Read CHAPTER XIII of Fair Italy‚ the Riviera and Monte Carlo, free online book, by W. Cope Devereux, on ReadCentral.com.

Naples--Bristol Hotel--Via Roma--King Bomba’s time--Deterioration of the Neapolitans--Museum--Churches--The Opera-house--English and Italian beauty--Aquarium--Vesuvius--Excursion to Pompeii--Portici--A novel mode of grooming--The entombed city--Its disinterment--Museum, streets, and buildings--Remarks--A cold drive.

The first thing we experienced on reaching Naples was the inveterate habit of begging and cheating among the lower classes. Our carriage-driver began by asking three times the amount of the usual fare for driving us to our hotel, and the whole of the way along never once desisted from trying to persuade us that we must pay what he had asked, and perhaps a little more. There was another fellow seated by him on the box, evidently a “hanger-on” and friend of his, who had come with the hopes that we should believe he had carried our luggage to the carriage, and was therefore entitled to something. These Neapolitan beggars are as importunate and persistent as a swarm of gnats, and it is almost impossible to get rid of them; however, on reaching the hotel, I requested our landlord to pay the driver the right fare, and so got quit of the nuisance for that time at least. It is a good plan, as a rule, for travellers to let the landlord of the hotel arrange for their carriage hire.

We found “the Bristol” a very comfortable hotel, and happily secured a room on the third floor, with a verandah. The situation being on high ground above the town, on the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, we had a fine view of the whole of the city and harbour below, the glorious bay beyond, and the great smoking Vesuvius on our left. There were several other hotels on the same heights, and also a comfortable pension establishment kept by a Scotch lady. I believe this is considered the healthiest part of Naples.

The weather opened finely the next morning; the sky a pretty pale blue, and the sea calm and beautiful. The bay stretching boldly round on either side; the city clustering on the shores and up the slopes of the hills, the busy harbour lying in the foreground, terraced gardens all around;

And yonder, see! as if in throes of death,
Vesuvius wreaths her foul Plutonic breath.”

Yet I must confess that on the whole I was disappointed. I thought of the lovely coast scenery around Monaco and Monte Carlo, and felt that they exceeded in beauty the famous bay before me. The fact is, some people rave about certain places without exactly knowing the reason why, simply because it happens to be the correct thing to do so. “See Naples and then die,” is a common saying: we felt quite contented to “see Naples” and go on living. I cannot but think the place has been overrated, though I will admit that we did not see it at its best, and that perhaps in the full glow of a summer sun it may equal the rapturous descriptions that have been given of it. Certainly the beauties of Nature are not appreciated by all alike, mind and sentiment influencing us differently.

The English church was a few hundred feet below us, across the road, through the hotel gardens. This road is a new one, and extends some miles along the slope of the hills overlooking the town, and leads from the extreme end of the city right round to the other side of the coast promenade. The principal street is the Via Roma, where there are some fairly good shops. I should say that lambskin gloves, which seem a speciality, cameos, and corals are the only things worth buying here. Some of the cameos cut on the natural shell are very beautiful and unique.

Naples was an exceedingly gay city in the time of King Bomba, and as long as it was the seat of government. It is still said to be the gayest city in Italy, and there certainly seems to be a great pursuit after pleasure. Excepting with those who have business to look after, life scarcely begins till about three o’clock in the afternoon, when the carriages roll about, up the Via Roma, and along the Riviera di Chiaja, by the sea, which is the Rotten Row of Naples. In the time of Bomba’s despotism the people really had little else to do than to amuse themselves, for they had then practically no voice or interest in the government of the two Sicilies, and so became careless, luxurious, and indolent content to live idly on their hereditary means, smoke, gossip, sip their chocolate, eat their macaroni, roll about in their carriages, and wind up their monotonous and useless day at their earthly paradise, the opera, where they gossiped and flirted to their hearts’ content. In consequence of this manner of life, the men have become effeminate, and the women have little left of that characteristic grace and beauty that once so distinguished the Neapolitans.

So far as I have seen, in France, Italy, and elsewhere, I am proud of my own countrywomen. In grace, dignity, purity, and beauty, they are pre-eminent, morally, mentally, and physically: an Englishwoman only fulfils my idea of

“A perfect woman, nobly planned,
To warm, to comfort, and command;
And yet a spirit still, and bright
With something of an angel light.”

It was, therefore, with surprise that I gazed upon the canvases and statues of the old masters, and wondered where they obtained their exquisitely lovely models. From history we know that the women of Greece and Rome were noble specimens of their sex, and worthy of imitation; but if in later times, Correggio, Titian, and Fra Angelico, took their models from among their own countrywomen, how lamentably the present race must have deteriorated since their time!

The Museum of Naples is a very interesting one, and well repays a careful examination of its contents. Unfortunately it closes at four, but whenever we had an hour to spare during the day, we felt there could be no mistake in repairing thither. I believe it has not its equal in the world. Perhaps in statuary and painting the Vatican carries off the palm, but scarcely, I think, in other treasures. “Here are united the older and more recent collections belonging to the Crown; the Farnese collection from Rome and Parma; those of Portici and Capodimonte; and the excavated treasures of Herculaneum, Pompeii, Stabiae, and Cumae. These united collections now form one of the finest in the world: the Pompeiian antiquities and objects of art in particular, as well as the bronzes from Herculaneum, are unrivalled.”

Here we saw the Farnese Bull group, the largest ancient piece of sculpture in Italy. We saw also the Farnese Hercules, a magnificent figure, and the Gladiatorial Prize-fighters; both groups are wonderful portrayals of animal strength and manly courage. The mosaics and frescoes are very beautiful; and there are some wonderfully preserved Egyptian mummies, which, in their double casings or coffins, after two thousand years, still defy the ravages of time, the teeth and nails in many cases being quite perfect. The Pompeiian collection was especially interesting to us, perhaps because, although so ancient, their discovery has been of such comparatively recent date. Many of the bodies of those who perished have been wonderfully recovered and preserved in the very posture in which death so suddenly overtook and entombed them some eighteen centuries ago. Every little detail of dress and drapery has been preserved in a really wonderful manner by Florelli’s process of pouring liquid plaster into the mould formed by the lava in which the body was encased, and which had retained every line and fold of face and drapery; as soon as the plaster hardened, the mould was lifted off with the greatest precaution, and on the lava and ashes being removed, a perfect cast of the living figure it had once contained appeared.

We regarded these painful figures with deep and mournful interest. There was one of a woman, apparently of the poorer classes, who had been overtaken by the deadly shower while endeavouring to save a young girl, probably her daughter; the coarse texture of their raiment is distinctly visible, and the smooth, rounded arms of the little maid may be discerned through the rent sleeves. Another stately figure, evidently a Roman matron, has gathered together her little treasures, with which she hopes to escape; her draperies, disordered and caught up at one side, display limbs of sculptured beauty. An aged man apparently an invalid from the thin and shrunken extremities rests with his head leaning on his hand exactly as he was overtaken by the fearful storm of pumice and lava. These and many others were buried while yet alive, their features plainly telling of the agonizing thoughts that flashed across their minds at the moment of death, and every detail about them telling of the hurriedness of their attempted flight.

The collection of old coins in this Museum, is, I believe, the finest in the world, and the cabinets of ancient gems and crystals are exceedingly beautiful. Then there is the library of papyri rolls found at Herculaneum, and a perfect model of the city of Pompeii. There are also many other rooms full of interesting relics of the two unfortunate cities wonderful works of art in crystal, stone, and bronze, much of which cannot even be imitated in the present day. Altogether this Museum is a very temple of ancient treasure, and should make us humble in the knowledge that we now possess.

We visited the Aquarium, which is quite unique in its way, and one of the finest in the world. Here, in a series of great glass tanks, we saw collected all the marvellous wonder and beauty of the great deep, every branch and species of sea creature from the coral and the sponge to the highest form of marine life. The most wonderful thing of all, we thought, and certainly the most novel to us, was a kind of animated purple thread, which spun itself out to such an extent that there was only a long cobweb left perceptible; this, floating about, after a time showed extraordinary muscular strength and energy, gathering itself together into a compact purple tassell or worm. The jelly-fish were also remarkably beautiful, with their graceful movements and purple glancing hues. This Aquarium certainly gave us a little comprehension of the marvellous beauty of oceanic life.

Of the 250 churches at Naples, few possess a great amount of interest, though some of them are well worth visiting. The Duomo San Gennaro, in the Strada del Duomo, is a large and handsome Cathedral. It is built on the sites of the temples of Neptune and Apollo, and contains several tombs of great men. It is here that the supposed miracle of the liquefaction of the blood of St. Januarius is “performed” twice or thrice a year.

One evening we went to the grand Teatro Reale di San Carlo, paying sixteen shillings for a couple of Pit tickets. It is an immense house, supposed to be the largest in the world, gorgeously decorated, with six tiers of boxes, and capable of holding several thousand people. There was not a large audience, however, and as I looked round, eager to discover some of the living ideals of Italian loveliness, I was disappointed to find that but few of the Neapolitan ladies possessed any commanding grace or beauty, neither did their dress betoken much refinement of taste. As the theatre is the time and place for the fair sex to shine its brightest, I took this as a convincing proof that my previous strictures on Italian beauty were not unjust or uncharitable. The opera, which chanced to be “Lucia di Lammermoor,” was very good, both vocally and instrumentally, and the dancing was clever and graceful, but to our English eye bordering on the immodest; the spectators, however, greatly applauded it, and probably they were the best judges.

Vesuvius smoked continually during the day, and occasionally shot forth lurid flames into the darkness of the night. We had a capital view of his volcanic performances from our hotel windows, and found it interesting to watch his eccentric ebullitions. Most of our fellow-travellers made the ascent, but as we did not intend to make any stay in Naples my wife being anxious to pay a long-promised visit to her sister in Malta we decided to defer the expedition to some future occasion, particularly as we wished to make an excursion to Pompeii, the collection at the museum having greatly interested us and aroused our curiosity. Nowadays the ascent of Vesuvius is no great climb; its four thousand feet are quickly traversed by the funicular railway, which takes visitors nearly the entire distance.

Up to this time the weather had been just comfortably warm, but suddenly the wind shifted to the north-east, and blew bitterly cold. Unfortunately, it was the very day of our proposed visit to Pompeii, and as it was our last day in Naples, we were unable to defer it for more favourable weather.

The drive is some eighteen miles, and no amount of rugs and wraps seemed to protect us from the piercing wintry wind, and keep us warm.

Circling round the southern part of the bay, which is very crowded and somewhat dirty, the sloping shores being lined with macaroni manufactories, we soon passed through the ancient town of Portici, which was once a place of considerable importance, and possesses a royal palace built by Charles III., and adorned with pictures and frescoes from Pompeii, and a museum of statues, arms, bronzes, and furniture taken from the buried city. We next passed Herculaneum, and the town of Resina, which is built over it; Vesuvius and the hilly country on our left, and handsome suburban villas built on lava beds sloping down to the sea on our right. The road, being cut through the original stream of lava, was covered by the traffic with a thick white dust, which did not by any means conduce to our comfort, for the nipping wind blew it up into our faces in clouds, and the glare, caused by the occasional bursts of sunshine, was exceedingly trying to the eyes. We were not sorry to come to the end of our cold, two hours’ journey, and find a cheerful wood fire blazing in the little Pompeiian restaurant by which to warm our half-frozen feet, and also something welcome in the way of refreshment. Our little wiry horse had certainly done his duty, and deserved our gratitude. We found the town pretty full of visitors who had driven up, and there were continual fresh arrivals. Therefore, we soon moved away to secure a guide to the erst entombed city. We had been much amused, watching the novel mode of refreshment indulged in by the active little animal that had so speedily brought us on our journey. He had been unharnessed and taken to a bare spot thickly covered with dark lava sand. This he seemed greatly to appreciate, for, after pawing the ground gratefully for a few moments, down he went, and commenced rolling himself over and over with great energy; by-and-by he rose like a giant refreshed, and fell to on his provender most voraciously. This scene reminded me of one I had often witnessed at the Cape of Good Hope, where sand is often similarly used as an excellent and economical substitute for grooming the sand absorbs the perspiration, and is most refreshing to the poor beasts.

Passing up the hillside through a little plantation at the back of the restaurant, we soon came to the military station of specially selected soldiers, who have the care of the ruins and at the same time act as guides to the visitors. Fortunately, we chanced upon a very intelligent and obliging fellow, who spoke English fluently a sergeant, who, without being loquacious, was sufficiently communicative to make an agreeable companion and cicerone.

Paying an entrance-fee of two lire each, we passed through the turnstile, and were soon quite absorbed in the ruins around us. The Italian Government, bearing all the expense of disentombing Pompeii, probably look to recoup themselves by the entrance-fees of the numerous visitors who flock to see the long-buried city.

We saw gangs of men and boys clearing away great mounds of pumice and dark lava mould from the ancient streets, which had not seen the light for eighteen centuries, and over which the vine had been planted, and the corn had waved through many generations. It has been demonstrated by an examination of the older crater, that in the great eruption of A.D. 79 Vesuvius first threw up its superficial contents and, in fact, the very crust of the mountain itself, which, being of a light friable nature, blew over to the more distant city of Pompeii, accompanied by showers of hot water and it was after this first outbreak that a flood of molten lava poured in a torrent over the nearer city, and enfolded Herculaneum in a bed of rock. There is evidence that Pompeii had been warned of the impending disaster by an earthquake; we have no means yet of knowing whether Herculaneum received a similar warning, but the probability is that it was overwhelmed with awful suddenness.

Pompeii now reposes on an elevated grassy plain, partly encircled by fine ranges of hills, which on the eastern side stretch out towards Castellamare, and at the present time have one or two of their loftiest summits topped with snow. It is now some two or three miles from the sea, which is supposed to have receded at the time of the eruption, for Pompeii, when entombed, was a fashionable watering-place. It was here that Senator Livinius Regulus fixed his residence when banished from Rome in 59; and we learn from Suetonius, that the emperor Claudius had a villa here. He mentions it incidentally as the place where the Emperor’s little son died in a singular manner: the child threw a pear up in the air, and caught it in his mouth, and, before any one could come to his assistance, died from choking.

Pompeii was rediscovered in 1748, by Don Rocca Alcubura, Spanish Colonel of Engineers. “Nearly seventeen centuries had rolled away when it was disinterred from its silent tomb, all vivid with undimmed hues its walls fresh as if painted yesterday; scarcely a hue faded on the rich mosaic of its floors. In its forum the half-finished columns as left by the workman’s hands, in its gardens the sacrificial tripod, in its halls the chest of treasure, in its baths the strigil, in its theatres the counter of admission, in its saloons the furniture and the lamp, in its triclinia the fragments of the last feast, in its cubicula the perfumes and the rouge of faded beauty and everywhere the bones and skeletons of those who once moved the springs of that minute yet gorgeous machine of luxury and of life.” The process of disentombment was not proceeded with very rapidly at first; it lingered on, in not too skilful hands, till Garibaldi appointed Alexandre Dumas as superintendent of the work in 1860. This, however, did not improve matters; the great novelist lived at Naples in first-rate style on the liberal income allowed him, and after one visit to the scene of operation, left the work to take care of itself. All was changed, however, under the regime of Signor Florelli, who united the most enthusiastic interest in the work to eminent skill and unwearied patience. Since he undertook the management, the excavations have been made on a scale, and with a care, that will soon exhaust whatever objects still remain buried under the ashes.

Our guide first took us into the Museum, where we saw under glass cases some of the Pompeiian corpses, so wonderfully preserved by the plaster of Paris process, described in our visit to the Museum at Naples; also many other most interesting mementoes of the buried city, too numerous to mention. From thence we roamed out into the deserted streets:

“I stood within the city disinterred;
And heard the autumnal leaves like light footfalls
Of spirits passing through the streets; and heard
The Mountain’s slumberous voice at intervals
Thrill through those roofless walls.”

The roofless state of the houses seems to have been caused, partly by the weight of matter which collected on them, and also from the fact of their being principally composed of wood, which was burnt by the red-hot stones that fell in showers from the burning mountain. There was, however, always sufficient of the building remaining to tell whether it had been a shop or a private residence, and, if the former, to distinguish what particular business had been carried on there: for instance, we found the bakers’ ovens nearly perfect; while the wine-shops had great stone pitchers of the “Ali Baba” kind sunk into the counter, for cooling purposes, with the necks just showing above. The money-changers’ shops were all marked by some such inscription as “Money is the thing worshipped here” (nothing new under the sun, thought I). Then there were the baths, arranged on the Roman principle (that which is erroneously known in the present day as the Turkish system), with rooms for graduated temperature, and all the conveniences for heating-places and niches for ointments and unguents, etc., to be used after the luxury of the bath. The private dwellings were most attractive, with their frescoed chambers, fountains, and open courts. Few of the houses had any windows; the light probably being admitted from the roof above, and reflected from the marble tanks of water in the centre of the court. But even under this hypothesis, I cannot help thinking the ancients had some other means of catching the light and diffusing it in their apartments, in some such manner as the Chappuis’ reflectors we now use, though no certain evidence is yet forthcoming that they did so. There were places of amusement, and even places of vice, all distinctly noted: the Chalcidicum or Hall of Justice, the Street of the Tombs, Senate-houses, schools, Forums, and Temples, amphitheatres and coliseums principally, of course, mere ruins, but still showing great beauty of design and finish. Most of the walls had evidently been veneered with marble about an inch or two thick; and there was, in some of the rooms, space left between the walls for heating purposes. It is said that at the time of the eruption Pompeii was still unfinished, indeed, that the preceding earthquake had interrupted the Romans in beautifying the city: there were pointed out to us several columns and buildings that had evidently been prepared for the veneering process, and never been completed. Many of the mosaic floors are in fine preservation, as are also the paintings and frescoes on the walls. One beautiful little shrine or grotto made of mosaics and shells is singularly interesting and unique.

The streets, which were all made on the slant for draining purposes, are very narrow, just wide enough for one carriage or chariot to pass up at a time. They are paved with lava stone, which is bleached white with the rain, and has been preserved so by its long entombment; here and there in the centre are raised oval stones, not interfering with the traffic, and affording convenient stepping-stones to foot-passengers during wet weather. When a chariot entered one of these streets, the word was quickly passed, to prevent another entering at the other end until it had gone through, and this was supposed to be the duty of the owners of the little shops on each side of the way.

On such a nipping day, it was impossible to help thinking how cold the place must have been with so much marble and cold water about; but the theory is, that the climate has very much changed since the days of Glaucus and Ione. When at Rome, our guide told us that even within his recollection the temperature there had altered considerably, and had become much colder.

It seemed a great pity to spend only a few hours among these most interesting ruins; but as we were obliged to get back to Naples by evening, to be ready for our departure for Sicily on the morrow, we did not stop at Herculaneum on our return, as had been our intention; it was really so cold during the return drive that we were quite thankful when we sighted our hotel once more. We made a mental resolve, however, to pay a longer visit to Naples some day, and take our time over visiting the two buried cities and other places of interest that we were obliged to miss on the present occasion.