Pozzuoli, and the charming area of Campi Flegrei, or Phlegraean Fields, is situated just half an hour outside of Naples in the South of Italy. It’s much less touristic than the Amalfi Coast, and less polluted than the busy streets of Naples. Here’s a list of best picks in the heart of the Sorrento region.
Easily reachable by car or metro from Naples (line 2, final stop Pozzuoli), the archeological town of Pozzuoli makes for a perfect day trip away from the bustle and hassle of its big sister. Once a Greek town, then a Roman commercial center, Pozzuoli nowadays offers a unique and interesting contrast between ancient Roman ruins and modern constructions overlooking the sea.
The Campi Flegrei area is also known for its rare geological phenomenon called bradisismo, or bradyseism, meaning ‘slow movement’ in Ancient Greek. It causes the earth to rise or descend very slowly and is particularly visible on the pillars of the Macellum, the ancient public market near the port. Here, dark lines indicate the highest point reached by sea while the site sank below sea level before rising again.
The Macellum and its three marble columns, sometimes called the Temple of Serapis, is the symbol of the city. If you take a walk along the waterfront or lungomare, or if you wish to have a well-deserved aperitivo in the ancient city center, you will most definitely stumble upon it. But that’s not all: just a few hundred meters from the Macellum, you can visit the Flavian amphitheater, the third biggest amphitheater in Italy after the Colosseum, and the amphitheater at Capua.
The ancient mixes with the modern yet again in the Rione Terra, a multi-layered underground city composed of Roman ruins where temples, taverns, shrines and shops used to stand centuries ago. Isn’t it fascinating to picture an entire city built and rebuilt several times century after century to provide us with almost 2000 years of Greek and Roman architecture?
Rione terra and streets of Pozzuoli
History and archeology buffs should not miss the Cuma Archaeological Park, where more temples, forums, tombs and ruins sit covered in dust such as the Temple of Apollo and Jupiter, the Tomb of Sybil, the thermal baths, and the necropolis.
If you’re tired of old stones, drive down to the mystical Lago Averno, or Lake Avernus, for a romantic walk around this volcanic lake. Mentioned in Virgil’s Aeneid, the lake was thought to be the entrance to Hades’ realm. Nowadays, it is surrounded by vineyards and lovely restaurants and offers a very pleasant change of scenery from the towns of Pozzuoli or Naples.
The Cratere degli Astroni Nature Reserve, situated just outside of Pozzuoli, is also worth a trip for its rich flora and fauna. This thermal area turned Royal Hunting Park turned tourist attraction turned peaceful volcanic area is the perfect place for a quiet afternoon away from the tourist crowds.
Apollo’s Temple on lake Avernus
In Pozzuoli, everything seems to come from a different era: the name of the town, which could mean ‘well’ or ‘to stink’, goes back to Ancient Greek or Latin. It is derived from the many thermal springs to be found in that volcanic area, especially around the Solfatara. The ruins, castles, temples, amphitheaters and other archeological sites scattered around Pozzuoli, such as the Tempio di Nettuno or Temple of Neptune, will take you back in time.
The locals also seem to come from a long tradition of fishermen, and enthusiastically perpetuate the southern dolce vita. An aperitivo on the waterfront, an afternoon on the beach, a stroll in town to enjoy the fresh breeze of the late evening and plates of seafood in all shapes and sizes – the inhabitants of Pozzuoli definitely know how to enjoy life.
To end a perfect day, have a drink at Ugo (Via Caldaie 23), a friendly and colorful bar in a small street a few steps away from the port. We recommend Abbascio ‘u mare (Via San Paolo 12) for some fried calamari, octopi, mussels and shrimps to wash down with a local white wine. This convivial seafood restaurant on the old port offers typical cuisine where quality meets quantity in a savory and fresh twirl.
Pozzuoli port and city center
The bottom line is: should it be for its rich archeological heritage, for the tasty seafood or the warm welcome of its people, Pozzuoli deserves a place in your next trip to Sorrento.