Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Phlegraean Fields

(Pictures: View of the Julius Caesar Villa, a map of the Phlegraean Fields, view of Lake Lucrino.)

Chi non risica, non rosica.
(Who risks nothing, gains nothing.)

Nook of Naples: Charon ferried souls across the Styx, sirens sang their songs against the jutting sea cliffs, and sybils uttered their trance-induced predictions – all within an eight square mile area west of Naples that today mostly lies underwater. The Phlegraean Fields (in Italian Campi Flegrei, which means the fields of fire) encompass a caldera or cauldron-like region of twenty-four volcanoes and craters, many still bubbling with seismic activity.

Ancient Romans, such as Julius Caesar and Nero, used this region as their summer playgrounds. The two emperors built opulent summer villas and bathed in lavish spa complexes. Virgil also spent the last ten years of his life writing The Aeneid while living in this area. Book six of his work features the Phlegraean Fields as the real-life setting for Aeneas' journey into the underworld.

Lakes, grottoes, and temples can still be explored. And yet, since most short-term visitors opt to see Pompeii and before dashing off to the next Italian city, these sights tend to remain quiet, even desolate where exploration can be done without the crush of crowds.

If you have time to get dive certified, the best way to see the bubbling fumaroles and underwater Roman villas is with the Underwater Archeological Park of Baia.

In the next several posts I will write about many of the attractions found in this mythical area.

Book Recommendations: The most accessible history of ancient Rome I find to be: The Civilization of Rome by Donald R. Dudley. For a comprehensive travel guide, Campi Flegrei by Massimo D'Antonio is exceptional.

La Cucina Napoletana: In the ancient world as today, the fruits of the sea can be found in open markets everywhere. Octopus and squid are particularly popular. Our favorite is fried calamari. Here is a short paraphrased version of the recipe from my favorite book, Naples At Table by Arthur Schwartz:

Calamari Fritti
Squid, rinsed and sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings
1 quart of deep-fat frying oil
Fine sea salt
Lemon Wedges

Keep the squid very cold until the moment you flour it. Pour flour into a large bowl. Pour 1 quart of oil into a 4 quart saucepan and heat until very hot. Toss the squid in the flour, then drop the squid into the hot oil. Drain the fried quid on a paper towel and garnish with lemon wedges.

Buon Appetito!

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