I started the fifth day off with a trip into Naples proper, and a nice big statue of a horse with almost entirely naked romanesque metal guy. Can’t say it was entirely unwelcoming, amirite?
It might be important to point out yet again that I have a very firm girl boner for castles. Mostly any castles. Even castles that are just a wall of stone or so, but especially ones that are accessible fortresses in the Med. Or Wales, but nuance.
So prepare for the following medieval erection (you were thinking it anyway) which is Castell dell’Ovo, one of a good handful of fortresses in Naples, but only one of two I visited internally.
Sorry, I’ll stop it now.
Castell dell’Ovo is a little out of my normal timescale for castles, being erec–built in the 1500s. I much prefer them pre-1400. But I let them off if they look like the below.
No rooster jokes, if you know what I mean.
After the visit to the above awesomeness I wandered back into the city, as I had me a horse trek up ye olde volcano to be getting to. But it’s worth pointing out that these particular buildings (apartments or hotels, I’m not entirely sure) that span the coastline are not representative to the more inner city buildings, at least in the levels of cleanliness/upkeep. It gets ever grottier the further in you go (not unlike many cities, but Naples is number 1 on my personal list of city-grot, and there are no doubt worse cities I’ve not seen), however, also worth noting that the central buildings are not unlike the other major Italian cities – architecturally, at least, many are just as majestic – it’s just the state of them, which is a shame. But, you know, mafia stuff…
Now as much as I liked Castell dell’Ovo, this particular beauty was actually the castle of King Robert of Naples, who was king for a time during Maria Puteolana’s lifetime. He died in January 1343, eleven months before the Petrarch/Puteolana letter, and some turbulence followed in the succession of his granddaughter, Joanna, to the throne, who was apparently badass. My reading has not yet covered the full political climate of Naples and its surrounding areas, so I’m unclear as to what exactly led Maria to war, though ‘local wars’ are noted in the records of her. Maria may even have visited this castle herself, as Petrarch notes, it would have been easier (and more likely) to summon her to the king, than the king himself go down to Pozzuoli and hunt her down.
Regardless, I didn’t even get to go in there! I had about an hour before I had to be at the pickup spot, and a castle that size and stunnery is far more deserving of at least two. Darnit, I will have to go back then, won’t I?
Horse Trek – Vesuvius National Park
So, yes, trekking up Vesuvio, eh? On a horse, hm? Well, it was one of the most anticipated outings of the holiday, but I’ll get into to why it was a little disappointing later on.
But first this is me on my steed – Stella!
Anyone familiar with riding will see that’s a Western saddle, commonly known as an armchair. It shares a commonality with the old medieval riding saddles much more than modern English saddles do, and the most obvious aspect is the pommel at the front. I’m not hugely familiar with Western riding (it was my first time), but if, like the others in the group, you were a beginner to riding entirely, you are likely to find Western saddles far more likely to feel comfortable – and sturdier – on. They offer broader support and you’d have to work hard to lose a stirrup, look at the bloody size of them! The reins are one-handed, and the horse is guided by you moving your hand left or right so the reins touch the neck – if the reins touch the right side of the neck, the horse goes left etc.
English tack, if you’re wondering, loses all the excess leather that sits over the horse’s back, there is no pommel, with only a little bump over the withers. There are padded knee supports (unless it’s a riding saddle which is made of almost nothing). Reins are generally two-handed (etiquette, you know), but you can use them one-handed if you’re casually walking, or you’re a jockey, but the reins and bit are always used as aids – right for right, left for left.
There’s usually a brisk debate amongst the horse-folk about which one’s better. They both have their uses, they both have different aspects which make them fun, competitive, and practical – there’s a reason barrel racing uses Western tack and high-speed racing uses English. I’m no expert, but I like both, and the saddle won’t make a difference if your horse is an arsehole.
Anyway, if you’re worried as a beginner about a ride like this I wouldn’t worry at all. Extremely docile horses and comfy saddles make for an easy ride.
The below is what much of the ride looked like. Tight and winding paths, some very craggy that the horses manouvred excellently. We did a bit of slow cantering on the wider dirt sections.
Because this trip isn’t to the crater of Vesuvius the highest it gets is about halfway up. The views are particularly magnificent, and very telling. From the right of the photo about 2/3 down, there’s a yellow/brownish streak just above the horizon of the city. That’d be your cloud of pollution, a’ight?
Looking the other way, all this knobbly volcanic rock is new, we were told, and this flow almost reached the farms at the bottoms (where the stables were…) on its last earth vomit. So think again if you believe it’s sleeping soundly.
So, after coming back down to ground level, we did a weave through some flatter areas and some longer canters, which was nice. I’d feel very cheated if we hadn’t, as cantering on a horse is akin to the feeling of being in a aeroplane at the very moment of take-off – exhilarating, scary, almost without equal. Then we took a nice stroll back to the stables, where the guys fed us wine.
Overall, I don’t think the trek was particularly amazing-being on a volcano is awesome, but being hurried through the beautiful park, meh. The horses were used almost back to back, not watered between the previous trek and ours (they were tied up about 3 metres away in 25C temp), and they had very little personality. Docile, obedient horses are fine, but robot horses not so much, because you might be having a great time never having been on something like this before, and the poor animal beneath you is going slowly mental.
And I also really do not appreciate my horse’s backside being smacked from behind without my knowledge, whilst I’m on it. This didn’t just happen to me, they did this to force the horses to get up the hills quicker, which was fucking infuriating, mainly because only the lead guy knew English and the others knew ‘Kicka, kicka!’ I’m sorry, but if it looks like the horse could lose a foot by rushing up through the sharpest, craggiest rocks in the world, I am not going to ‘Kicka, kicka!’
Sotterranea – the Catacombs of Naples
This building was just round the corner from the Sottereana, but architecturally worthy of the picture.
The Sottereana tunnels were dug out by men, manually. It’s astounding when you see the space down there, and even more so when you realise they were begun in the ancient Greek era. Starting as a quarry the underground tunnels eventually became an aquaduct of 400km long (called “Claudio”) connecting multiple caves along the way.
Indeed, there are still various caves where pools of water still form, however, undrinkable after being closed following a cholera outbreak.
Eventually, as seemingly all places below ground, the tunnels became bomb shelters during the Second World War, and apparently many of the locations witin the system are unreachable due to these raids caving them in.
The little leaflet you’re given on entry is a nice little reminder that Naples is full of secret, undiscovered gems of history as well as the obvious massive volcano-bombarded ruins. They’re even testing out the growth of plant life in them – prepping for the future?
On the same tour you’re taken to the beautiful remains of an amphitheatre, which is now literally built into the walls of the structures sitting on the catacombs. Part of it was refurbished as a (gorgeous) flat, and the cellar beneath contains the old theatre tunnels in fantastic condition.
The theatre itself is Greek-Roman, and was apparently in use from circa 4th century B.C. to circa 2nd century A.D.
A snapshot of Naples city centre before heading back to the B&B. Apparently I should really have been more concerned about being out after dark than I was (my camera makes it look brighter)…
Look at those bloody winter coats people have got on. 25 degrees man.