Good afternoon all on Monday 1st March, the start of a new week and a new month. February was an interesting month of news with all sorts going on and who knows what awaits us over the coming 31 days of March. It already has a much nicer ring to it than February; usually by this time we're just leaving winter behind but there's a growing feeling at the moment that we might be leaving this virus behind as well.
February's last knockings provided some interest: a few days ago a chariot was discovered close to the Pompeii archaeological site in Campania and described as a "Lamborghini of its time". I'll come back to that shortly; then, last night saw Italian songstress Laura Pausini win an award at the Golden Globes for her song in the Sophia Loren film The Life Ahead.
The number of new Coronavirus cases dropped for the second consecutive day yesterday, after a week of alarming rises. Yesterday there were 17,455 new Covid 19 cases in Italy, a drop of around 1,500 from the day before. Whilst it's very encouraging that the most recent surge seems to have halted somewhat, these numbers are still very high and a good deal higher than they were this time last week. So I think cautious optimism is the way to go for the moment.
Italy's colour-coded zones have had a bit of a reshuffle over the past few days; the zones represent different levels of restrictions currently in place with the bad news coming from Molise and Basilicata, now both in the nasty old red zone, while leading the way in the right direction, Sardinia becomes the first to enter the lovely white zone where you can do all sorts of things, (well, the sorts of things we all used to be able to do and took for granted!). Let's hope for more regions joining Sardinia's status soon.
There was a very encouraging report in the Sunday Times yesterday about the prospects for tourism in Italy this summer. Flavio Zappacosta, the head of the Italian Tourist Board in London, speaking in the newspaper said that he expected Italy to, “fully reopen for the summer season hopefully in June”. The report went on to say, "Italy will not stay closed until the last jab. The regional travel ban is due to end on March 27 and travel industry leaders in Rome are asking for 'green passes' allowing those with proof of vaccination to be allowed to visit as soon as Easter." I can't see this reported anywhere else in the press just yet so again, cautious optimism, but great to hear there are some innovative plans taking shape.
Today's weather map reminds me of the "scorchio" sketch from The Fast Show with sunshine icons all over the country. The temperatures are a bit topsy-turvy though and you would have been hard-pressed to guess where the warmest part of Italy was today. The coldest area is Campobasso in Molise where they're expecting a maximum of 10° Celsius today but turning the country on its head is Alpine Bolzano where they will be drunk on the clean mountain air and spring temperatures of 18° C today. Actually when I think about it, the hottest temperature I've ever experienced in Italy was at the Madonna di Campiglio ski resort, in the Trentino Alto-Adige/South Tyrol region a few years ago when it reached 45°C one day, so that area does have the power to surprise every now and then.
So back to Pompeii: this is the archaeological that just keeps giving. It seems there's something new happening there every month. I seem to remember a few weeks ago a story about a tourist returning a piece of masonry from the site that he or she had accidentally on purpose confiscated for a period of 50 years. Also, it wasn't long ago that the date of the Mount Vesuvius eruption that destroyed the city was heavily questioned; the correct date was long held to be 24th August 79 AD whereas evidence more recently uncovered at the site suggests the disaster took place a few months later.
If you've never had the opportunity to visit Pompeii I would urge you to add it to your future travel list (I don't like the phrase "bucket list" as I find it a bit morbid!), as it's one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in the world. The story of its sudden destruction when the nearby volcano erupted is hugely dramatic, with much of that story described by Pliny the Younger, nephew of Pliny the Elder, to whom we owe so much of what we know about the Roman Empire, but who sadly lost his life in the Pompeii tragedy.
Pompeii is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with two other nearby sites: Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata (Villa Oplontis). These three sites are situated on the outskirts of Naples, all in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. It's interesting to note the name of the train line that links these and many other towns around the mountain is called the "Circumvesuviana" which translates to something like "around Vesuvius", as they have a similar train in Sicily called the Circumetnea (around Etna).
Naples and its surrounding area is a hotbed of archaeological sites: very close to the three mentioned above is the ancient town of Stabiae which sits on a hill overlooking the modern Castellammare di Stabia, a view you can enjoy while exploring two Roman villas called Villa Arianna and Villa San Marco. On the other side of Naples, the ferry port of Pozzuoli can boast the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Roman columns of the Temple of Serapis in its town centre and the Pausilypon Archaeological Park just a short distance away, west of Naples. On the opposite side of Pozzuoli is the Baia Archaeological Park and the Cumae Archaeological site facing the island of Ischia across the sea.
Spread the net a little wider in Campania: north towards Rome, and you find the historic city of Capua, a name synonymous with Spartacus who led the slave revolt against the Roman Empire. The modern town of Capua is fairly interesting but it's not the site of the famous arena, the Campano Amphitheatre; that's just a little further from the modern Capua in a place called Santa Maria Capua Vetere. The arena there is quite spectacular and there's a modern visitor centre there to enhance the whole experience. Right at the other end of Campania is another UNESCO site: the archaeological park of Paestum in the province of Salerno with its temples from the Magna Graecia era.
No sooner was I about to post some photos of Campania's archaeological heritage than I realised I did the same about a month ago; I told you Pompeii was the story that keeps on giving! Oh well, here are some slightly different photos of the same places.
Back with more tomorrow.
My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.