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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Pompeii (Naples) - Italy

Welcome back to my blog and my final post from my European contract on the Ryndam. I've saved the best until last and today would like to show you a little of ancient Pompeii. The Ryndam was docked at Naples (Italian - Napoli), which is the capital of Campania and the third-largest municipality in Italy, after Rome and Milan.

Above: The view of Naples from the cruise terminal.

Unfortunately I did not have time to explore Naples, only dashing through to reach the train station (further away than I thought!) which would take me to Pompeii. I apologise in advance for the slightly vague nature of some of my captions - I decided to take in the atmosphere rather than have my nose stuck in a guide book:

Above: The Temple of Jupiter in the Forum at Pompeii with Mount Vesuvius looming in the distance.

The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town which was partly destroyed under 4 to 6 metres of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on 24th August AD 79. Pompeii was lost for nearly 1700 years before its rediscovery in 1748. Since then, its excavation has provided an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Italy, with approximately 2,500,000 visitors every year.

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Above: An overview of buildings and streets in Pompeii. The modern roofs are erected to protect paintings from direct sunlight.

For once, I travelled to Pompeii independently (i.e. not on a free shore excursion!) I took the train out of Naples for about 30 minutes to the Circumvesuviana stop, a minute's walk from the entrance to Pompeii. The trains themselves were an experience - fairly run-down and with lots of small boys walking through the carriages playing accordions, looking for tips.

Above: Naples Central train station.

Once I got to Pompeii, the initial experience was quite overwhelming especially when one considers what an extraordinary snapshot of Roman life in the 1st century Pompeii provides. At the time of the eruption, the town may have had some 20,000 inhabitants, and had reached its high point in society, as many Romans frequently visited Pompeii on holiday. The forum, the baths, an amphitheatre and many houses remain well preserved. At the time of eruption, Pompeii also boasted a palaestra with a central natatorium or swimming pool, and an aqueduct that provided water for more than 25 street fountains, at least four public baths, and a large number of private houses and businesses.

Above: A typical Pompeii street.

Pompeii's streets are straight and laid out in a grid in the Roman tradition; they are laid with polygonal stones, and have houses and shops on both sides of the street. Today, many of the streets are closed to the public with less than a third of all buildings open in the 1960s being available for public viewing today. Nevertheless, the sections of the ancient city open to the public are extensive, and you could easily spend several days exploring the whole site.

Above: Amphitheatre of Pompeii.

The amphitheatre has been cited by modern scholars as a model of sophisticated design, particularly in the area of crowd control. It is quite a large structure and one can imagine the activities hosted here being similar to those of the Coliseum in Rome.

Above: One of the entrances to the amphitheatre.

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Above: Inside the amphitheatre.

One of the biggest draws in Pompeii are the poignant plaster casts of the dead Romans - killed not by the lava, but by the intense heat and fumes that rushed through the streets before the lava engulfed them. The archaeologist Giovanni Fiorelli arrived in 1860 and he perfected the art of pouring plaster into the lava cavities formed by the corpses to create the human casts. There is even a cast of a pet dog on display.

Above: One of many casts that tell the tragic human story of the eruption.

In a nutshell, the human element is what makes the Pompeii story so eternally compelling and the many murals and frescoes on display are another part of that. These images provide information on everyday life and have been a major advance in art history of the ancient world.

Above: One of the many frescoes found throughout Pompeii. The surface with holes in the foreground was a counter for a bar/restaurant.

Some aspects of the culture were distinctly erotic, including phallic worship; a large collection of erotic votive objects and frescoes were found at Pompeii. Many were removed and kept until recently in a secret collection at the University of Naples. Others were re-buried upon discovery, due to the strict modesty of the 19th century (some people even invoked the destruction of Pompeii as divine retribution for its liberal lifestyle).

Above: Large collections of pottery fill the buildings by the side of the forum.

It is interesting to note that on 5 February 62 AD, there was a severe earthquake which did considerable damage to Pompeii. Chaos followed the earthquake and it is believed that almost all buildings in the city of Pompeii were affected, with fires - caused by oil lamps that had fallen - adding to the damage. In the days after the earthquake, anarchy ruled the city, where theft and starvation plagued the survivors. In the time between 62 and the eruption in 79, some rebuilding was done, but some of the damage had still not been repaired at the time of the eruption.

Above: The forum at Pompeii, the centre of public and the site of processions and elections, venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches.

Besides the forum, many other services were found upon excavation: the Macellum (great food market), the Pistrinum (mill), the Thermopolium (sort of bar that served cold and hot beverages), and cauponae (small restaurants). As well as the amphitheatre mentioned above, two theatres have also been found, along with a palaestra or gymnasium.

Above: One of the smaller theatres at Pompeii.

The aqueduct system was very sophisticated and an example of brilliant Roman engineering. It branched out through three main pipes from the Castellum Aquae, where the waters were collected before being distributed to the city; in case of extreme drought, the water supply would first fail to reach the public baths (the least vital service), then private houses and businesses, and when there would be no water flow at all, the system would fail to supply the public fountains (the most vital service) in the streets of Pompeii.

Above: Temple of Apollo.

Pompeii was an important town for two reasons. First, it was a leading manufacturer of garum, a disgusting-sounding but extremely popular mash of salted fish intestines left to ferment in the sun for months. Second, just across the Bay of Naples, lay the crucial naval base of Misnum. The fame of the eruption was boosted by the man in charge of the base on that fatal August day: the philosopher Pliny the Elder.

Above: Remarkably well preserved statues.

In one of the many tragedies that enshrine Pompeii's immortality, curious Pliny the Elder sped towards Vesuvius on a boat as soon as he saw it erupt, while his cautious 18-year-old nephew, Pliny the Younger, stayed behind to read. In a letter to a friend, Pliny the Younger noticed the chilling shape of the cloud over Vesuvius: 'Like an umbrella pine, it rose to a great height on a kind of trunk and then split into branches.'

Above: The entrance to a grand courtyard.

Pliny the Younger's account of his uncle's death sends a shiver down the spine. As ash, pumice and blackened cracked stones darkened the sky, Pliny the Elder fled to the seashore, where he was overcome by the sulphurous fumes: 'He stood, leaning on two slaves, and then collapsed suddenly. When dawn returned, his body was discovered intact and uninjured, still fully clothed and looking more like sleep than death'.

Above: More columns near one of the small theatres.

The results of a study, published in 2010, show that in Vesuvius and surrounding towns heat was in fact the main cause of death of people, previously believed to have died by ash suffocation. The study showed that exposure to at least 250 °C hot surges at a distance of 10 kilometres from the vent was sufficient to cause instant death, even if people were sheltered within buildings.

Above: The courtyard of a minor temple.

Pliny's fate may wait modern Neapolitans as Vesuvius often goes for decades without erupting. It last erupted in 1944 and scientists - who estimate that there is a 400-square-kilometre reservoir of magma five miles below the ground under Vesuvius - say that it is due another eruption soon.

Above: Posing at the main forum.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of Pompeii. It is certainly worth a visit and if I return, I would also like to ride the 4x4s up to the rim of Vesuvius to glimpse the fiery innards of the infamous volcano. At last, I have come to the end of my 40 or so posts from Europe, and I'm excited to move onto Australia and Asia - coming very soon! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Vatican City

Welcome back! I decided to split my Rome blog into two - one for Rome (see my last post) and one for what is in fact a separate country, located in the heart of Rome: Vatican City. Vatican City State was established in 1929 and is distinct from the Holy See, which dates back to early Christianity and is the main Episcopal see of 1.2 billion Catholics around the globe.

Above: Posing in Saint Peter's Square in front of Saint Peter's Basilica. The fetching headsets are worn by everyone on the tour so the guide can talk to us via microphone in the crowds.

Vatican City is a landlocked sovereign city-state whose territory consists of a walled enclave within the city of Rome, Italy. It has an area of approximately 110 acres, and a population of just over 800. This makes Vatican City the smallest independent state in the world by both area and population (the second smallest being Monaco - see one of my previous posts).

Above: A panorama of Vatican City taken from the border with Rome. The boundary is designated only with a white line and a knee-high chain fence.

The country is an ecclesiastical state, ruled by the Bishop of Rome—the Pope. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See and the location of the Pope's residence, referred to as the Apostolic Palace which is on the right of the two pictures above.

I was lucky enough to visit Vatican City on both of my visits to Rome and take a tour of Saint Peter's Basilica. The other famous location in Vatican City is the Sistine Chapel but only a limited number of public are allowed in each day and our tour didn't include this!

Above: Looking down the nave of Saint Peter's Basilica towards the Altar.

Saint Peter's Basilica, is a Late Renaissance church designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and remains one of the largest churches in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Roman Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, Saint Peter's is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic sites.

Above: One of the decorated bronze doors at the entrance to the Basilica is the Holy Door, only opened in Holy Years.

In Roman Catholic tradition, the basilica is the burial site of its namesake Saint Peter, according to tradition, the first Bishop of Rome and therefore first in the line of the papal succession. Tradition and some historical evidence hold that Saint Peter's tomb is directly below the altar of the basilica. For this reason, many Popes have been interred at St Peter's since the Early Christian period. There has been a church on this site since the 4th century and construction of the present basilica, over the old Constantinian basilica, began on 18 April 1506 and was completed on 18 November 1626.

Above: An example of the interior's lavish design near the entrance to the basilica.

The basilica is cruciform in shape, with an elongated nave in the Latin cross form. The nave which leads to the central dome is in three bays, with piers supporting a barrel-vault, the highest of any church. The nave is framed by wide aisles which have a number of chapels off them. The central space is dominated both externally and internally by one of the largest domes in the world.

Above: Light rays through the central dome. The interior is of vast dimensions by comparison with other churches.

The entire interior of St Peter's is lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding. The basilica contains a large number of tombs of popes and other notable people, many of which are considered outstanding artworks. There are also a number of sculptures in niches and chapels, including Michelangelo's Pieta.

Above: Michelangelo's famous Pieta work.

The central feature is a baldachin, or canopy over the Papal Altar, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The sanctuary culminates in a sculptural ensemble, also by Bernini, and containing the symbolic Chair of St Peter.

Above: Bernini's canopy which lies above the Papal Altar.

St Peter's is famous as a place of pilgrimage, for its liturgical functions. Because of its location in the Vatican, the Pope presides at a number of services throughout the year, drawing audiences of 15,000 to over 80,000 people, either within the Vatican Basilica, or in St Peter's Square. On the second day that we visited, there had been a service in St Peter's Square held by the Pope that morning!

Above: The front facade of the basilica with Christ and his disciples adorning the rooftop.

The basilica is very large but it was also very crowded on both times we visited so it was sometimes difficult to reflect and take in the majesty of the place without being jostled by tourists!

Above: The statue of Saint Paul at the entrance to the basilica.

I'll finish this blog post with an interesting aside about the Pope's own bodyguards (see picture below). The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded by Pope Julius II on 22 January 1506 and to this day, all recruits must be Catholic, unmarried males with Swiss citizenship who have completed their basic training with the Swiss Army.

Above: Members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, guarding the basilica.

Thanks for reading and I will return with my FINAL blog post from Europe soon - Pompeii!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Rome, Italy

Welcome back to my blog! One of the highlights of my European Ryndam contract was my time in Rome, Italy. The port for Rome is Civitavecchia which is a good two hours drive away from the Eternal City. However, I was lucky enough to visit Rome twice, both times for free on shore excursions! Today I will be covering all the places I visited in Rome except for Saint Peter's Basilica which is actually located in a different country (the Vatican) and will receive its own blog soon.

Above: The most famous myth about the founding of Rome, is the story of Romulus and Remus, the twins who were suckled by a she-wolf. They decided to build a city, but after an argument, Romulus killed his brother. This statue of them is found on Capitoline Hill.

Rome is the capital of Italy and with 2.8 million residents, it is also the country's largest. The city is located in the central-western portion of Italy, on the Tiber River and its history spans more than two and a half thousand years, since its founding in 753 BC, with the union of rural villages. It was the capital city of the Roman Empire, which was the dominant power in Western Europe for over seven hundred years from the 1st century BC until the 7th century AD and the city is regarded as one of the birthplaces of western civilization.

Above: The famous Coliseum. More about this including a look inside later!

The tours which I went on were a combination of driving around the city, guided walks of major sites (such as Saint Peter's Basilica and the Collesium) as well as some free time to explore other parts of Rome. There is so much to see and do and many of the places we visited, we only spent a short amount of time there. On the two times I visited, the city was very crowded with lots of tourists and this combined with the proximity between famous sites (and the heat) made Rome a far more intense experience then other major cities I have visited like Berlin and Paris.

Above: The Roman Forum (see below).

One of the most famous of the many, many ruins in Rome is the Roman Forum, a rectangular plaza surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government. It was for centuries the centre of Roman public life and has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world, and in all history: the site of processions and elections, venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches. Located in the small valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Forum today is a sprawling ruin of architectural fragments attracting numerous sightseers. Unfortunately we only had time to gaze out over the vast plaza but when I return to Rome, this would be one of the places I would like to explore.

Above: The Arch of Constantine with the Coliseum to the right.

Let's jump straight in with the most iconic sight in Rome - the Coliseum! Also spelt 'Colosseum', it is an elliptical amphitheatre, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire, built of concrete and stone. It is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering. Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum (see above), its construction started in 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domitian's reign (81–96).

Above: The inner wall and outer wall meet at a cross-section of the Coliseum.

Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the Coliseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.

Above: A panoramic shot of the inside of the Coliseum.

Visiting the Coliseum was an interesting experience. I listened to Hans Zimmer's 'Gladiator' soundtrack whilst walking around inside which was very powerful but I was also a little disappointed that the Coliseum was not quite as huge or majestic as its portrayal in Ridley Scott's movie. In fact, during its heyday, it was and today the structure is partially ruined because of damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers.

Above: Passages such as these run around the Coliseum, dividing the tiered seating which was very important in separating the different classes of Roman citizens.

I was also initially perplexed by the arena area itself (where is the flat sand covered oval?!) until it was explained to me that the wooden floor covered by sand had rotted away, leaving the elaborate underground structure known as the hypogeum exposed. Literally meaning 'underground', the hypogeum consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath; larger hinged platforms, called hegmata, provided access for elephants and the like.

Above: Arches and alcoves surrounding the arena.

Despite its damaged state, the Coliseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession that starts in the area around the Coliseum.

Above: Locals dressed as soldiers making lots of money charging people for photos!

If the Coliseum is the most famous sight in Rome, the Trevi Fountain can't be far behind. Standing 26.3 metres high and 49.15 metres wide, it is the largest Baroque fountain in the city and one of the most famous fountains in the world.

Above: Yours truly at the Trevi Fountain. Thanks for Madeline, my escort buddy for the pic!

Work began in 1732, and the fountain was completed in 1762. A traditional legend holds that if visitors throw a coin into the fountain, they are ensured a return to Rome. An estimated 3,000 euros are thrown into the fountain each day and the money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome's needy; however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain.

Above: A better shot of the Trevi Fountain.

Close by to the Fountain, are the Spanish Steps, another fairly well known attraction in central Rome. It is the widest staircase in Europe and climbs a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti, dominated by the Trinità dei Monti church at the top. It was built in 1723 and the 1953 film Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, made the Spanish Steps famous to an American audience.

Above: Standing on the Spanish Steps.

On one of our walking tours of the city, we also visited the Pantheon - another well known landmark. The Pantheon was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome, and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered, concrete dome, with a central opening to the sky. Almost 2000 years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest un-reinforced concrete dome and the building is one of the best-preserved of all Roman structures. It has been in continuous use throughout its history, and since the 7th century, the Pantheon has been used as a Roman Catholic church dedicated to "St. Mary and the Martyrs".

Above: The Pantheon, rebuilt in 126 AD.

I will bring you full circle now, back to Capitoline Hill (where the Romulus and Remus statue is found), one of the seven hills of Rome. It was the citadel (equivalent of the ancient Greek acropolis) of the earliest Romans. The Capitoline contains few ancient ground-level ruins, as they are almost entirely covered up by Medieval and Renaissance palaces (now housing the Capitoline Museums) that surround a piazza, a significant urban plan designed by Michelangelo.

Above: Horse and rider guard the entrance to the Capitoline Hill.

At the foot of the hill is the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II built in honour of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. Designed by Giuseppe Sacconi in 1885, it was inaugurated in 1911 and completed in 1925.The monument is built of white marble and features stairways, Corinthian columns, fountains, an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas. The structure is 135 m wide and 70 m high.

Above: Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II

I will never forget my time in Rome and I hope to go back there to spend more time in the Eternal City one day. Thanks for reading and I'll be back soon with a look at the Vatican and Saint Peter's Basilica!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Barcelona, Spain

Welcome back to my blog and Happy New Year to everyone! Today, I'd like to show you a little of Barcelona. I am sure that many of you will be familiar with this city so I won't dwell on the facts too long!

Above: Barcelona as viewed from the ship!

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain, after Madrid, with a population of over 1.5 million. Founded as a Roman city, Barcelona became the capital of the County of Barcelona. After merging with the Kingdom of Aragon, Barcelona became one of the most important cities of the Crown of Aragon. Besieged several times during its history, Barcelona has a rich cultural heritage and is today an important cultural centre and a major tourist destination.

Above: The famous Palau Nacional which was built in 1929 houses the National Art Museum of Catalonia.

Towards the end of my Ryndam contract, Barcelona became our home port (prior to that we were sailing out of Dover). Consequently there were not any tours available from the ship so I had to pay money (shocking!) to take a sightseeing bus around the city. The trip was long but worth it as we visited practically every famous sight in Barcelona! On another visit, I also walked around the famous Gothic Quarter, the centre of the old city of Barcelona.

Above: The Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.

Located in the Gothic Quarter is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, also known as Barcelona Cathedral, constructed throughout the 13th to 15th centuries. A neo-Gothic façade was constructed over the nondescript exterior in the 19th century and the roof is notable for its gargoyles, featuring a wide range of animals, both domestic and mythical.

Above: Barcelona Cathedral.

The Barri Gòtic (Catalan for "Gothic Quarter") has many buildings white date from medieval times, some from as far back as the Roman settlement of Barcelona. There are lots of photogenic buildings and corners:

Above: A street corner in the Gothic Quarter.

Above: There were lots of tiny shops dotted around the streets!

Particularly renowned buildings in Barcelona include the architectural works of Antoni Gaudí, many of which have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Catalan modernista architecture (related to the movement known as Art Nouveau in the rest of Europe), developed between 1885 and 1950 and left an important legacy in Barcelona. On my bus tour we drove past a few of these remarkable buildings:

Above: Casa Batlló, one of several remarkable buildings built in the early 20th century.

Gaudí's best-known work is the immense but still unfinished church of the Sagrada Família, which has been under construction since 1882, and is still financed by private donations. Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and in November 2010 was consecrated and proclaimed a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI. Though construction of Sagrada Família had commenced in 1882, Gaudí became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural and engineering style—combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.

Above: Sagrada Família, viewed through a street with construction cranes prominent.

Gaudí devoted his last years to the project, and at the time of his death in 1926, less than a quarter of the project was complete. Sagrada Família's construction progressed slowly, as it relied on private donations and was interrupted by the Spanish Civil War—only to resume intermittent progress in the 1950s. Construction passed the midpoint in 2010 with some of the project's greatest challenges remaining and an anticipated completion date of 2026—the centennial of Gaudí's death.

Above: Constructed between 1894 and 1930, the Nativity façade was the first façade to be completed. Dedicated to the birth of Jesus, it is decorated with scenes reminiscent of elements of life.

One of Barcelona's most famous squares is Plaça d'Espanya, built on the occasion of the 1929 International Exhibition, held at the foot of Montjuïc, in the Sants-Montjuïc district. Also nearby is FC Barcelona's Camp Nou, the largest football stadium in Europe with a capacity of 100,000.

Above: Arenas de Barcelona, a bullring built in 1900 in the Moorish Revival style which has now been converted into a shopping centre.

There is so much to see and do in Barcelona that you would need at least a week to take a substantial amount in. The Ryndam docked near to the Gothic Quarter and just a few hundred metres from us was a Picasso sculpture and the famous Columbus monument.

Above: Picasso scultpure.

Above: The Columbus Monument, a 60 meter tall monument to Christopher Columbus constructed for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona (1888) to honour Columbus' first voyage to the Americas.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for two of the best European destinations to wrap up my Ryndam blogs: Rome and Pompeii!