Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Solfatara Volcano

(Pictures: A corner reflector that works with the European Space Agency to track ground deformations, ruins of a Roman bath, the flaming Solfatara hill, a sizzling mud lake, a steam vent with discolored rocks.)

La pazienza non 'e mai troppa.
(Patience is never too much.)

Nook of Naples: The Solfatara crater still smolders endlessly today. Located a few meters from the sea, an entrance leads down a tree lined path to a mars-like terrain. The rotten egg smell is inescapable and, depending on the direction of the wind, wafts all the way to the city of Naples. Maybe the seedy reputation of the city didn't begin in the twentieth century, but already with the ancients when the sulfur stench was believed to be poisonous.

The slopes surrounding the crater puff with sulfur steam. Along one slope, two fumaroles shum their steam at somewhere around 160 degrees Celsius and turn the rocks around it into a copper-gold color. The Italians call these two vents "La Bocca Grande" or "The Big Mouth". Behind their plume and hiss, a green algae grows that's considered a biological rarity seen only when high temperatures and high acidity combine together.

In the middle of the crater, the Fangaia or boiling mud lakes sizzle at temperatures between 170-250 degrees Celcius. The mud contains a bevy of gases and minerals that the Romans once harnessed for their hydrothermal spas.

The Romans said that Vulcan, the god of fire, worked here. The crater is also believed to have been the inspiration for Virgil’s description of Hades. Ruins of a Roman bath still exist at the western side of the crater with sulfur wisping out from the bricks.

If visitors stomp on the ground, they’ll hear a hollow sound – evidence that porous caverns exist underneath. Take a stick, dig a small hole into the sand, and put a finger inside to see how hot the earth feels just beneath the surface.

For those who like science, four reflectors dot the sandy terrain. They work with two satellites of the European Space Agency (ESA) to reflect their signals and map the volcano's ground deformations.

Getting There: Solfatara has a wonderful website and is easy to find as it's right by the sea. The address can be found on Mapquest too: Via Solfatara 161, 80078 Pozzuoli

Book & Movie Recommendation: Modern-day Naples is known for its pollution, crazy traffic, and gritty city-life. This was even true forty years ago when the old adage claimed: "You come to Rome to see Italy, you come to Naples to smell it." Today, the hell of Naples can be found inside the world of the Neapolitan mafia. In particular, the Camorra crime family is blamed for, among other things, the garbage collection problem and the toxic mozzarella crisis of 2008.

The most popular book in Naples is Gomorrah: A Personal Journey into the Violent International Empire of Naples' Organized Crime System by Roberto Saviano (Author) and Virginia Jewiss (Translator). A movie, directed by Matteo Garrone, Gomorra won the Cannes Film Festival in 2008.

La Cucina Napoletana: Here at Solfatara, two placards point to unique Mediterranean vegetation that grows just outside the volcano area: myrtle (the plant Pliny the Elder suggested be chewed after meals as an aid to digestion) and 'corbezzolo' or the strawberry tree. The strawberry tree contains sugar, protein, and vitamin C and can be made into jams, jellies, syrups and more. Virgil referred to the plant as 'arbutus' and Pliny called it 'unedo' or 'I eat only one' because of its sickly taste.

The Neapolitans today love their digestives -- usually after-dinner liqueurs of all kinds that they claim are an aide to digestion. Many locals make their own liqueurs. Here's one of the most popular in this region:

Liquore di Fragole
(Strawberry Liquor)

1 pint strawberries
1 1/2 cups grain alcohol
2 cups water
2 cups sugar

Place the strawberries in a glass jar and cover with the alcohol. Let stand at room temperature for about 24 hours, shaking the jar several times. Strain out the berries. In a saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Stir over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved completely and the syrup beings to boil. When it's crystal clear, remove it from the heat and let cool. Combine the syrup and alcohol in a bottle of your choice.

(This recipe comes from Naples At Table by Arthur Schwartz.)

**The ancient Romans wrote down a good number of their recipes. If you're interested in seeing what some looked like, see these Ancient Roman Recipes.


Anonymous said...

Thank you, that was extremely valuable and interesting...I will be back again to read more on this topic.

Anonymous said...

Awesome site, I hadn't noticed before during my searches!
Continue the superb work!