The woman next to me was
complaining that "the ruins we saw in Libya are much
better preserved than these." We were standing in what
amounts to ruins of ruins of ruins at Miseno, at the
extreme western end of the Gulf of Naples, in the
middle of what used to be Portus
Iulius, the home port for the western
Imperial fleet under Caesar Augustus. She was right,
of course, but then antiquity holds up pretty well in
the desert air. Libya, too, is about six times larger
than all of Italy and has fewer people in it than I
can see from my balcony in Naples.
The specific ruin
she was groaning about was an amphitheater with row
upon row of spectator seats set in the side of
the cliff overlooking the outer harbor of the port, now
called "Lake Miseno," such that the spectators had their
backs to the hillside and, beyond the cliff, the water.
Of course, we couldn't see any of that because the
concave recess that was once the amphitheater is full of
modern houses, some of which incorporate Roman masonry.
We were actually in the man-made cavern beneath the
theater, a passageway running the perimeter of the
semicircular structure above and —two-thousand years
ago— allowing entrance from the waterfront, itself. In
order to get in there, we walked through someone's front
yard and down some stairs by the driveway and garage.
(Presumably a concession the owner has to make to the
Ministry of Culture for having his bathroom take up
aisle IV, seats XII through XXVI.)
Part of the problem —no, all of the problem— is that very little of this was discovered until the 1960s, when overbuilding went absolutely wild, what with everyone wanting to ride the Italian economic miracle to the outskirts and live high up overlooking the bay where, yea, brave Ulysses sailed, and only a few hundred yards from where some of the juiciest parts in The Aeneid are supposed to have played out.
have discovered and excavated what is left of a
sacello (a small shrine, see photo, above)
built to Caesar Augustus, but any appreciation of
that, as well, has to contend with adjacent
apartments. Certainly, in an area of Italy with
abundant and open displays of ancient Rome, such as
Pompeii and Herculaneum, and even ancient Greece, such
as Cuma and Paestum, it is strange to prop yourself up
against a bus-stop so you can try to shoot around the
rubbish bin for a good shot of a shrine to the
however, and high at the top of the cliff over the bay
is the Cento Camarelle —the One Hundred
Little Rooms— (entrance in photo, right) a group of
cisterns arranged on two levels oriented at
right-angles to each other. Whether or not there are
really one-hundred chambers, I don't know, but the
entire labyrinth is impressive and cut out of the tuff
of the cliff. The passageways between the individual
cisterns are narrow and not for the claustrophobic.
The walls are still plastered with the waterproof
plaster called cocciopesto and there are
graffiti on those walls from those who have visited
before you. One I saw was from "1737". Besides the two
accessible levels, there is evidence of another one
even deeper. The great Neapolitan archaeologist, Amedeo Maiuri, suggested that
much of the structure was originally a basement of
sorts for a private villa, possibly that of the orator
Quintus Hortensius Ortalus (114–50 b.c),
public-speaking rival of Cicero, himself. That is
speculative, but, in any event, that would place any
private villa on the spot well before the time when
the premises were given over to the service of the
later imperial port under Augustus.
Related article on the Serino aqueduct that supplied Miseno.