11 July 2007

Naples | Just Getting There

July 5, 2007
Naples, Italy

I woke up the middle of the night to have a coughing fit. I was worried I would not be able to see all of Naples because of my apparent bronchitis. I went back to bed, and when I woke up, I felt a lot better. I mean I was still leaking out of the face, but I was able to function. It helps to wake up in Naples.

I had what (on this trip) was considered a light breakfast. And then we were on our way. There was none of that tendering business in Naples. And there was no Greek either. The only problem in Naples is that there is just too much to do. Fortunately, our agenda (at least at 8 in the morning) was clear: Catacombs. We had to go to the Catacombs of Saint Gennaro. We read about them before the trip and it was the first "must do" in Naples. Most people we told about the catacombs had never heard of them. But I assure you, they exist.

So we walked off the boat, fended off the tour guides and taxi drivers, and bought the first map we saw. It turned out to be the best map ever. We don't have a scanner to upload it and highlight our route. But trust me, despite being in Italian, it was the best map ever.

We began at the harbor and walked in that area for about a half hour. We saw Castel Nuovo (the castle on the left) and the Piazza del Plebiscito. Unfortunately we were going the wrong way. We needed to be heading north, and we were going west. We righted our course and walked along what appeared to be several major streets.

We were on a mission. The tours of the catacombs run once an hour. We were already not going to make the 9am tours, but we were still heading away from any other sites and we only had 12 hours in Naples. So we walked quickly. The further up we ventured, the less it seemed like an area for tourists and I honestly only remember seeing one person that actually looked like a tourist as we were heading up there.

In all, we walked about 2 miles. It wasn't terribly hot, but that's a lot of walking for not seeing anything spectacular. As soon as we got to catacombs, we stopped and just took pictures of where we were. This is the northern part of Naples.

We waited about 20 minutes for our tour to start. We had a spot of trouble trying to find the entrance. Well that's not right. We found it, but it was locked. We knew the catacombs were underground, so we headed down. Along the way we spotted this little kitten. But he had no directions for us.

We found another entrance that was also locked. In the end, we went back up (I know - all the walking) and waited by the first entrance. It opened up right at ten. The guy took our money and promptly grabbed a flashlight and locked up his shop.

He led us back down the way we came, and into the Catacombs of Saint Gennaro. Saint Gennaro is both a saint and a martyr (due to his beheading while visiting deacons. Jesse took one picture before we were told not to take any.

Saint Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples. He was a young guy at the time of his death. I guess part of the reason he's a saint is the annual liquefication of his blood. From Wikipedia:

The dried blood is safely stored in small capsules in a reliquary. When these capsules are brought into the vicinity of his body on his feast day or on the Saturday before the first Sunday in May, the dried blood becomes liquid.

That's impressive. Anyway, Christians built the catacombs to bury their dead. They were not hiding, at least not in this catacomb. They worshiped and when their numbers grew, they built further into the rock. There are three churches inside the catacombs. There are also three types of tombs. The most impressive were those in the walls that were almost like rooms. Inside, people were buried (they have since been removed - I asked) and a portrait was painted over them. The portraits are still there. Many depict Saint Gennaro and other saints as well.

Another interesting point in the catacombs is the evolution of Christian symbols. The catacombs were built very recently after the death of Christ, before crucifixes were "the" symbol. There is Pagan imagery across the entry, just because the people had nothing else to use. Amazingly, it's all still there on the walls. I highly recommend it.

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