Just a couple days after arriving in il bel paese we were sailing up to the port of the island of Ischia - our main destination. Well, ok, it wasn't technically sailing as we were on an "aliscafo" (a type of hi-speed ferry), but as Naples was to our back and I saw the small jutting rock of the Castello Arogonese in my view, I might have well been leaning off the front of the boat with my arms outstretched.
Well, I can say that Ischia met and exceeded any expectation. We pretty much fell in love. There's so much to say about the experience there, and I'm still trying to figure out how I want to tell it all...but for now I'll just start at the beginning...
The boat arrived at Ischia Porto, the island's largest town, where we took a small bus to Ischia Ponte (the smaller, more "antique" area where the Castello is). Our hotel was easy to find and we were greeted by the lovely Rosa whom we chatted with a bit before she led us to our room...with a terrace and view of the sea and the Castello Aragonese. I'd looked at a few different hotels, but really wanted to be within view of the Castello. So there we were. I reenacted the scene in the Talented Mr. Ripley when they arrived in Ischia, singing "Moooooongibellllllooooo!", and then we headed out for an evening in the town.
We walked towards the Castello and stopped to have a coffee. Unfortunately, even though the island is within view of Napoli, the coffee was back to the normal Italian standard (which is still amazing...but I was missing Naples' marocchino). It was getting to be later in the afternoon, and the weather was perfect so we decided to go ahead and explore Il Castello Aragonese. After walking across the narrow bridge to the entrance, we rode an elevator up through the rock to the upper level. Here the views opened up before us and for the next couple of hours we just soaked in a wonderful welcome from this lovely place.
This rock's first fortress of any kind was built way back in 474 b.c. by the Greek ruler of Syracuse. From that time many changes in ownership, occupation, and architecture have occurred. Inhabitants have included the Romans, Visigoths, Vandals, Arabs, Norman, Germans, French, Angevins, and probably most famously the Aragonians, whose ruler rebuilt the castle, fortified the walls, and built the stone bridge in place today. This small island was in itself a small town with over 2000 families living there at a point in time. There was an abbey, multiple churches, gardens, homes, and civic buildings. Today some have been destroyed by battling groups, but much still remains. There's a few churches to visit, a crypt, parts of the abbey, and now including a hotel, a couple restaurants, museum, art gallery, and even classrooms used by various European arts & culture groups.
An interesting thing we happened upon was a modern art exhibit being held at the Chiesa dell'Immacolata, one of the larger domed churches on the island built in 1737. The entire space was painted a stark white...walls, ceiling, dome, fixtures - all to present a clean gallery "canvas" for two contemporary artists showing at the exhibit. It was quite fascinating to see a church space converted in this way - especially with one of my favorite styles of art being shown by the Slovenian painter, Cveto Marsic. We then continued through many of the other sites...ruins of the main cathedral, few other smaller churches, plenty of gardens, a couple of exhibits...and lots of gorgeous overlooks.
The sun was just starting to think about making a descent when we finally decided to leave. Chris picked a handful of wild arugula that we saw growing abundantly on the walkways (which we saved for some sandwiches the next day), and we made our way back to street level by taking the enormous winding tunnels leading down through the earth.
We sat on the bridge watching the sun go down before heading back to the hotel to get ready for our first dinner in Ischia...and the rest of the week.
to be continued...