It is a truism that you can come across unexpected reminders of home in the strangest of places. In this case, whilst looking for a store that sold the makings of a pasta lunch to cook back at our apartment on Capri, I noticed this arresting bright red house on a small courtyard ( the Piazza Cesare Battisti in fact):
It appears to be just a 'digital centre' supplying phone and internet-connectivity, but it has a marble plaque above the shuttered shop window:
Von Behring is a name familiar to me from working near the Charité hospital in Berlin. He was the discoverer and manufacturer of a diphtheria vaccine towards the end of the nineteenth century, by which he saved many thousands and thousands of lives (especially children) and received the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1901. He married the director of the Charité's daughter Else Spinola on 29th December 1896. Looking further into their story I find that for their marriage and honeymoon Emil was granted extended leave by the newly formed Education Ministry of Imperial Germany and the couple spent a few months here in this villa which they had bought.
Even more surprising, another plaque commemorates that between March 1909 and February 1911 the Russian writer and bolshevik activist Maxim Gorkyalso lived here (as in Gorky Park, Moscow, and the Maxim Gorky Theatre, Berlin, both named after him). Indeed, in July 1910 an exiled Vladimir Lenin was a guest here of Maximum Gorky. Gorky was apparently running a school for Communist Party leaders and activists from this house, which was also known as Villa Spinola (after Frau von Behring) at the time. Given its Communist associations, it is quite appropriate that the house should be such a striking red colour.
Sunday, 30 November 2014
An uphill two kilometre walk from Capri town to the remote NE point of the island of Capri brought us to the excavated remains of Villa Jovis (villa of Jupiter), This was the site for Emperor Tiberius' largest palace on the island, completed in AD 27. Tiberius moved to Capri from Rome due to very real fears of assassination and ruled the Empire from this palace until his death in AD 37. According to Seutonius' 'De vita Caesarum' (known to us as 'The Twelve Caesars') Tiberius engaged in some wild debauchery at Villa Jovis, and also that some of his political opponents were lured here, wined and dined in extravagance, then ended up being flung to their deaths from the steep cliffs.
We ended our climb up the steep narrow streets winding between expensive villas on a hot sunny day, only to be greeted by this sign:
Zooming in ....
Oh no! From that day until the end of February the site was closed! What to do?
A few signs has never put us off in the past when engaging in a bit of urban exploration, so with the advice of a local out exercising his dogs we found the back entrance and wandered in.
It was fantastic having the site to ourselves, though of course observing the urbex code of not bringing anything onto the site, not disturbing anything, and not taking anything away.
Here are some photos of this fascinating place, which also has some wicked views across the Tyrrhenian Sea to Sorrento, Naples, and Vesuivius. The villa does indeed perch atop some very steep cliffs, and it would have been a long way down for Tiberius' enemies to fall!
'Urban' derives from the Latin urbanus (of, or belonging to, a city) so I think it is appropriate that we did a bit of urban exploration in a Roman villa. These are definitely the oldest buildings that we have explored and photographed without express permission.
Disclaimer: trespassing is wrong and contrary to the code of civil law in most countries. Don't do it kids!
Saturday, 29 November 2014
The island of Capri in the Gulf of Naples has been a vacation resort for the rich and famous ever since the Roman emperors Augustus and then Tiberius built villas here back in the year dot. In more recent times, Dame Gracie Fields had a villa here, and the U.S. singer Mariah Carey still does.
During the Summer, the island is packed full of sun-worshippers, yachters and water-sport enthusiasts, and celebratory-spotters. At the very end of November when we went, it was much quieter, but unfortunately all the designer boutiques were closed so we couldn't buy that to-die-for Fendi leopardskin clutch and matching sandals. Still, the weather was comparatively warm and we had the island's natural tourist attractions almost to ourselves.
We arrived on Capri at Marina Grande, having sailed over by hydrofoil from Sorrento.
Though the harbour has its attractions (well, so long as you want to buy bottles of limoncello or expensive ice-creams), most visitors will very soon take the funicular up the steep hill to the main square in Capri town, the Piazzetta. Here is a view from the funicular. I promise not to post any more photos of the funicular. I have been told off:
The view back down to the Marina Grande, with the sprawl of white villas nesting below the towering limestone cliffs, is impressive as first impressions go:
The Piazzetta itself was not so impressive. I had in my mind's eye an expectation of some grand plaza with large hotels and street-cafes around it, but in reality it is very small, and the restaurants not places to write home about (except to complain about the prices):
The most exciting thing going on was that they were erecting a Christmas tree:
Ah well, we weren't here to sit around the Piazzetta all day, so after checking into our apartment we climbed up to the eastern side of the island to see the Arco Naturale, or natural limestone arch. Quite impressive, especially for its view of the cliffs that are most of Capri's coastline, and the lovely turquoise sea below:
We then followed steps down and down and down the cliffs, and then down and down some more, until we came to the Grotta di Matromania. This cave has an air of ancientness about it, primeval even. The Romans have left behind traces of building work they did to make it into a cross between an imperial banqueting hall and a shrine for some unknown mystery cult, maybe to Mithras, maybe to an Earth Goddess (hence the name). It's sheer inaccessibility (even with all those steps, so imagine what it was like before they were built) makes it a special place to visit. Perhaps at the height of Summer there is a conga line of tourists puffing and panting their way up and down the cliff, but we had the mystery of the cave to ourselves.
From the Grotta di Matromania there is a path around the SE coast of Capri that slowly climbs its way back up to the town affording some lovely views of the cliffs and the Faraglioni:
Even when nearly December, there is still fragrantly-scented bougainvillea on the walls around the villas:
View from the coastal path down to Marina Piccola:
Marina Piccola on the South of the island is a steep walk down more steps from Capri town, or take the little orange bus. The colour of the water around the smaller harbour is amazing. I don't think I really understood the visual meaning of 'aquamarine'. These photos have not been Photoshopped to alter the colour we actually saw! Swimming in this water in Summer must be divine, but then I'd have to share them with a hundred other bathers.
According to legend (or at least the Capri tourist agency) these are rocks from which Sirens enticed sailors to their doom through their enchanting singing. For sure, the rocks around here are razor-edged volcanic lava where they are not limestone. There was also a bit of surf up when we visited, but only enough to fill my boots with sea-water if I got too close:
In the evening of the first day we re-visited Marina Grande then returned to the Piazzetta for some night shots:
The next day we took a walk from our apartment, climbing up and South, to Belvedere Cannone. This was named after a cannon that the French put here in 1808 to overlook approaches to Marina Piccola. I'm not about to start recounting how come the French were doing here in 1808 or I'll be here all day, and the main to remember is that the viewing terrace has magnificent views of the island, the harbour, and the Faraglioni:
After that, back to the centre of Capri town, and a pleasant walk in the sun up to Villa Jovis on the NE point of the island (it turned out Villa Jovis was shut for the Winter, but that didn't stop us getting in).
There aren't any cars on Capri by the way. This is how the locals get around transporting goods and luggage to the hotels through the steep, narrow, winding streets:
That's Villa Jovis on the top of the hill (the Roman Emperor Tiberius' Villa of Jupiter):
And so back to the apartment to pick up our rucksacks, before going back to the harbour to catch a hydrofoil to Naples, with one last look at the aquamarine waters and deserted beaches:
If you don't want to get about on foot on Capri (and you do need to have a degree of fitness), then there are tiny orange buses that travel the few main roads. On the evidence of their collection of bumps and scrapes, I think even the main roads are a bit on the tight side.
Farewell then Capri! It has been a lovely couple of days, but now on to Naples!