The Rocky World of the Romans: A Study of Romans on the Bay of Naples and Their Physical Environment


June 25 – July 6, 2016

Joseph M. Romero (Professor of Classics);
Geology Consultant:
Jodie L. Hayob (Professor of Geology), University of Mary Washington

The peoples occupying the Bay of Naples in classical antiquity can have had little idea just how "interesting" the whole area was geologically: before February 63 AD, Mt. Vesuvius provided a quiet backdrop for a region endowed with the best natural port in western Italy and numerous natural resources, including hot springs, abundant fishing, and building materials (lumber, tufa, pozzolana cement, etc.). Indeed, apart from a few of the more scientifically minded (e.g., Seneca the Younger and Pliny the Elder), the Roman experience of nature was, on the whole, mediated through culture (religion, literature, etc.). We propose to conduct a tour in which scientific realities are placed center stage so we can evaluate how Romans interpreted and experienced their unique, and fateful, geological environment. During our stay, we will visit many of the most important sites both geologically and culturally. Some are chosen merely as an illustration of “big picture” geological realities (plate tectonics as well as the formation of the Mediterranean basin and its consequences for portage, fishing, arable land, etc.); the majority of our focus, however, will be on the obvious and prominent distinguishing characteristic of Neapolitan geology: its volcanism.

Thus, we will visit the hot springs at Ischia; the Sibyl’s cave at Cuma carved in volcanic rock; the fumaroles and evidence of bradyseisms of Solfatara/campi flegrei; Pozzuoli, important for its material for making cement and for the part it played in the formation of modern geological thought (i.e., an etching of the Temple at Serapis was used as the frontispiece in Charles Lyell's 1830 landmark book, Principles of Geology, to document local land level changes); the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli with its treasury of artifacts; Ercolano, preserved in volcanic ash, its shoreline expanded by volcanic debris; the ruins of Pompeii preserved in ash and pumice; and, of course, Monte Vesuvio (including an ascent). The tour begins, however, with three days in Rome—we explore hydrology, the Tiber floodplain, food culture, and the two most important of the Seven Hills.  Our trip will also include include appropriate breaks for relaxation and recreation, such as a food tour in Rome, outings to Sorrento, Capri, and a visit to the Lacryma Christi winery to investigate the relation between volcanism and terroir.

Sites include:  the Tiber floodplain in Rome and a cruise, Terracina, Sperlonga(Pithecusae Museum, Castello Arogonese), Cumae (Temple of Apollo, Atrium of the Sibyl), Lake Avernus, Baiae (Temple of Echo, other?), Bacoli, Misenum, Pozzuoli, Solfatara (Campi Flegrei), the island of Ischia (Temple of Jupiter Serapis, Flavian amphitheater), the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius and the Cantina del Vesuvio winery, Herculaneum, Sorrento, and the isle of Capri


We shall try to stick to the following itinerary, though adjustments may need to be made based on final enrollment in the program, site closures, and/or inclement weather.  We recommend arriving a few days early to get over jet lag so your tour can be as enjoyable as possible.

Prior to Arrival:

About a month before our trip, I will post on my website ( a module with basic information (site plans, maps, images, etc.) illuminating the sites we will visit.  The readings are not required, of course, but I think you will enjoy them.

Day 1 (Rome):

Meet in Rome at “the Centro,” our home base for three days.  Take a walk from the Trevi Fountain to the Pantheon to consider Roman hydrology, elegant marbles, and geologic time.  After lunch, an afternoon on the Tiber floodplain followed by a Tiber cruise.

Day 2 (Rome):

Two of the Seven Hills considered:  the Capitoline and the Palatine—and the valley between, the forum Romanum.

Day 3 (Rome):

A morning at the Geological Museum of Rome by San Lorenzo University.  In the afternoon, a food tour to consider the edibles produced on Italian soil.

Day 4 (Terracina, Sperlonga):

A chartered bus through Lazio to Campania, stopping at the foot of the Volscian hills in Terracina with its sanctuary of Jupiter Anxur and again at the luxurious villa and grotto of Tiberius at the seaside village of Sperlonga.  Arrive in time for dinner at the Villa Vergiliana, our base for the remainder of the trip (apart from a pair of days in Sorrento).

Day 5 (Bay of Naples):

Our study of volcanism begins in earnest with visits to Cumae—both its acropolis and the Sibyl’s cave; lunch by the entry to the Underworld, Lake Avernus; an afternoon at Pozzuoli whence came the cement that held so many Roman monuments together and a visit to the bubbling sulfur vents of Campi flegrei.

Day 6 (Bay of Naples):

A day on the trendy island of Ischia, home of a medieval Castello Argonese, the Pithecusae Museum; an afternoon of leisure at the Castiglione Thermal Park and some of Ischia’s famed hot springs.

Day 7 (Naples):

A morning in the Archaeological Museum and a walking tour of central Naples.

Day 8 (Pompeii):

A day in a city preserved in volcanic ash by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE.

Day 9 (Vesuvius and Herculaneum):

In the morning, we board a chartered bus to Mt. Vesuvius—the bold and willing can even climb to the top!  Tour of a winery and lunch at the Cantina del Vesuvio.  An afternoon stop at Herculaneum, that other great city frozen in the eruption of Vesuvius, before arriving at our hotel in Sorrento.

Day 10 (Capri):

A ferry to Capri where we visit the Villa Jovis.  Afternoon leisure in Capri, though optional visits to the Blue Grotto and the Monte Solaro chairlift (prices available upon request).  In the evening, return to our hotel in Sorrento.

Day 11 (Sorrento)

Leisure in Sorrento.  Optional cruise along the Amalfi coast (prices available upon request).  Late afternoon return to the Villa Vergiliana in Cuma.

Day 12 (Bay of Naples):

A last look at Roman seaside luxury in Baiae, Bacoli, and Misenum.

Day 13 (Rome)

Return to Rome by chartered bus.

Price: $2,695

Price includes:

  • Double-occupancy lodging at the Centro in Rome (three nights)
  • Double-occupancy lodging at the Villa Vergiliana in Cumae (seven nights)
  • Double-occupancy lodging in Sorrento (two nights)
  • All transportation during the program (by private air-conditioned motor coach or minibus, public bus, or public rail—as necessary)
  • Entrance fees to all sites and museums (except optional excursions, as noted)
  • Local guide fees
  • A packet with classroom materials, site plans/maps, readings
  • An attendance certificate
  • All breakfasts and dinners
  • All but three lunches

Not included:

  • Airfare to and from Rome (or Naples)
  • Tips for local guides and private bus driver
  • Optional excursions