INTRIGUING PARKS/SITES AROUND POZZUOLI
Founded as the Greek Cumaean colony known as Dicaearchia, the bustling port town of Pozzuoli thrived during Roman times when it was known as Puteoli. Its name derives from the abundance of thermal and mineral springs as well sulfurous springs whose unmistakable odor permeated the area (and still does), mostly from the Solfatara. Whether it comes from the Latin putere – to stink or the Greek “Pyteolos” meaning “little wells” however, is unclear.
The Roman senator and writer Cicero owned a villa nearby. St. Paul docked at Pozzuoli and stayed for seven days before making the arduous journey to Rome along the Appian Way. A few centuries later, Naples Patron Saint, San Gennaro was martyred at the amphitheater in Pozzuoli, a scene depicted by the Baroque artist, Artemisia Gentileschi.
And of course, Sophia Loren lived in the vicinity with her grandmother when bombs rained down during World War II. Tragedy struck again in October of 1983 when an earthquake damaged thousands of structures and displaced nearly 40,000 residents.
Today, contemporary blends with the ancient world. Signs along Pozzuoli’s roads will point you to a number of Roman ruins. The Temple of Neptune overlooks the sea with its mammoth dome peeking out from the dirt. Other signs lead through a narrow tunnel and then along a road next to the Neocropoli Romana. Hidden behind overgrown weeds, the locals walk by this ancient cemetery as though the ghosts inside are simply amicable neighbors. Further up the hill is the Flavian Amphitheater and near the water’s edge, are the remains the old Roman marketplace, better known as the Temple of Serapis.
Like their Roman forebears, fishermen still work their nets in boats. They bring plastic buckets to the banks with all kinds of live fish, shellfish, and octopi. The port is brimful with seafood restaurants along with cafés and gelaterias. Pozzuoli is also where ferries depart to the islands of Ischia and Procida. Day trips to the islands are inexpensive and easy to take.
Some of the attractions that can be found in Pozzouli and in the surrounding area include: (1) The Macellum of Pozzuoli, also known as the Temple of Serapis or serapeum, is considered the city’s symbol. The “temple” was actually a marketplace. Its name derives from the misinterpretation of its function after a statue of the god Serapis was found in 1750 at this location. The Macellum includes three majestic columns in cipolin marble, which show erosion from marine Lithophaga mollusks when, at an earlier time, the ground level was much lower due to Bradyseism, and sea-water could flow in; (2) Flavian Amphitheater – the third largest Italian amphitheater after the Colosseum and the Capuan Amphitheater; (3) Solfatara (volcanic crater with active fumaroles); (4) Forum; (5) Minor Amphitheater, very near to the Flavian one, its remains were absorbed by other buildings, but some arches can be seen by Via Solfatara and Via Vigna. It is crossed by metropolitan railway and the arena is still buried; (6) Puteoli’s Baths, so called Temple of Neptune, the remains of a big thermal complex now in Corso Terracciano which included also “Dianae Nymphaeum”, this last one partly hidden by buildings; (7) Villa Avellino, one of the few urban parks of Pozzuoli. It also shows several Roman ruins and water tanks. There is also a still working Roman “face” water fountain; (8) Rione Terra, the first settlement of Puteoli, originally Dicearkia in Greek. It’s a multi layered city with several Roman buildings, the most important one is the Temple of Augustus (today the Pozzuoli’s Duomo); (9) Necropolis of the Via Puteolis Capuam, just under the bridge that leads outside the city near Via Solfatara; (10) Necropolis of Via San Vito, near to Quarto; (11) Necropolis of Via Celle, a rich complex of tombs and mausoleums, very near to an old Roman street track still used today (Via Cupa Cigliano); (12) Stadium of Antoninus Pius, a very similar stadium to the Domitian one in Rome, only partially unburied and partly collapsed (Via Campi Flegrei); (13) Sanctuary of San Gennaro. With the Cathedra of Naples, it is one of the two places in which the alleged miracle of the liquefaction of the saint’s blood occurs; (14) Lake Avernus, in which Virgil, in the 6th book of Aeneid, placed the entrance to Hell. The name derives from the Greek, and means “Without Birds”, referring to the absence of birds due to the sulfur gas that sprung from it. Nearby are the Temple of Apollo, the Grotto of the Cumaean Sibyl and Cocceius’ Grotto, a gallery carved by the Romans to connect Lucrino to Cumae. The latter was damaged during World War II and is no longer visitable; and (15) Lake Lucrino, in the frazione of the same name. The lake was considered an infernal place, due to volcanic phenomena. It was a renowned resort in Roman times and included the villa of Cicero, which later held the remains of Emperor Hadrian. Pliny the Elder cites it in Naturalis historia (ix, 25) as the home
of a dolphin who had made friends with a child. According to Pliny, when the child fell ill and died, the dolphin died of broken heart also. The tale is considered the first known Urban Legend.
Pozzuoli’s city dwellers often say that in this town, if you only move a stone, you’ll find antiques that only wait to be discovered. Actually that’s how the Antonino Pio stadium was found. It was opened to the visitors in October 2008 after 2000 years. This archaeological site was covered from soil and scrubs. The emperor Antonino Pio wanted this stadium to be built because he wanted to organize Olympic Games in Pozzuoli, in the same town where his predecessor was buried. These Olympic Games, called “Eusebia” took place in this stadium, which is 300 meters long and 70 meters wide. The structure previsioned two entrances: one to the spectators and one to the athletes, and like all the Roman constructions dedicated to the games, the Antonino Pio stadium was divided into three parts, one for every social class of the Roman society.
During the centuries the Stadium was altered and its use has been sometimes partial and sometimes different from its original purpose. After the eruption of the Monte Nuovo the site was completely covered by debris. Nowadays this Stadium it’s divided in two parts because in the middle of it was built the highway Domitiana in 1932, which cut it without any respect,
The Monte Nuovo is the youngest volcano of Europe; he rose during the eruption of 1538. Its birth is an incredible story: sources of that time tell that this mountain was born in only two days. The 28 September 1538 the sea receded by almost 400 meters, leaving on the sand a lot of fishes, the population thought about a divine benediction. But in 24 hours the same divinity unleashed the apocalypse. The ground ripped and swallowed up the medieval city of Tripergola, fishing out lava, stones and incandescent muds. The quantity material that was sweated out from the bowels of the earth was so much that the surroundings were enveloped in a sort of big cloud that took two days to dissolve. These days the youngest volcano of Europe is inactive, and at its mountainside there’s thick vegetation.
The acropolis of Cuma is all that remains of the ancient city settled by the ancient Greeks around 740 BC. The archaeological park presents years of history perfectly conserved and it’s a precious testify of how the city was organized. The history of Cuma is about a very powerful city, which knew how to connect maritime activities to the country work. Cuma succeeded in resisting other populations’ attacks more than Pozzuoli, because it was in a privileged position: it was higher than Pozzuoli and it was a fortified city. In the Acropolis of Cuma there’s the Sybil’s cavern, a suggestive and mystic place where Aeneas went to meet the prophetess. The Sybil was a priestess of the god Apollo who wrote her prophecies on the leaves that the wind brought into the long stone corridor that arrived into the priestess room. The legend tells that the god Apollo gave her the possibility to fulfil a wish in exchange of her devotion as a priestess. The Sybil asked to live so many years as so many grains of sand her hand could contain, but she forgot to ask the eternal youth, so her body inexorably aged, up to be consumed completely. In the cavern remained only her voice. According to Virgil the Sybil predicted the future to Aeneas and drove him to the Averno Lake to make him enter into the Hell to look for his father.
The Averno Lake it’s the entrance of the hell, as Virgil tell us in the beginning of his masterpiece the Eneide. The identification of this lake as the main door of the hell is due to its origins: The Averno Lake is in the mouth of an inactive volcano: in the past, thanks to the volcanic exhalations, the birds which flew over the lake died instantaneously. That’s why the ancient Romans used to call it “Aornon”, which means “place without birds”. Therefore it’s easy to understand why Virgil thought it was a demoniac place, point of connection between the land of the living and of the dead. Nowadays the Averno Lake has a beautiful appearance with a charming lakeside, where a lot of people go jogging or just take a walk. Near the lake there’s Sybil’s cave. The legend tells that this cave it’s linked with the Sybil’s cavern in Cuma. This cave was actually dug into the turf to allow the passage of the military which arrived with their boats in Portus Julius.