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I Was in Hell (again)

Posted by on August 14, 2017

I’ve been to hell (again)

August 14, 2017

I say again because you may recall last year hell was in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

That was then.  This is 2017, and hell—the Roman entrance to it at least—is but a short cab ride from our boat in Pozzuoli, Italy.  I went there today, and discovered it is really Campi Flegrei, an active volcano that has “streaming jets of Sulphurous vapour at temperatures of 160 degrees C…..” Set in a caldera, hell has fumaroles with traces of the “rare red arsenic Sulphur crystal called Realgar…”  For those who have never been to hell, I can report that it resembles places at Yellowstone.

This area is historic both in a geological and an historical sense.  In addition to being the entrance to hell, the volcanic activity is in the “epicenter of the cyclic phenomenon of the rising and lowering of the ground level in the Phlegrean Fields known as brandisim.”  I’m quoting from the brochure, since I couldn’t possibly make it up.  The rising of the land in 1538 created the youngest mountain in Europe—Monte Nuovo, 430 feet high, that originated when lava shot out of the earth. I can see it from the ship.

Historically, too, Pozzuoli was an important port in the early history of Rome. Some vestiges of that background remain, including a huge coliseum, one of the largest in the empire, and a partially reconstructed (and equally huge) marketplace. It lost its importance as Rome built ports closer to the city. I think we’re about 150 miles away.

Still, what we had come to see was not hell, or still more Roman ruins, but a picturesque 17th century village on the island of Procida , the smallest island in the Bay of Naples. To get there, we boarded a public ferry, filled with merry makers; tomorrow being Assumption Day, many Italians were getting a head start on vacationing. (In addition, the earlier ferry broke down and so we had a double load; “this is Italy,” quipped our program director).

Fortunately, no one but residents can bring cars to the island during the summer—fortunately, because the roads, if one can call them that, are barely wide enough for a well-greased car to slide through, and there are probably 11,000—one for every resident on the 14 km island.  We took taxis for our tour of the island, which featured spectacular views of the Bay of Naples, the commensurate “special” church, this one with a baroque interior hiding behind a 1890s façade. Its claim to fame is a wooden vaulted ceiling. The town of Corricella, at the bottom of a cliff, is distinguished by pastel-colored houses, supposedly a nod to the fishermen there, who wanted to be able to see their houses from the sea. The colorful appearance is striking.

The other claim to fame for Porcida is that the prize winning movie “Il Postino” was shot there (and one of the other islands we’ve been to). We had lunch at the restaurant where the movie was filmed—and now I feel compelled to see the movie!

In other words, I had a hell–err, heck, of a day.

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