Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Virgil's Lake Averno

(Pictures: A view of Lake Averno, the pathway leading to the Temple of Apollo, the tip of the Temple of Apollo seen up close.)

Tu duca, tu signore e tu maestro.
(You are my guide, my lord, and my master.)
Dante Alighieri to Virgil before entering Hell (Inferno, 11, 140)

Nook of Naples: Virgil's fictional character Aeneas wandered down to Lake Averno with the Sybil, determined to travel to Hades to consult his father. The name of the lake, as Book Six of The Aeneid tells us, comes from the Greek word aernos meaning the place without birds. During Virgil's time, the sulfurous gases from the bubbling vents of Solfatara very likely wafted to this lake, giving it a rotten smell. Today, Lago Averno is simply a dead crater filled with water. Ducks and geese swim here most of the year. Discos, restaurants, and an agriturismo line the lake. Teenagers also find this place an excellent spot to display their open affections.

A walking path circles the entire lake with nature huts that describe the unique animals and plants inhabiting the crater. On one end of the trail, the ancient Grotto di Cocceio is off-limits to visitors, barred by gates and overgrown brush. Closed to the public due to structural dangers, this Roman military tunnel once connected the lake with the Greek acropolis of Cuma.

On the other side of Lago Averno, next to the vineyards, a Temple of Apollo juts out from the ground. Thirty feet of dirt buries this temple due to bradyseism -- the rising and falling of the ground due to the ebb and flow of magma chambers deep within the earth. Only the dome can be seen, but its massive proportions show that this building once towered several stories high. Very likely, the name ‘Temple of Apollo’ is a misnomer. The Romans more likely used this structure as a thermal complex for bathing. If true, this structure shows how technologically advance the Romans had become to harness the hydrothermal activity of this region.

Getting There: From Naples, take the Tangenziale in the direction of Pozzuoli. Exit n. 14 Pozzuoli - Arco Felice. Follow signs for Napoli-Pozzuoli, Baia and Bacoli. When you arrive at Arco Felice, turn right. Drive down the road and when you see the Bay on one side and Lake Lucrino in front of you, turn right. Go down the road until you reach the lake.

Book Recommendations: The Aeneid by Virgil is a classic that describes the journey of Aeneas from Troy to Carthage and then Italy. Dante's Inferno also mentions Lake Averno.

Restaurant Recommendation: Terra Mia Agriturismo, Via Lago D’Averno 9, Pozzuoli 80078

La Cucina Napoletana: Vineyards line the walking path, blending the present with the ancient past. This region is abundant with its own specialty wines. To accompany these libations, I've found a snack of Bruschetta to be delectable. It's very common to this region. Here's my short-shrift recipe:


1 French Bread
A pan with several tablespoon of olive oil
Tomatoes of your choice, preferably fresh.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch basil
1 teaspoon capers
Black pepper
Dried oregano

Slice thin pieces of French bread. Fry them quickly on both sides in the pan of very hot olive oil. Chop tomatoes into small squares, then toss in a bowl with olive oil. Add basil, capers, black pepper, and oregano. Heap dollops of the seasoned tomatoes onto the bread.

Buon Appetito!


Anonymous said...

Is this also where the delicious Italian digestif Averno comes from?

Barbara Zaragoza said...

Thanks for asking! The Averna distillery is located in Caltanissetta, Sicily. The recipe was developed by monks as medicine, and given to Salvatore Averna in 1854 for all that he had done to help the church.

The Averno Lake actually has no relation to the digestif. But now I am curious about its bitter herbal taste and want to go out and try some. (There are so many liquers here that one could get dizzy just thinking about them.)

For more on Italian digestives, watch for my next posts about the Sibyl's Oracle at the Greek settlement of Cuma.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the answer--and do try it--it's very easy to drink and after a few too many you'll think it is Averno as opposed to AvernA as I should have known! :)

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