"A volcanic experience" Pozzuoli by leics
Pozzuoli Travel Guide: 16 reviews and 45 photos
I'd long wanted to visit Pozzuoli to see the Solfatara, part of the active volcanic landscape which forms this small promontory of the Bay of Naples.
This time, I managed to visit. It meant a Circumvesuviana into Naples and then the Metro out again, but actually took much less time than I'd expected.
Was it worth the effort? Most definitely yes. At least, it was worth the effort for someone (me) who had never, ever experienced any sort of volcanic landscape before.
Pozzuoli, as Puteoli, was the main port of the Roman Empire for several centuries, which really surprised me. I'd long assumed that Ostia (near Rome) was always the most important port, but it turns out this only occurred when Trajan expanded it.
Ancient Pozzuoli was not only important for its port but also for the pink volcanic sand which was a vital ingredient of the Roman concrete, a superb invention which still lasts even 2000 years later (just look at the dome of the Pantheon, or the domes of the huge warehouses in the forum in Rome).
The Romans knew about the thermal springs and volcanic mud in the area, and made use of them for baths and spas (not yet discovered but known about through written history). And Pozzuoli continued to be an important spa area right through the centuries (you access the Solfatara through the grounds of a past spa 'palazzo').
So it was to the Solfatara I first turned..up the hill and away from the Metro station, perhaps 15 minutes walk. It was like entering a moon landscape, an almost bare crater with vegetation only on its edges, smelling faintly of rotten eggs. The volcano hasn't erupted for at least a couple of thousand years, so you are actually walking on hardened magma which blocks the cone. For the moment. This is still an active volcanic landscape......
Some of the rock colours are amazing (it's the minerals). The fumaroles smoke in the distance, the smell of sulphur intensifies as you come nearer to them. In the centre is a fenced-off pool of gently bubbling mud, as well as strange pyramid-shaped reflectors which help to monitor the crater; no chances are being taken with its potential for eruption (which is reassuring!).
The Bocca Grande, the main fumarole, was hugely impressive. Its hissing (almost roaring) was a constant background noise, its clouds of smoke swirling upwards...and its temperature somewhere between 160 and 372 Fahrenheit. It was only as I stood nearby that I realised the ground itself was hot and that other tiny fumaroles were also venting...one of them straight up my trouser leg! Though, fortunately, no harm was done.
I really enjoyed exploring the Solfatara, and even managed 30 seconds or so in the 'stufe antiche'...brick-built boxes dating from the 19th century and creating sort of natural sauna, with temperatures up to 90 Celsius and air rendolent of sulphur. It's no wonder the Romans called this place 'the Gates of Hell'...although breathing that air certainly cured my cold-on-the-way!
But Pozzuoli is more than just its volcanic Solfatara. As an important Roman port it was, of course, an important Roman town. Unfortunately the weird volcanic effect of 'Bradyseism' (a sort of ultra-slow-moving earthquake) means that the land is falling in some places and rising in others...and has been doing so for millennia. Much of the Roman town remains unexcavated and much of it lies underwater (or under modern Pozzuoli).
But you can see some evidence of the past. Most impressive of all is the amphitheatre, always built on the outskirts of a Roman town. It is huge, seating up to 20 000 people, and very well preserved. Started during Nero's reign, and completed under Vespasian's, it once resounded to the cheers of thousands as gladiators fought each other, and wild animals. Although you can't go into the seating area (it is till used for performances) the rest of the structure is accessible...as long as you do not visit on a Tuesday. Which, unfortunately, I did. So my experience of Pozzuoli's amphitheatre is from then outside only. :-(
But I did see what is called the 'Temple of Serapis'. a complex just to the east of the modern port which was originally thought to be a temple because a statue of the Egyptian god Serapis was unearthed nearby. But we now know it was actually a macellum, a covered market. It is here that the effects of Bradyseism are clear, for you can see from the holes in the columns exactly where the sea once was (the holes were bored by molluscs) and where it now is. Some distance away, in fact. Nevertheless the site is still often flooded.
Towards the east is another site, the Rione Terra, a site which includes large parts of the excavated Roman town. But this is an ongoing excavation, only open to the public at weekends, so I was not able to visit. Near the amphitheatre I spotted the remains of the 'Temple of Neptune', and another set of remains in the middle of a modern building area. I have no idea what those once were, but their size is further indication that this was once a massively important town.
So... Pozzuoli is worth wandering around even after you've explored the Solfatatara. It's a comfortable little place, very much an ordinary working town..and its Tuesday market has some good clothing and bag bargains, if you're interested. I bought a bag for 5 euro which I later saw in Sorrento for 20 euro! :-))
- Pros:Volcanic landscape, Roman remains, Sophia Loren was born here.
- Cons:Nothing that I came across.
- In a nutshell:Get some sulphur into your lungs! :-)
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