Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Tomb of Agrippina

(Pictures: The vandalized sign in front of the fence, two views of the Tomb of Agrippina, the house next to the lot, and the port of Bacoli next to the ruins.)

La lettera C e la piu soggetta al tradimento -- cugino, cognato, e compare.
(The letter C is most likely to betray -- cousin, brother-in-law, god-father.)

Nook of Naples: The truth about Agrippina, her death, and her remains are as difficult to find as the location itself. Signs for her tomb throughout the twisting Campi Flegrei roads appear and then vanish. After several excursions to the area, I finally drove past Piazza Guglielmo Marconi in the town of Bacoli and spotted yet another sign that led down to a port. There, I asked directions and a man in the parking lot pointed to crumbling buildings along a walkway by the sea. When I reached the area, Roman bricks overgrown with weeds were crunched between two buildings. A fence barred visitors as though making clear that the owners hadn’t paid rent in years.

It's unclear if the people who coined these stones the "Tomb of Agrippina" meant Agrippina the Elder or Agrippina the Younger, both of whom were interesting historical women. Agrippina the Elder was the graddaughter of Augustus, mother of Caligula, and grandmother of Nero. She had nine children and also accompanied her husband, Germanicus, on military campaigns, earning high respect from the Roman citizens who saw her as a heroic woman, wife, and mother. But over time her politics incurred the wrath of Tiberius who, after the death of her husband, banished her to an island off the coast of the Campania region here. When she died, so the story goes, Caligula brought her ashes back to Rome.

Agrippina the Younger was the daughter of Agrippina the Elder and also the mother of Emperor Nero. She was renown, above all, for her sexual escapades and ruthless will to power. While her brother Caligula was still Emperor, purportedly he would hold lavish banquets and commit incest with his sisters. But eventually Caligula turned on both Agrippina and his sister Livilla, who were also lovers with their maternal cousin Lepidus. The three of them tried to murder Caligula, for which Agrippina was exiled.

When Caligula was murdered in 41 AD, the new Emperor Claudius brought Agrippina the Younger back to Rome. She quickly married a second husband, Crispus. (Her first husband, Domitius, was the father of Nero. By the arrangement of Emperor Tiberius she married him at the age of 13.) When Crispus died, rumors held that she'd poisoned her own husband to gain his estate. And indeed, she became very wealthy. Thereafter, she became mistress to one of Emperor Claudius' advisers and through him arranged to get herself married to the Emperor himself. Her motive: to put her son Nero on the throne.

Agrippina succeeded. Once married to the Emperor, she schemed and ordered murders to get rid of many political rivals. When Claudius agreed to adopt Nero as his son, the Emperor died very suddenly. Rumors abounded that Agrippina poisoned Claudius.

Nero took the throne and Agrippina tried to control her son and the empire. But Nero had other plans and expelled his mother to Misenum (off the cape of Naples). Thereafter, he tried to kill his mother several times. He failed to drown her in a collapsible boat, failed to poison her three times, failed to crush her by a mechanical ceiling over her bed, and finally sent assassins to stab her. The Roman historian Tacitus writes that just before assassins finally succeeded in killing her, Agrippina shouted, ""Smite my womb!"

After reading a bit about these two women, the ruins here suddenly shudder with mythical majesty. The bricks leave me waiting for Agrippina's ghost -- the one Nero claimed plagued him after his mother died. Perhaps she continues walking along the brick walking and all who visit should be thankful that the fence keeps her fate inside.

Getting There: When you reach Piazza Guglielmo Marconi in Bacoli, turn down onto Via Agrippina. Drive all the way to the port, passing the cross street via Ovidio. The tomb is off to the left along the pedestrian walkway.

Today, moored boats lap at the port of Bacoli. A Lido Ritorno Quintilio overlooks the water adjacent to the tomb and three restaurants – Da Garibaldi, The Lavish Rock Bar, and The Very Club – tout epicurean delights. The ‘Sport e Vita’ offers underwater archeological tours, taking visitors to see the ruins of underwater villas.

Underwater Archeological Tours: Sport e Vita is located at Via Agrippina 22 Bacoli. Call 081/5235683 or ask for Gaetano Vassallo (who speaks English) at cell phone 335/8183979.

Book Recommendation: For a history of Agrippina the Younger, see Agrippina: Sex, Power and Politics in the Early Empire by Anthony Barrett.

La Cucina Napoletana: For the next several posts, I would like to give a bit of information about Italian pasta. Simple and natural, a product without preservatives that can keep in cupboards for long periods, pasta is, in fact, the mainstay of the Italian diet. Here in Naples, most families have pasta for at least one of their meals everyday. The varieties of pasta as well as their sauces seem endless and Naples is best known in all of Italy as having the largest variety at any grocery store, purportedly several hundred.

In Naples during the 1700's, pasta entered the Court Kitchen thanks to the Chamberlain of Ferdinand II who had the idea to use a fork with four short points instead of the hands. The word 'spaghetti' was coined in Naples, the word coming from 'spaghi', meaning small strings. By the 1800's pasta had become so popular that the first pictures not depicting Mt. Vesuvius were of the 'Maccheronari' who stood on street corners cooking pasta in enormous pots. The Maccheroni were and still are identified with Naples, the city now credited with having discovered the food.

Pasta can be classified as either dry or fresh, short or long. Today, I will include a recipe of short dry pasta that includes a splash of a digestive I mentioned in previous posts. This recipe (as well as the other information about pasta that I've included) comes from the cookbook (in Italian): Pasta: Passione e Fantasia by Antonio Chiodi Latini and Mario Busso.

Penne Pasta with Baby Shrimp and Anice

1 cup penne pasta
3 cups baby shrimp
1/4 cup Anice liquor
1 onion
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper

shells of the shrimp
1 celery stalk
1/2 onion
1 carrot

Clean the baby shrimp and then put the shells in four cups of salty water with the celery, onion, and carrot all coarsely cut. Leave boiling until the liquid is reduced by half.

Peel and chop the onion, then fry it in oil until golden-brown. Add the shrimp into the pan and fry quickly, then remove from heat and add two-thirds of the Anice liquor. Cook the penne pasta in boiling water (with liberal amounts of salt) for about five minutes. Strain and pour into the frying pan with the shrimp. Add a ladle full of the shrimp shell broth. Then add the rest of the Anice liquor and mix. Spoon out on plates and crack pepper over the top.

And remember -- if having a large banquet like the Romans, leave immediately after dessert!

Buon Appetito!


Stellina said...

thanx so much for posting all this. I'm not far from Naples, I moved here from the states a couple years ago, I haven't ventured out as much as I'd like though with building our home and tending our farm. I've only been to paestum and Naples for a day and the surrounding little hill towns here. I've really enjoyed what you have written, so much interesting info! I'm not sure how i came across your blog but I'm glad I did! STELLINA

Barbara Zaragoza said...

Thanks, Stellina. I appreciate your comments. Living on a farm sounds so wonderful (although a lot of work too). The Campania region has so much to offer that I wanted to find a way to share all its mythical aspects. Glad you're enjoying it. Saluti! Barbara