Capo Miseno, Bacoli, not far from Naples

The light at Capo Miseno, Bácoli. The lighthouse was bombed in WWII and rebuilt in 1954

The light at Capo Miseno, Bacoli. The lighthouse was bombed in WWII and rebuilt in 1954

A couple of weeks ago, like moths to a flame, we set off by car to find the lighthouse at Capo Miseno, on the north-westerly tip of the Bay of Naples.  The dog in the back was beyond excitement.

Within a few miles he could smell the sea to our left and the fresh trees and orchards around the lakes, and down the hillsides to our right.

View from above the tunnel that leads to the lighthouse at Capo Miseno

View from above the tunnel that leads to the lighthouse at Capo Miseno

The road itself was narrow and direct.  First through Baia and then on through Bacoli with its villas, restaurants, crowded marina and the chat of families heading to the beaches.

In Misenum the roads became closer and narrower and the direction upwards.  The nerves started to tingle.  There is something about a steep blind corner that rattles … however well-travelled, or Alfa Romeo your wheels might be.  Once committed though there is nothing to do but carry on …

View from the first viewpoint out over part of the old Roman harbour at Miseno

View from the first viewpoint out over part of the old Roman harbour at Miseno

The first viewpoint we came to swept out to the curve of the bay below, one of the bays that used to harbour the Roman fleet.  The evening light spread gold through the low rocks and the sea was quiet.  I found it hard to fill the picture with the noise, the ships and the men required to keep one of Rome’s most important fleets operational, but it wasn’t hard to see why the naturally sheltered site had been chosen.

Vesuvius on the horizon - all innocence

Vesuvius on the horizon – all innocence

On the viewpoint walls couples kissed and whispered.  Somehow it felt right – the glorious naval years of Misenum were connected to one of the greatest love affairs in history – that of Marc Antony and Cleopatra.

It didn’t end well though.  The worst of it was after Julius Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC.

Years of political turmoil followed Caesar’s murder but the real crunch came when Rome learned that the relatively recently entwined Antony and Cleopatra had their eyes on Rome. Immediately Caesar’s adopted son Octavian, with his right hand man, Agrippa, set about trying to defeat the threat.

In 31 BC at Actium, just off the coast of Greece, there was a terrible naval battle which Octavian won. Antony and Cleopatra fled, eventually committing suicide rather than face capture.

That wasn’t the worst of it – Octavian also killed the couple’s children and the son Cleopatra had had with his own adoptive father, Julius Caesar.

It was a brutal victory with many consequences for world history: it ended the line of true pharaohs in Egypt; it swept away the Roman Republic; it brought about the birth of the Roman Empire; and it created Rome’s first emperor – Emperor Augustus (formerly Octavian).

The chaos and change also taught Rome some lessons, one of which was a new appreciation of naval power.  As a result it became Agrippa’s task to develop the bay and the natural lakes at Misenum into one of the Roman Empire’s two main naval bases.

The natural harbours at Miseno

The natural harbours at Miseno

The day we visited there was little sign from where we were of all this other than the lakes, and reports say even they have changed over time thanks to the local volcanoes and sudden land shifts.  Apparently when nearby Monte Nuovo erupted in 1538 land that had been slowly dropping for years suddenly rose by up to seven metres.

We peered around the clinging couples and tried to imagine the area below us as it must have been when a great naval base.  It was possible but only by a thread … and the dog was not impressed.  He needed more than a car park.

Path through the flowers on Capo Miseno in May

Path through the flowers on Capo Miseno in May

So we headed on through a long tunnel with squeezing space for one and a half cars.  It opened out on another view point and what was very definitely the end of the road.  The lighthouse was fenced off behind a closed gate to our right whilst to our left a path headed up through the flowers towards the evening sky.

It was only us and a few other walkers there that evening.  We set off into the scent of flowers with views in all directions.  The dog could not have been happier.

View from Capo Miseno to the islands of Ischia and Procida

View from Capo Miseno to the islands of Ischia and Procida

We were in the land of myths and legends but he didn’t care.  He wasn’t bothered by the story in Virgil’s Aeneid about Misenus, the conch player, who was drowned by the Gods in the waters below.

He was untroubled by the historical accounts of Pliny the Younger about the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.  He had no interest whatever in Pliny the Elder’s courageous expedition towards the eruption, nor that he never made it home.

The last of the sun and the first of the moon on Capo Miseno

The last of the sun and the first of the moon on Capo Miseno

What interested him were the rustling sounds in the banks of wild flowers, and what he loved was the cool that came with the last of the sun across the twisting paths.

The sounds of Capo Miseno

The sounds of Capo Miseno

We were at the very tip of so much history but in the end it was the beauty of the location that left its mark on all of us.

Capo Miseno

Capo Miseno

Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2016

Here are some of the sources I used to research this article:

The Romans on the Bay of Naples – an Archaeological Guide by Lawrence Keppie (published by History Press 2009) 

Lighthouses of Italy, Campania and Lazio

The 1538 Monte Nuovo eruption

How the Battle of Actium Changed the World

The Imperial Roman Port of Baia

Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa

Mark Antony

The Timeline of the Life of Cleopatra

The Choice of Achilles:  The Ideology of Figure in the Epic – Susan Wofford

 

8 thoughts on “Capo Miseno, Bacoli, not far from Naples

  1. Reblogged this on The Phraser and commented:

    A look back (first published 3 June 2015): my thanks to Drusilla Gillen who, in the comments at the end of the original post, provided the following information: “… the current thinking is that the children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, first twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, followed by Ptolemy Philadelphus, survived.
    Cleopatra’s son by Julius Ceasar, Caesarian was a threat to Octavians inheritance, so was killed. But the others were sent to Rome and (bizarrely,) cared for by Marc Anthony’s previous wife, Octavian’s sister Octavia Minor.
    Like the princes in the tower, the boys disappear from history, only Cleopatra Selene survived, appearing again, married to King Juba II of Mauritania.”

    Like

  2. Georgie said I may – so I’m not being a smartie-pants… but the current thinking is that the children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, first twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, followed by Ptolemy Philadelphus, survived.
    Cleopatra’s son by Julius Ceasar, Caesarian was a threat to Octavians inheritance, so was killed. But the others were sent to Rome and (bizarrely,) cared for by Marc Anthony’s previous wife, Octavian’s sister Octavia Minor.
    Like the princes in the tower, the boys disappear from history, only Cleopatra Selene survived, appearing again, married to King Juba II of Mauritania.

    Georgie, as ever your powers of description are superb. You describe both new and favourite local places with wit and acute observation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just received this information which is well worth adding:

    The current thinking is that the children of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, first twins Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, followed by Ptolemy Philadelphus, survived.
    Caesarion as a son of Julius Ceasar and therefore threat to Octavians inheritance, was killed, but the others were sent to Rome and (bizarrely,) cared for by Octavian’s sister, Octavia.
    Like the princes in the tower, the boys disappear from history, only Cleopatra Selene survived, and appears again married to King Juba II of Mauretania.

    And then a new detail came through:

    P.S… Octavia Minor was of course Marc Anthony’s current/previous wife at the time(s) of him shacking up with Cleopatra, and brought up her children with the daughters she’s had with Marc Anthony – Antonia Major and Antonia Minor. Plus the two sons of Anthony’s previous marriage! Antonia Minor goes on to found a dynasty…all the way down to Nero.

    Incredibly complicated but there’s the thread through to Nero. Many thanks to Drusilla Gillen. Any other information most welcome.

    Like

Space for comments

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s