Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

entry Mar 2013   updates May & July 2014, entry 2, August 2018

On the Roads

Two State Roads: SS 145 (directly below as number 1; and SS18, below as number 2.
Both of these roads have been and continue to be important in southern Italy.

1. State Road 145: Pompei --> Castellammare --> Sorrento

In 1832 Ferdinand II of Bourbon, the monarch of the kingdom of Naples, decreed that a road should be built along the Sorrentine peninsula. The road would actually start at Pompei, branching off from what was then called the Great Calabrian Road (from the capital city of Naples to all points south). The new road would then lead out to the south through the shipyard town of Castellammare at the beginning of the peninsula and move along the coast through the towns and villages on the peninsula and on to the Sorrento plain, the last town on which is Sorrento, itself. Crows fly only about 10 km (6 miles) from Castellammare to Sorrento, but the road, which opened in 1834, was much longer; it was winding and difficult to build but turned out to be a good solid road, functional for horse, coach and foot traffic. That old Bourbon road was eventually renamed SS 145 (Strada statale—State Road); it was  kept up even after it was overtaken technologically by the mid-1900s by the great iron horse, the Circumvesuviana railway, which spread out from Naples and tunneled through (!) from Castellammare all the way to Meta, the first town on the Sorrento plain. That technical marvel, however, was more than matched by the post-war economic boom, which brought with it the growth of private car traffic starting in the 1950s. Traffic along the road became unbearable.

The solution appeared in the late 1970s and early 80s. The idea was to rebuild the entire SS145. It was to branch off, again at Pompei (off this map at the top), from the North-South autostrada (the A3), then under construction. Instead of passing through the towns along the coast, however, the new road would first provide a long elevated section from Pompei over Castellammare and then, via a series of tunnels, by-pass the other towns and wind up at Seiano, the last hill before descending onto the Sorrento plain at Meta. (The old Bourbon road (the red road marked 145 along the coast would still be usable (indeed very useful for citizens of those towns and those having business along that stretch of coast), even if demoted to SP145 [Strada provinciale—Provincial road]). The elevated 3-km stretch at Castellammare (coming in from the top of the map and the first three tunnels (each about 1.5 km long, marked 1, 2 and 3 on the map) were completed in the 1980s and 90s. Numbers 1 and 2 take you around Castellammare. Then, however, you still have to drive down onto the old 145 at Pozzano and go along the coast. Once at Scraio, you can by-pass Vico Equense through tunnel number 3 and come out at Seiano. The new tunnel (the dotted line) is now about to open. (I realize I have said that before!) It is a 3-km tunnel from Pozzano to Scrajo and will by-pass the coast road, a scenic stretch that has always been a pleasure to drive when there is no traffic (say, at 3.30 am on a Sunday morning in February). (The jagged line inside the 145 and running roughly parallel to it is the Circumvesiana railway.) The theory is that you will be able to put the pedal to the metal anywhere on the A-3 and head to Sorrento on the SS145, taking your pedal off your metal at Seiano, where you will then pick up the old 145 for the rest of the trip. (If you forget to do that, you will put a huge dent in the north side of Montechiaro, the hill between Seiano and Meta. Please don't do that. From Seiano you still have to drive up the last hill and wind down into Meta. That can be a grind in heavy traffic. As far as I know, there is no plan to bore through the last hill directly to Meta, which is what the train tunnel does. Sorry. Every silver lining has a cloud.

The delays have been many. The latest "opening" of the new tunnel was scheduled for December, 2012, but they missed that date (as they had missed earlier ones); the new date is this June. The beauty of the new tunnel is that now with all the speed demons on their way to or from Sorrento through those tunnels, you are perfectly free to take the old slow road and enjoy the drive.

update: May 2014               and glorious update July 2014       and not so glorious

  added August 2018

State Road 18 Lower Tyrhhenian

Some roads in Italy still follow the paths of ancient Roman roads. The modern Strada Statale (SS) 7 is an example. The modern name is SS 7 via Appia -- the ancient Appian Way, perhaps the most historic road in all of ancient Rome. For our purposes, note the modern designation Strada Statale (State Road). This entry is concerned with another State Road, SS 18 Tirrena Inferiore (lower Tyrhhenian), the long and important road that runs the coast from Naples all the way to Reggio Calabria (marked in blue on the map). It once was the only road from Naples to Reggio Calabria, thus connecting the main urban centers of Campania and Calabria. It has since been superseded in terms of speed and ease of driving by another kind of road, the autostrada, in this case the A-3 (shown in green on the map). This entry is concerned primarily with the State Road and secondarily with the Autostrada, the two types of roads that carry heavy traffic over paved roads for long distances.

Depending on where you drive in the English-speaking world, terminology varies.

A single carriageway (British English) or undivided highway (American English) is a road with one, two or more lanes arranged within a single carriageway or highway with nothing in the middle to separate opposing flows of traffic. There will be a painted white line, usually painted broken or solid to indicate whether you are allowed to pass or not, respectively. There is usually open access to and from cross roads and there may be a short third "waiting" lane at cross-roads for cars to turn off onto these other roads. Road traffic safety on this kind of road can be very dangerous depending on conditions: heavy traffic, night driving, night-time illumination, inclement weather, driving too fast, visibility, in a hurry to pass, etc. SS 18 is such a road. Under perfect conditions, it is a joy -- right down the Tyrrhenian coast with the sea just off to the right. Yes, there are guard rails along the side that have reflectors at night. Is it possible to breach those? Yes. Has it ever happened? Yes. But under perfect conditions -- an open small car or a motorcycle -- a ride from Sapri (a few miles below the Cilento bulge), the last town in Campania south to Reggio Calabria is what everyone who likes to drive wants to drive: 220 km/ 130 mi of peace on the road.

The road starts up in Naples, however, so before you get to all that peace and quiet, you have do some detouring; to get out of Naples, itself, and then around Salerno, you have to take the sections marked dir (for diramazione/branch), so SS18 (dir) means that you are still on SS18 (but this will get you around the inner-city and out the other side a lot faster. But after Sapri it's clear motoring. This whole modern set-up of State Roads goes back to 1928 and the Fascist reordering of the road network in Italy. The original "stops" of the SS18 were Naples, Torre Annunziata, Salerno, Battipaglia, Rutino, Vallo, Torre Orsaia, Sapri, Paola, Sant'Eufemia, Nicastro, Monteleone, and Reggio Calabria. That caused and still causes some problems because there is no single administrative body for the whole affair. You have a dozen different city halls trying to decide whether to repave this, or fix the lighting at km-number such-and-such, etc.

"Is there a problem, officer?"            
This really is the E45 in northern Norway.

On the other hand, a limited-access road, known by various terms worldwide, including limited-access highway, dual-carriageway, expressway, partially controlled access highway, even the odd-ball turnpike (!) is a highway or arterial road for high-speed traffic, and is generally termed freeway (US) or motorway (Brit). (As noted, it is marked in green on the map, above) It has limited or no access to adjacent property, some degree of separation of opposing traffic flow, use of grade-separated interchanges (that is, to exit you go out, up and over), prohibition of some modes of transport such as bicycles or horses (and pedestrians!), very few or no intersecting cross-streets and they may charge a toll. They may offer restaurants and other amenities along the way, including garages for mechanical repairs and even places to park your camper, bus or whatever "live-in" vehicle you have where you can spend the night. The A3, the autostrada is really the A3 only between Naples and Salerno. The official European designation is the E45 and is officially a single road from the very top of Norway (image) all the way to Reggio Calabria and over to Sicily to finish at Catania, Siracuse and Gela. It, too, started in 1929; the stretch from Naples to Salerno was the first autostrada in Italy. These autostrade are sort of self-sufficient, self-sustaining entities unto themselves. I imagine you could take your whole vacation on one of them without ever getting off, just cruising up one side and down the other, over and over, like the Flying Duchman sailing under a curse. Forever.

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