Absorbing the History of Naples

Charles Hill ’14 – Having finally received our luggage last night, our group awoke this morning, feeling fully prepared for another full day immersed in the culture of Ancient Rome. After breakfast, we walked briskly to the train station where we boarded a train to take us into Napoli for the day. While having a discussion on the train about the merits of a usable public transportation system like the one we were using, a very sociable fellow made his way over to us and asked where we were from. After explaining that we were visiting from a small college in a town in Indiana, and making it clear in the process that we didn’t have a mastery of the language, the fellow lost no time in recommending that we root for his favorite football (soccer in this case) club, Napoli, rather than the Italia team. At this point, I told him I have always been a follower of the Barclay’s Premier League teams in the UK, and we had a small chat about those teams, until I had to move back to make room for more passengers boarding the train.

Once we reached Napoli, we negotiated our way through the maze of the train station and finally emerged into the city, a few blocks from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. Upon entering the museum, we were immediately surrounded by statues and marble figures of impressive size. After hearing from Brad and Joe about several emulations of Greek art that the Romans had decorated various monuments and public buildings with, some of the themes of our course started to come into much sharper focus. Specifically, it became much easier to imagine the sense of awe the average Roman citizen must have felt upon coming across these impressive pieces of statuary and monuments in their daily lives, rather than in a museum, where we in modern society expect to see amazing sights. This distinction between average Roman citizens and their social superiors was then further emphasized when we carried on into the portion of the museum where mosaics of ever-increasing complexity and size were displayed just the way they had been recovered from the houses of Pompeii. At the end of this gallery, we were amazed by the mosaic portraying Alexander the Great’s daring charge towards King Darius of the Persians during the Battle of Issus, which allowed Alexander to win the battle. From here, we moved to a gallery showing the way Romans portrayed those who were not Roman, and Jim presented on some of the art and artifacts recovered from the Temple of Isis (an Egyptian goddess) that was built in Pompeii.

After a few more impressive collections in the museum that helped bring our course material to life, we left the Museo to go to lunch at a pizzeria Dr. Hartnett insisted that we would enjoy immensely. We found the restaurant eventually in the organized chaos that is modern Naples, and endured the wait for seating patiently, with the promise of excellent pizza on our minds. As it turned out, it was well worth the wait, as it was agreed by most in the group that it was some of the best pizza any of us had ever had. Following our late lunch, we were given the task of looking around modern Naples through the scope of our course material, and trying to pick out the parallels we could spot between the way the modern city was organized, versus the organization of the old city that we had spent so much time studying. This served to give us a good glimpse at the archaeological and anthropological processes involved in trying to bring back to life in our minds, cities that are millennia old.

Finally, thoroughly worn out by the constant motion an immersion trip entails, we faced the opposite of the efficiency we had experienced on our morning train, as we sat in the station for what seemed like an eternity waiting for a train that seemed it would never come. On the train back, I had a chance to contemplate the fact that Naples and Pompeii have been around for so long, and the sheer amount of history an astute observer can absorb and appreciate with a well-spent day in either.

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