Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2015
Mediterranean Cruise - Part 3
Cagliari, the capital city of the island of Sardinia, is a very old city founded by the Phoenicians. Sardinia itself is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean with 900 miles of spectacular jagged and rocky coastline, with beaches of very fine sparkling sand located about 125 miles from the Italian mainland.
Cagliari is located on the southern end of Sardinia and has an excellent very sheltered port. Sited thus in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea it developed into one of the most important trading centres for East-West trade along the Mediterranean.
The old part of the city (called 'Castello', the castle) lies on top of a hill, with a wonderful views out over the Gulf of Cagliari. Most of its city walls are intact, and feature two 13th century white limestone watch-towers, St. Pancras tower and the Elephant tower. The local white limestone was also used to build the ramparts of the city and many of its buildings. D.H. Lawrence, in his memories of a trip in Sardinia, "Sea and Sardinia", described the impressive effect of the warm Mediterranean sun-light on the white limestone city and compared Cagliari to a "white Jerusalem". We first climbed the Torre dell'Elephante, a 1307 watch-tower with carvings of an elephant and is one of the bastions on the city approaches. We continued to climb to a view point, admired the views out over the bay and into the port where the Queen Elizabeth was visible. It reminded us of our first visit on the QE2 when she was berthed in the same place.
We passed the Basilica of Santa Croce in the old Juharia of Costello and could not resist looking inside. it dates from the late 1700s and was part of a complex commisioned by the Jesuit Orders.
We climbed higher to the museum complex in the Piazza Arsenale - the Cittadella dei Museo which has been built in the old armouries and now contains the Museo Archeologica, the National Picture Gallery, the Communal Arts Centre and the Stefano Cardu Museum of Siamese Art. Unfortunately this was all closed on Monday. Then we continued to visit the St Pancras tower. The watch-towers were much higher and bigger than we realised when we started and commanded magnificent views and were well worth the 2 or 4 Euros entry.
Our route to the Duomo took us past the Palazzo Viceregio (or the Palace of the Provincial Government) which used to be the Island's governor's (viceroy's) palace before 1900. Last visit we found that as individuals we were welcome to enter. This time we were disappointed to find it was closed on Monday. There are more details in the write up of our Visit in 2005 on the QE2 when we were given a guided tour along with another two couples - it was unpublicised service and we had a first rate 15 minute tour which was most informative and interesting by one of the staff, and all in impeccable English.
We continued to the Duomo, Cagliari's 13th century cathedral that had been rebuilt in ornate Baroque style in the 1600s. Comprehensive repairs in the 1930s changed the former Baroque facade into a Medieval Pisan style facade, more akin to the original appearance of the church. The inside is now virtually clear of the restoration which limited the access last time we visited. We went down into the crypts where the decoration and tiled surfaces were stunning.
We had not planned to walk further but we had spare time so retraced our steps to the Piazza Arsenale and down to the Roman Amphitheatre where audiences of 10,000 used to watch the spectacle of Christians being martyred. It is now set up for less exciting entertainment with a series of summer concerts. Entry is only possible at weekends. It is on the edge of the University area and students were emerging from their lectures. The roads were clogged with little Smart-like cars and scooters. It was now all downhill to reach the Botanical Gardens. In October the gardens are open all day so we had plenty of time to explore. The gardens are owned by the University and were established in 1858. There is an impressive cactus garden. There are also a number of tunnels dug into the hillside and these were for the cisterns where water was stored and we went into one of them, now empty. It was pleasant to amble in the shade and we wished we had made sandwiches so we had an excuse to sit.
We walked back down to the local market at Santa Chiara, just a few steps from the Piazza Venne. We had looked inside on the way past and noted it was now open until 1400. It is a classic small covered market with fresh local produce stalls. Last visit we found a stall selling cheese and they had four different ages of Peccorini, a local cheese we had heard was the classic from Sardinia - we had tried the two most mature examples and bought small pieces. The most mature was much like a Parmesan in texture and taste and broke rather than cut. We also bought a couple of bottles of local red wine from Jerzu, pleasant drinking and still very good value at 5 Euros a bottle.
Our first visit to Naples was on the QE2 in 2001 when we took a tour to visit Pompeii and the following day visited the historic town and its museums. The second visit was again on the QE2 in 2005 when we caught a ferry to Capri for the day. Naples is the capital of the Italian south. The name derives from Neapolis, the New City, founded in the 6th century BC. Having seen so much of the town of Pompeii, and the preserved objects which had been taken from the site to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, we wanted to visit Herculaneum. Both towns had been destroyed by the eruption of 79AD. Herculaneum was much smaller than Pompeii and much closer to Naples. Named after the myth of Hercules, it is only 6 miles away along the coast and was a seaside resort. The modern town of Ercolano surrounds the excavated ruins of Herculaneum.
Leaving the Queen Elizabeth at the Stazione Marittima we passed the Castel Nuovo, built by Charles I of Anjou in 1282. The entrance is a fine white marble Renaissance Triumphal Arch, built between 1454 and 1467. It is presently in the centre of a construction site so this picture is from 2001. We walked along the waterfront following the tramlines until we reached the Corso Garibaldi. For the future, travelling by tram L1 probably a better option than walking but it would have been easy to miss the station. The local Circumvesuviana stopping trains to Sorrento go to Ercolano Scavi and the terminus is at Porta Nolana in the Corso Garibaldi. It is much better to catch the train there to ensure a seat. The next stop is adjacent to the mainline station at the Piazza Garibaldi and is always very, very busy. The ticket to Ercolano was 2 euros, so 4 euros return, and the trains run every 30 minutes. These trains also go to Pompeii so are very popular with tourists, who can make a full day excursion visiting both sites. It is also possible to catch a bus from Ercolano to the Vesuvius volcana rim.
Leaving Ercolano Scavi station it is an easy downhill walk along the Via IV November towards the ruins and the coast. There is free access to the park which overlooks the ruins which are well below the surrounding modern houses. There was a small queue for tickets and the concession for entry for EU citizens over 65 years has been removed. And only school teachers get free entry, not lecturers. We both paid full price of 11 euros. There is also a combination ticket which includes Pompeii and three other local sites. Luggage storage is now available and the site is uneven so flat shoes are essential. The bookshop was open but the cafe consisted only of machines for snacks, drinks and icecreams.
We had already purchased a "Guide with Reconstructions of Pompeii and Herculaneum". It was printed in 2002 and used an older numbering system for the roads and buildings but was otherwise very useful. There were clear overlays onto the main ruins which showed how the areas would have looked before the earthquake in 62 AD and the eruption in 79 AD. In Herculaneum the eruption generated toxic fumes and volcanic mud which buried the city. The ground level rose by 20 metres and the coast advanced by 400 metres. The site was discovered by accident in 1711 when a well was being dug and excavations began in 1738. Because of the town of Ercolano being on top of the ruins the early excavations initially took place by digging shafts and tunnelling. Modern excavations began in 1968 and there are many well-preserved buildings to visit although more buildings are hidden underground.
From the map it is clear that Herculaneum was built on a grid pattern. The excavations have released many private houses from the solidified mud, as well as the Forum Baths, the Suburban Baths, the Sacred Precinct, the Decumano Massimo, and a number of large public buildings.
Entry to the site is over a bridge across to the city walls which gave us some excellent overviews of the site and views down towards the Southern Walls. The first house, the House of Argus which is a large two storey panoramic residence with a large garden. This southern part of the city has other large sumptuous houses with panoramic terraces with spectacular views. The House of the Inn on the opposite side of the road stands back from the walls. There are different opinions as to whether it was an inn but it is a large and grand house with a large terrace and a large orchard. The roads are generally cobbled and many buildings and shops remained.
Continuing north we eventually reached the mens section of the Forum Baths which has a large barrel-vaulted changing room with seats and large shelves above. The warm 'tepidarium' also has seats and shelves and has a raised floor to allow the hot air to circulate but sadly part of that has collapsed. The floor is a black and white mosaic with 4 dolphins. The hot 'calidarium' has a long hot pool on the north side and the apse on the other side would have contained a basin for washing. Outside on the south side there is the palaestra, a rectangular enclosure with porticos on three sides, which shows the other side of the apse.
Continuing north, the Decumanus Maximus is the main thoroughfare and runs from east to west through the town. It is much wider than the other streets and is bordered on both sides by porticoes. It is believed the area was pedestrian and that the street was where people met and strolled, replacing the Forum square in other cities. The south side has large shops, public buildings and prestigious houses. On the corner, the College of the Augustales was open so we could admire the wall paintings. The building is of a religious order for the cult of the Emperor Augustus.
The finest of all the mosaic panels, which features in publicity about Herculaneum, is in the House of the Neptune Mosaic to the south of the Decumanus Maximum. The mosaic shows Neptune and Amphitrite set in a frame, and on the adjoining wall there is a nymohaeum which is also faced in mosaic. They are in excellent condition. It is one of the buildings which every tourist must visit and there were queues to get to the front of the barrier and get photographs. The vitners shop adjoining is also well-preserved and contains nearly all of its fittings including large storage jars and amphorae.
Other interesting houses to visit are the House of the Carbonised Furniture, the Nero House with black painting on walls, the House of the Bronze Herm with a statue of the head of the owner of the house, and the House of the Wooden Screen which still has pieces of the original wall decoration as well as a preserved large wooden screen. This house is two storey with shops on the north side.
On the eastern side of the city, the House of the Relief of Telephus is another enormous house with walls and columns painted a vivid red and with white carved circular masks hanging from the architrave. There is a peristyle garden with a square pool. In an adjoining room is the Relief of Telephus. This house overlooks the Suburban Baths which were closed. The southern end of the road led sharply downhill through a tunnel to.
The entire exploration of Herculaneum had been 3 hours. Instead of returning directly to the port we got off the train at Naples Piazza Garibaldi and walked down the main shopping street, the Umberto 1 to the Piazza Bovio and then to the Piazza Municipio and the Stazione Marittima.
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 26th October, 2015