A palanquin from China! 

Look at the stone lacework!
The stonework in the crypt

An overall view of the stonework

The base of an altar in a side-chapel

View of the crypt

We cracked up when we saw the straps holding the column together (?)
We had lunch together in the square, after which we tunneled back through to the parking lot.  Yes, I nearly forgot to mention it -- because it's a cliff city, there are many pedestrian tunnels that create a maze in the cliffs behind the city.

At lunch.  Yes, the weather was perfect.

In part of the maze.

By and by, we made it to Paestum.  This was such a different experience from Pompeii, because it was further in ruins (more like Carsulae, near Todi -- but mostly Greek), but nonetheless had some enormous structures.  They were incredible, and the pictures don't do them justice.  The columns were something like 10 feet in diameter, and about 60 feet tall, I'm guessing.

A small theatre

Part of an amphitheatre

These columns were about 12 feet in diameter, I think.  They were huge.

James looking for lizards out of the corner of his eye.

And, yes, there were lizards...
...lots of lizards...
And boys to look for them!

A brick column that was mortared on the outside to appear solid.  Check out the shape of the bricks!  This was in the Roman section

After wandering around the ruins for a while, we went into the museum.

This was on the lid of a tomb that was lined with frescoes.

Look at the horse!  Isn't it sweet?
This is how a frescoed tomb would appear in situ.

And then back to the house, via the autostrada.  It took much less time to get back!



p.s.  Here are some bonus pictures of the "cedro" which turned out to be a citron.  Jeremy liked it a lot, and it was wasted on the rest of us.  I'm candying some of it for fun.
The farmer actually had one as big as James's head!
The flesh is sour, but the pith is sweet (ish)

Compared to a rather large lemon

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