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Visitors to Pompeii are being encouraged to tour some of the other ancient sites in the area by a new initiative launched by the Regional Council of Campania (and backed by 433 million euros from the EU). You can now buy a three-day ticket that will give you access to the sites and museums of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Caserta, Velia, Paestum, the Phlegrean Fields and Naples and at the same time use the hydrofoil ferries, funicular and underground railways and the bus network.
The catch is, of course, that you will have to stay in the Naples area for two or three days in order to take advantage of this offer whereas most tourists simply turn up in a coach, spend the morning in Pompeii and then head for somewhere else. However when people are genuinely trying to make life easier for tourists, I don’t mind giving them a reasonable quid pro quo and although Naples is not my favourite city, there are many comfortable hotels and attractive restaurants that will make your stay enjoyable.
Incidentally, you may be wondering what the Phlegrean Fields are. The Phlegrean Underwater Archaeological Park of Baia, to give it the full name, was only opened in June of 2001 and is a novel way of displaying a sunken city. In Roman times Baia was a luxury city where people such as Julius Caesar, Cicero, Mark Anthony, Caligula and Hadrian had homes. Since then the land has sunk, carrying the remains of these villas beneath the waves, but because of the sheltered nature of the bay, the remains have not been turned into a chaotic muddle. Walls, statues and mosaic floors are all there to be seen by anyone willing to don a scuba mask and join a guided tour (or float over the area in a glass-bottomed boat).
Oddly, we have the fascists to thank for many of the archaeological sites in Campania, for in the 1930s a certain Umberto Zanotti Bianco was exiled to this remote and unhealthy area by Mussolini’s government. Although under constant police surveillance, Bianco used his exile to explore the area and try to identify the sites mentioned by Strabo. He was assisted by a professional archaeologist, Paola Zancani Montuoro and together the two were resonsible for many significant finds. It is pleasing to record that the new Paestum museum makes room among all its computerised displays to tell the story of Bianco and his exile.