In June 2016 we undertook a sightseeing trip around Rome and the bay of Naples. For twelve days we burned the candle at both ends, determined to cram as many activities as possible into our stay. We walked in excess of 110 miles and used a combination of bicycles, trains, boats, buses, taxi’s and a chairlift to join the points of interest together. Only on returning home and reviewing our images did we truly appreciate the amount of sightseeing done. With more than a thousand images from the trip in our archives, selecting a sample for this Travel Diary was always going to be difficult. For this project we set ourselves a total of 50 images, but overran tremendously. Ruthless edits, much handwringing and red wine reduced the final count to 60, at which point we admitted defeat. So presented here are those 60 representatives of a pretty awesome few days - enjoy.
After an uneventful early flight from Manchester, we landed at a rain soaked Fiumicino airport shortly before lunchtime and was whisked into Rome’s beating heart by taxi, to the Hotel Patria on Via Torino, which was our home for the next four days. Not wishing to waste any time, we decided to sample a couple of pizzas from an excellent nearby trattoria before throwing ourselves into the throngs for an afternoon’s sightseeing.
It is to state the obvious that a city such as Rome provides a limitless amount of photographic material. Street life merges with architecture which, in turn, exudes faded decadence. History, both ancient and modern, drips from almost every corner. Banal but beautiful, there is something for every photographer here. We passed this junction on the Via delle Quattro Fontane every day either early in the morning or very late at night.
The Spanish Steps are one of Rome’s many iconic landmarks. Immortalised in several movies and usually packed with tourists, we were surprised to find them closed and undergoing renovation work. The initial shock soon wore off when we realised that we could get images of them completely unpopulated.
Built during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, the Pantheon is the best preserved building from the Roman Empire. Once a temple, its huge concrete dome is now home to a church. Getting an external image of it in daylight that ‘works’ is a difficult task. Harsh lighting, deep shadow and hordes of people all conspire to create an interesting challenge. We opted for a night shoot which allowed us to exploit the atmosphere around the structure.
Another iconic Roman landmark; the Trevi Fountain. If we thought the area around the Spanish Steps and Pantheon were busy, it did not in the slightest prepare us for the bun fight here. We passed this place several times early in the morning and late at night and the crowds never dissipated. This view was taken just before midnight after fighting our way to the front. The artificial lighting was a better alternative to daylight, as it reduced the shadows a lot. Taken with our Leica X Typ 113 its fast 1.7 lens meant the iso only had to be pushed to 400 to give a high shutter speed.
A study of one of the many ornate fountains. We took loads of images like this and cannot quite recall which fountain this is. The image was processed several times before we settled on this monochrome version.
Here is a site that requires no introduction. Even today, the Colosseum is a monumental statement of ancient Rome’s grandeur. Nothing quite prepares the visitor for its sheer size…nor for the crowds queuing to get inside. It is worth noting that many areas are off limits to the public and we were disappointed to find that one of these areas was the lower galleries where gladiators and wild animals were kept. A lens with a focal length of around 21mm is prerequisite if the interior is to be captured in one shot. Alternatively a composite panorama can be created that provides a more detailed study. We used both methods with good results.
Another view of the Colosseum taken with a 35mm lens. The angle of view is too narrow to capture the site in its entirety (unless stood well back), but interesting studies can be made by singling out architectural highlights.
A view from the galleries of the Colosseum towards Arco di Constantine, an impressive triumphal arch, towards Palentine Hill, home to Emperors and Senators. Whenever we review images of these sites, we are amazed how well they have stood time’s steady passage.
We spent a leisurely afternoon walking on Palentine Hill, discovering the evocative remains of palaces abandoned to the ages. Here walked mighty Caesars wielding power, absolute and corrupt, their aura can almost be sensed even today. To stand where so much history was decided is something we like to do, as you cannot get any closer to the past than when nothing more than time is the separator. The area provides escape from the crowds and some of the best views of the Colosseum.
A general view from Palentine Hill looking towards the white edifice of Il Vittoriano.
The Criptoportico on Palentine Hill is a place that we were particularly interested in seeking out. It is a short tunnel used by Emperors that once connected imperial buildings. Our interest in it lay in the fact that it is believed to be the place where Caligula was murdered.
A view of the ancient forum taken on a warm Roman afternoon. Patience rewarded us with an image that shows little of the crowds milling around the site.
Visiting Rome is not complete without spending a few hours in the Vatican museums. There are several kilometres of corridors and museums to explore, housing exquisite treasures from most historical periods. This image shows a section of the ornately decorated ceilings above corridors hung with priceless works of art.
A view of the central staircase in the Vatican museum.
Looking toward St. Peters Square with St. Peters Basilica behind. Hot and overwhelmed by crowds, we beat a hasty retreat to the banks of the Tiber.
Walking along the Tiber, we were lucky to encounter a wedding shoot.
The photogenic Ponte Sant‘Angelo bridge with Castel Sant‘Angelo in the background, once the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian.
We visited several of Rome’s ornate churches during our stay and came away with dozens of wonderful images. This is one of them, although we cannot recall precisely which church it is :-(
A wide view of the Forum and Colosseum taken from the top of Il Vittoriano. It is one of the higher viewpoints in the city, providing 360º panoramas of Rome’s skyline.
The architecture of Il Vittoriano gives the photographer the opportunity to capture interesting studies, using a simplistic blue and white colour palette.
The Via Appia, is one of the ‘must see’s’ when visiting Rome. Once a strategic highway leading from the city centre to the port of Brindisi, some 330 miles away. We walked a couple of miles out of the centre, hired bicycles and pedalled many kilometres beneath umbrella pines, passing mausoleums, villas and catacombs. Of all of our days sightseeing, this was amongst the best and a world away from the bustle of the city.
A well earned cappuccino along the Appian Way.
The small church of Chiesa del Domine Quo Vadis? marks the spot where St Peter is reputed to have experienced a vision of Jesus. Equally of interest are the cast footprints purported to be those of Jesus, although the ones in the church are copies of originals.
Early on the morning of June 6th we left the city behind and took the fast train to Naples where we transferred to Sorrento.
Having dropped our luggage off at the hotel, we wasted no time exploring the town and harbour. As would be expected at this time of year, the town was very busy and felt claustrophobic and noisy compared to Rome.
A view of one of Sorrento’s bathing platforms and small beaches.
Late at night was one of the best times to be wondering the older parts of Sorrento. Devoid of tourist crowds, street scenes like this took on an almost vintage beauty, where it was easy to visualise a Neapolitan life that existed before the rise of package holidays.
The Valley of the Mills situated behind Sorrento’s Piazza Tasso, is an intriguing site. Around 35,000 years ago volcanic and seismic activity created a deep chasm that was steadily eroded over millennia. Situated in the bottom are the remains of an old mill which is slowly being reclaimed by nature.
Located out on a small peninsula to the west of the town are the remains of Pollio Felice Roman Villa. Today the site is very eroded and used as a picnic area. However it is an area worthy of an afternoon’s exploration as it does provide solace from the busy streets.
Pigeons taking advantage of shade, Marina Grande.
The bay of Naples is renowned for spectacular sunsets, although we often found ourselves too busy to take them in. This image is one from the only sunset session we managed to schedule in – thankfully it was every bit as stunning as we anticipated.
Pompeii; in an effort to escape the crowds that descend on one of Italy’s most famous archaeological sites, we headed for the far end of the town and explored an area of mausoleums just outside the city walls. The tranquillity allowed us to capture some images that lead the viewer to believe we may have had the ruins to ourselves. On the contrary…just a fifteen minute walk away were coach loads of people beetling around.
A warehouse in Pompeii’s forum houses many of the finds unearthed during excavations. From amphorae to the cast of a pet dog, gasping for air and still tied up when the city was buried…even its collar was preserved.
The devastation caused by AD79’s eruption does not get more poignant than this. In a quiet area of town, preserved for eternity, are the remains of some of the unfortunate people who did not escape Vesuvius’ devastation. Grouped here are men, women and children preserved by the destructive force that took their lives. It is easy to imagine them as families and friends, but what is not easy to image is the absolute terror they must have felt.
On a bright sunny morning we boarded a ferry and headed for Capri. This tiny island is an absolute jewel, its vibrant streets and panoramic views are more than enough to keep any photographer busy.
We decided to head for Monte Solaro, the highest part of Capri. Walking from the harbour to Anacapri was a challenge in the heat of the day, so the relief of a chairlift to the summit was welcome and gave us the opportunity for some excellent images along the way.
The summit of Monte Solaro; our views were occasionally obscured by cloud, but when it parted we were rewarded with breathtaking vistas.
A view of Vesuvius across the Bay of Naples.
We used the circumvesuviana train to get to Ercolano, the starting point for our trip to the top of Vesuvius. Ercolano station, pictured here, was strangely photographic due in no small part to its mix of graffiti and high rise flats.
The summit of Vesuvius was very uninspiring as thick cloud had moved in by the time we arrived, completely obscuring all views. We contented ourselves with a walk along the crater rim looking at occasional jets of sulphurous steam rising from its walls. On a clear day the views towards Naples and across the bay must be spectacular.
Steam rising from Vesuvius’ walls are testament to the fact that the mountain is still active and merely slumbering.
A shrine on the crater rim.
The Roman town of Herculanium, located in (and under) modern Ercolano. Like Pompeii, Ercolano was destroyed and preserved by the 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius. However unlike Pompeii, Ercolano’s fate was sealed by a series of pyroclastic flows which carbonised organic matter while preserving the buildings. Much is still beneath the modern town which can be seen behind the ruins.
Ercolano’s harbour front warehouses offer the visitor a macabre sight. In here the remains of more than 150 individuals were found, waiting for a sea based evacuation mission that never arrived. The low rumbling of thunder and steady patter of rain made our visit all the more atmospheric. It is difficult to imagine what it must have been like to have witnessed the vision of hell experienced by these poor people.
Artistic graffiti at Ercolano railway station.
A picturesque view of Positano belies the congested chaos found in its narrow streets.
Beach front shed, Positano.
Looking along Positano’s beach, toward Praiano.
Scrummy prawn and pasta lunch!
Geranium study while waiting for lunch in Positano.
On board a fast ferry from Positano to Sorrento; this is the best way to travel at the end of a hot and busy day.
Beautiful Chiesa di San Genarro church in Praiano; its tiled dome makes a striking appearance against a deep blue sky.
Ascending to the Il Sentiero degli dei (Path of the Gods). Around 1000 steps greet the walker when getting to the route from Praiano.
There are several shrines dotted along the approach to the Path of the Gods. Some are cut into the limestone cliffs and make interesting photo opportunities.
The convent of San Domenico is the perfect place to cool down and admire spectacular views. Once here, the worst of the ascent to Il Sentiero degli dei is over. We spent a while here photographing the cool interior as it is very atmospheric.
Views along the path are nothing short of spectacular and the route is fairly easy.
A glamorous tile design photographed on the descent from Il Sentiero degli dei, toward Positano.
Rarely has a chilled beer tasted so good as when we finished the route.
Capri, reflected in the cabin window of our Sorrento bound ferry.