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Having been so impressed by the complex in Bath, UK, it was hard to believe that there was an even more impressive ‘terme’ to be found in Rome. Undertaken at the behest of Marcus Aurelius, who was nicknamed Caracalla because of the hooded cloak which he often wore,  this massive expanse could accommodate 1600 people in the baths alone, before including those in the enormous shops, gardens, halls, temples, changing rooms, library and saunas. 2000 tons of wood could be stored to heat the baths and massive cisterns stored water supplied via aqueducts. The most impressive of the sites was the towering Caldarium (hot bath), boasting a domed enclosure 35 metres high and 30 metres in diameter.

Many of the statues and tiled mosaics that decorated the complex have been removed and displayed in a variety of museums and churches across the Italian Peninsula, so few samples remain.

Pompei and Mt Vesuvius

An early morning start and a 3 hour drive placed us at the ruins of Pompei, smothered by the eruption of volcanic ash from Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD. Our guide Giorgio was excellent and moved us through the most significant sites of this once bustling port city, that now stands many miles from the Bay of Napoli, due to the ash altering the course of the river and the height of the surrounding landscape. Frescos still adorn many walls, the most detailed appear in the bordello where the Vulpia (female wolves) would offer their services. Due to the nature of the layers of volcanic stone that the city is built on, it was difficult to construct proper sewer plumbing, so much of the muck ran into the streets, so large stepping stones were placed throughout the city for ease of crossing. It was interesting to see the eroded wheel ruts caused by wagons and chariots that traversed the streets of Pompei. After a pizza lunch we were to tackle the summit of Mt Vesuvius, a 30 minute climb to the caldera. The last eruption was in 1944, which caused a plug of soil, rock and ash to block the entrance to the volcano. Plumes of sulphur gas seep out of the sides of the crater and can be smelt on the rim. From this vantage point, we were above the surrounding clouds with a clear view to the Bay of Napoli and the island of Capris.

Crypt of Capuchin

Below a non-descript church in Rome we discovered a museum dedicated to the life and beliefs of Capuchin Monks. After finding out about this information and some individual monks from long ago, we walked in to the catacombs where the bones of 3000 monks have been artistically arranged to create flowers, light shades, wall and ceiling decorations, and 3 dimensional spaces which skeletons in monk’s robes were placed in, either standing or reclining. We walked through 5 chambers looking closely at these displays….some might say it was macabre but Noelene had really strong feelings that they had been arranged with love and the utmost respect. It was strangely beautiful and a little unnerving when you stopped to think that they were once people. No photos were allowed…sorry.

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