Apart from the legends, paintings and poetry, the Vesuvian area is a place brimming over with surprises: from Herculaneum to Torre del Greco, from Torre Annunziata to Pompeii right up to Castellammare di Stabia, each place has its own specific identity.
From Naples, by travelling along the old via Reggia di Portici, also known as the Golden Mile, you will reach Herculaneum. Unlike Pompeii, which following the tragic eruption of 79 A.D. was buried under a rain of ash and lapilli, Herculaneum was completely submerged by a layer of lava mixed with mud. A much smaller residential city than Pompeii, its excavations are less dispersive and better preserved. While in the area, we suggest a visit to the Casa dell’Albergo. Spread out over two thousand square metres, it stands in a panoramic position overlooking the sea and is the largest find unearthed until now in Herculaneum. Other landmark attractions include the Thermal Baths with their beautiful mosaic floors, the Casa del Bicentenario, featuring paintings on a red background and, naturally, the Villa dei Papiri, (Villa of Papyri) part of which is still submerged and unexplored: a collection of more than 1,700 papyrus rolls were found here (www.pompeiisites.org).
Torre del Greco
Located on the road to Pompeii, Torre del Greco is famed for its time-honoured tradition of coral fishing. In fact, during the 16th century, it boasted a fleet of as many as 400 coral fishing vessels which navigated all the Mediterranean routes, from Africa to Sardinia, right up to Corsica. The city was also devastated several times by volcanic eruptions, the most disastrous of which occurred in 1794.
As of the 1st century B.C., Oplontis, now known as Torre Annunziata, was an elegant residential suburb of nearby Pompeii., home to the luxurious Villa Poppea (also destroyed by the eruption of 79 A.D.) which scientists believe was the property of Poppea Sabina, the second wife of Emperor Nero. Although it was first discovered in the 18th century, the site was not excavated until the 1964 (www.pompeiisites.org). The city is also renowned for its pasta industries.
Since 1997, the excavations of Pompeii, like those of Herculaneum, have been UNESCO World Heritage sites. The most evocative places of the archaeological area include the Amphitheatre, one of the oldest constructions in the world, where the bloody battles between gladiators, attended by as many as 20,000 spectators, were held; the Lupanare, the first houses of prostitution in Roman times and the majestic Casa del Fauno (House of the Faun). Also well- worth a visit is the Orto dei fuggiaschi (the Garden of Fugitives), where the plaster casts of several victims intent on fleeing from the eruption can be seen. Last but not least, make sure to visit the Villa dei Misteri (Villa of Mysteries). Located just outside the Excavations, it comprises more than 70 rooms, all beautifully decorated and frescoed (www.pompeiisites.org).
Castellammare di Stabia
Returning towards the sea, on the slopes of Mount Faito, we find Castellammare, known for the oldest naval shipyard in Italy (1783) and its mineral water springs. The town is home to more than 28 varieties of mineral waters and two plants, one located in the old centre and the other in the hilly area (www.terme.biz). The waters of Madonna and Acetosella, lauded by Plinius The Elder way back in the day, are bottled and sold everywhere.
The area is also renowned for its wine estates and wine including, first and foremost, Lacryma Christi. In fact, the Falanghina, Coda di volpe, Aglianico and Piedi rosso grape varieties are grown here. However, the entire Vesuvian area also boasts a flourishing food and agricultural industry and is known for its myriad local specialities. These include the artichoke of Schito, with its edible violet leaves, the famous biscuits of Castellammare wrapped in the town’s signature shiny light blue paper, Piennolo tomatoes, which are so old that they are even represented in nativity scenes, and the yellow tomatoes of Vesuvius (www.fondazioneslowfood.com). Other local treats include Vesuvian apricots which currently boast more than forty different bio-types in terms of size, fragrance and flavour and the white onion of Pompeii (www.saporivesuviani.it). Also a haven for pasta lovers, the area is home to the famous durum what pasta of Gragnano, dating back to the 16th century and still extruded using bronze dies and dried in the sun (www.consorziogragnanocittadellapasta.it) and, as previously mentioned, the biscuits of Castellammare. Yet another local treat is the bread of San Sebastiano whose elongated shape and thin golden crusts contrasts to perfection with its delicious soft inside.
Not just food. The Vesuvian area is also known for its coral jewelry and Torre del Greco boasts a long cameo-making tradition. Worked by skilled craftsmen, at the town’s many specialized workshops, this ancient tradition is handed down from generation to generation. You’re bound to be awestruck as you browse the town’s charming shops displaying beautifully crafted unique pieces of jewellery and artistic items.