Rome, Heading South

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Rome, Heading South

(COURIER: Until you reach Monte Cassino, there is little you should say to the group. It is early in the morning, and the students will prefer to sleep. Simply give the group a run-down of the day's itinerary and leave it at that. However, you should be on the lookout for the abbey of Monte Cassino, with which your road commentary begins. You will see the mountain with the abbey perched on top on your left, shortly after the Cassino exit sign.)

Monte Cassino  This is the cradle of Western monasticism. It all began in 529 when St. Benedict established a monastery and drew up a rule of life which became the basis for most monastic orders. St. Benedict's rules stressed a life that balanced intellectual activity and manual work, and he was supposed to have performed many miracles on this site. Monte Cassino is still the Mother House of the Benedictine Order. In the Middle Ages, under the Abbot Didier, Monte Cassino became one of the wealthiest and most powerful of all abbeys in Europe. It had a huge library, and became a center of learning, attracting scholars and monks from many nations. Artistic activity was intense: the art of manuscript illumination, as well as mosaic making were perfected. Mosaic making had been imported from Byzantium, and from Monte Cassino it spread to the rest of Europe.

The Battle of Monte Cassino was one of the most dramatic of WW II. The Germans made a last-ditch stand here in early 1944. The hope was to prevent the Allies taking Rome. The "Gustav" line was established, with Monte Cassino at the center. The area around Monte Cassino was heavily fortified, with long-range artillery. The Allies could not take Rome without knocking Monte Cassino out first. Attack after attack launched against the mountain stronghold failed. Finally, a corps of Polish soldiers stormed the monastery; they too had to retreat, with heavy losses. After some hesitation, it was decided to bomb the monastery from the air, because the Allies assumed it was being used as a lookout point and munitions depot. In fact, however, the Germans had not been using Monte Cassino as an observation post. It was occupied with monks and refugees. In any case, in a final push, the Allies managed to take Monte Cassino in May, 1944. The Germans now could no longer hold Rome, and retired back to the Hitler Line. Since then, the abbey has been rebuilt, and in the process, the bones of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica (his sister) were found. British and Polish military cemeteries dot the area, containing thousands of the fallen.

Mt. Vesuvius (Look for it on the left, often with a wisp of smoke coiling up from the summit.)  We've left the Italian region of Latium, and are now in Campania, the major city of which is Naples. It's a region of rich volcanic soil and flourishing agriculture: cereals, vineyards, olives and citrus fruits. It's also "volcano country", with faint traces of sulphur in the air. The major mountain is, of course, Mt. Vesuvius, the last active volcano in mainland Europe. It's an unpredictable volcano, with periods of dormancy interrupted suddenly by explosive eruptions. One long quiet spell came to an end in 79 A.D., when the whole area around it, down to the coast, was buried under lava or ashes. The town of Pompeii was completely smothered by ash. During the Middle Ages, the mountain went back to sleep again, and the townspeople around it were lulled into a fool's paradise. Vineyards and gardens were planted on the slopes, almost all the way up to the summit. But in 1631, another eruption occurred: the whole area between the mountain and the sea was devastated. Peace continued until 1944, when a final blast blew off the top of the whole mountain. It has been quiet ever since, but geologists are predicting another eruption in the next few years.

Pompeii (Use this only if applicable.)  You're used to Roman ruins by now. But in Rome, the ruins are spoiled by newer streets, buildings, and traffic. In Pompeii, you can see a complete Roman city, unspoiled by modern buildings. The eruption of 79 A.D. completely buried the city, forming a protective blanket: hence, the grave robbers were kept away. Excavation began around 1750, and to the amazement of the diggers, everything was found in its original conditions: loaves of bread in the ovens, household utensils on tables, even skeletons of victims lying in the streets.

Pompeii just before the eruption: A wealthy, flourishing resort town, favored by Roman emperors and noblemen. It had a population of 20,000 — a big city in those times.

The eruption: An eyewitness account was given by the Roman writer Pliny the Younger, who saw it from a safe distance. There were plenty of hints: small earthquakes in the morning, then a rain of cinders which reached 3 feet. A traffic jam occurred as the citizens started to flee: ox-carts, litters, carriages — all heading the gates. The cinders buried the town — not lava, which descended on nearby Herculaneum. Pompeii was through, almost forgotten for 1600 years.

Visiting Pompeii: Most of the roofs are off the houses (they weren't built to withstand tons of congealed ash). But the streets are still there. They are geometrically laid out, intersecting at neat right angles. Note an ingenious bit of city planning, Roman-style: At each intersection, there are huge stepping stones for pedestrians to walk over, so they wouldn't get their feet wet. There are spots where wheeled traffic has worn ruts in the stone. Street signs are carved in stone — Roman numerals giving the number of the city district. There are many kinds of buildings: offices, shops, and handsome villas. The most famous house has AVE (Welcome) written with small stones in the doorway. Elsewhere you'll see CAVE CANEM (Beware of the Dog)! These Roman houses are all built around a central courtyard, called the Atrium. This was the Roman "living room", where life went on out-of-doors. In the center of the Atrium is a pool for catching rainwater; but it wasn't used for swimming (too shallow), only to cool off the air. You'll see the baths in Pompeii, and the museum in which the corpses of victims are displayed, including a dog.

Naples (Begin this immediately after catching your first glimpse of Mt. Vesuvius, as there isn't much time before you reach the city's outskirts.)  In Italian = Napoli. Naples is the third largest city in Italy, with a population of 1,200,000. It is located on the Bay of Naples; thus, a major port, and headquarters of the NATO fleet in the Mediterranean. A unique city, with a unique people and way of life. It was glamorized throughout Europe in the 19th century. Expressions arose, such as: "See Naples and die" (because there's nothing left that's more spectacular), or Goethe's saying: "One who has seen Naples can never be sad." A cheerful melancholy broods among the people, expressed by their songs. Such songs are heard everywhere on the streets such as O Sole Mio, or Santa Lucia. There's the ever-present laundry hanging from the windows, and fruit and vegetable stands spilling into the streets. It's a city of clamor and color — the best place to witness the people of Southern Italy, in contrast to the brisk and businesslike people of Rome. Its streets are crowded and noisy, with strings of lemons hanging to ripen in the sun. Most Italian restaurants in the U.S. serve Neapolitan cooking. Pizza is a Neapolitan invention. The peoples of Naples are vivacious and uninhibited, breaking into song as spontaneously as American use (delectable) expletives. Naples was the birthplace of Bel Canto — a style of singing from which most Italian opera has developed. Folk-singing is a popular art today, as any Neapolitan can demonstrate (perhaps including your driver).

Historical sketch: Naples was founded by the Greeks, who called it Neapolis (New City), and who arrived from Rhodes in 1000 B.C. Later, Phoenician merchants were attracted by the wealthy trade of the city. When Greece fell to the Romans, merchants from Rome settled in the city. It became a favorite residence of well-to-do Romans, including the Emperor Caracalla, and the orator Cicero. They built splendid villas in the city, as well as on the Isle of Capri just off the coast. The poet Virgil wrote his "Georgics" in Naples, and wanted to be buried in the city. After the fall of Rome, Naples became a part of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1130, the Norman conqueror Roger seized the city, and established a Norman kingdom which lasted until the German emperors took over.

(COURIER: Mention Norman invasions along the French coast and into the Mediterranean.)

At the end of the Middle Ages, Naples was a Kingdom of Two Sicilies. then it became a colony of the Spanish kingdom of Aragon, and this long influence of Spain can be seen in the local dialect. During the French Revolution, the city was invaded by French troops; in 1806 a separate Kingdom of Naples was established by Napoleon, nominally ruled over by his infant son. This lasted until the time of Risorgimento (reunification of Italy) in the 19th century. In 1860, Naples was incorporated into a united Kingdom of Italy. During WW II, Naples suffered over 100 air raids, and was liberated from the Nazis by a four-day uprising of the local townspeople.

Naples today: One of the most badly governed and poverty stricken cities in Italy. Employment is widespread, and housing is short. Infant mortality rates are the highest in Italy. Hygienic conditions are primitive, and this led to a cholera epidemic in 1973. Since then, the Italian government has been pouring money into the city to increase job opportunities. Large industries have brought jobs to the city: chemical works, port facilities. But as long as Italy's Mafia enjoys power in the city, long-range improvement is a distant prospect.

Final impression: Apart from history, Naples is known mainly as the gateway to the south of Italy: with the liveliest population, the most clattering and colorful streets, and the most melodious songs. It's the exact counterpart of a city like Milan or Rome.

Bay of Naples  (COURIER: Prepare the group for their motorboat ride across the bay.)

Just off the coast of Sorrento is the spot where, according to Homer, Odysseus stopped up the ears of his crew and had himself strapped to the mast in order to resist the call of the sirens on the shore. It was in this bay that Greek seafarers thought that "Hades" began. The Greeks were great sailors, but by the time they reached southern Italy, they were far from home. This bay seemed to be the end of the world and the beginning of the underworld. Hence, all sorts of legends about sirens and other mysterious creatures from this bay figure in Greek mythology. Much later, the Romans, who were closer to home, used many of the hot springs of the area for spas and thermal baths. They took "Hades" and turned it into a string of extravagant resorts.

Sorrento (COURIER: Use only if applicable.)

A delightful coastal resort, perched on tall cliffs. Sorrento has attracted visitors for centuries. Pastel-colored houses and small market squares add charm. Famous people have lived here: the German philosopher Nietzsche. The Renaissance poet Tasso was from Sorrento, and the main square is named for him.

The "Sorrento turn": This is a famous hairpin turn that the bus has to make in order to get down to the dock for the motorboat to Capri. Here the bus driver exhibits his driving skill — and deserves a round of applause if he makes it in less than 3 back-and-forward maneuvers.

Isle of Capri (COURIER: You'll have to introduce this while still on the bus, as you will have no chance to give "road commentary" on the boat to Capri.)

A glittering center of international tourism — a luxury resort isle. Regularly visited by celebrities from all over Europe and the United States. It has been a popular resort ever since ancient times; in fact we know it was inhabited in prehistoric times, and later by the Greeks and Romans. It became the possession of Caesar Augustus, but was made famous when the Emperor Tiberius built a large villa at one end of the island. (Tiberius ruled during the life of Jesus.) Even in mid-summer the temperature is mild (often in the 70's); there are fresh breezes from the sea, and the fragrance of jasmine and rosemary bushes.

Overall: Capri's claim to fame is not historic or culture, but scenic. It is simply "the" place to be in Italy during the spring or summer.


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