18 March 2024

I think it would be best to visit Herculaneum before going to Pompeii, otherwise it is a bit of a let-down. Only a tiny part of the city has been excavated because the modern town sits right on top of it and they are resisting the idea that their town hall should be demolished in order to find more carbonised scrolls, even if they are classical works that have been lost for two millennium. 

What is left, however, is wonderful to see because the nature of its destruction is different from that of Pompeii and instead of being buried in falling pumice and suffocated by hot gas, Herculaneum was hit by a pyroclastic blast that carbonised all the wood in the city, much of which has, miraculously, been preserved. Wooden beams that once held up roofs, wooden staircases, a wooden balustrade, boxes, chairs, trunks, all turned to charcoal. And of course, several thousand scrolls which only now, with advanced computer technology, can be read without the necessity to unwind them. 

There are some other rather beautiful wall paintings in the city which was buried rather deeper than Pompeii and so has more second story rooms remaining. There are some very interesting mosaic pavements including one that explores virtually every variant possible of a particular geometric pattern, and, in a nice domestic touch, paw prints on a tile in one of the corridors.

Back in Naples we visited San Giuseppe to see the extraordinary garden of majolica tiles. We are no longer allowed to sit on the ceramic seats, but the garden is still a delight to see, and the surrounding cloister has wall paintings which, if not particularly well painted, are certainly colourful and sometimes amusing. As usual, Camila was fully colour-co-ordinated to match her surroundings. 

Naples is a very good city to visit if you need to gain weight. The food is superb and, compared to London, inexpensive. I was even persuaded to try a fried pizza, which I have to admit is delicious. It is also an art city, ‘The Seven Works of Mercy’ [1607] one of Caravaggio’s last paintings is there in the Pio Monte della Misericordia. 

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