I love a great vampire story. There is something terrifyingly romantic about the undead roaming around seducing unsuspecting innocents into having their life blood sucked out.
It doesn’t hurt to have sexy vampires like Frank Langella, Christopher Lee, the amazingly talented and compelling Gary Oldman (my favorite) and even George Hamilton. These guys turning up at my bedside at night might make me start thinking that the afterlife could be an acceptable lifestyle change for a gal like me!
I also love our area in the Riviera Dei Cedri. So imagine my delight when I found out that there was a vampire in San Nicola Arcella!
Well this vampire doesn’t really live (or not live) there but she has been immortalized by American writer Francis Marion Crawford who lived in San Nicola in the 1800’s and rented the lookout tower that is now named for him, as a quiet place to write.
Crawford Tower is one of a network of lookout towers dotting the coastline of Southern Italy from which warnings were raised at the first sight of Saracen and Ottoman pirates and brigands back in the day when these things were a serious threat to anyone living along the coast.
When sighting invaders, the lookouts in the tower lit fires to send a signal to the other towers along the coast and to the towns, that invaders were coming and advising them to retire to their protected places until the threat was gone.
These towers were used for centuries up until the 1800’s when they were demilitarized and no longer used. Each town that has one now features it as an attraction like the Talao Tower in Scalea.
And one of these towers remains on a rocky promontory in San Nicola Arcella.
It was there that Francis Marion Crawford fell in love with it one day, left for a time and returned to his beach party with the keys to the tower in his hands, having rented it for his own use.
And it is in this tower that the story “For the Blood is the Life” was written in which the glorious vampire appears and just happens to be named Cristina.
Yes, this vampiress and I share a name but I swear that my teeth are ridiculously inadequate for blood sucking making it inefficient and extremely messy unless I am grappling with an underdone steak and the proper cutlery.
I am not “that” Cristina.
Cristina was a peasant girl who fell afoul of robbers. She subsequently haunted the area just outside of Crawford Tower sipping the life energy from anyone who happened to go near her.
The story is creepy but in his descriptions of the scenery and the people, Crawford gives an amazingly vivid account of life in Calabria in the 1800’s.
While “For the Blood is the Life” is a fascinating read, Crawford also wrote the story for the movie I saw as a teen that caused me to endure many sleepless nights. The story and the movie were called “The Screaming Skull”.
In this story Crawford details actual, real gaslighting at its most extreme but (spoiler alert) justice prevails. I won’t tell you how. This is still one of the scariest/creepiest movies I have ever seen.
Creepy stories aside, Crawford wrote many stories and novels based in Italy and gave readers glimpse after glimpse of life in Italy in the 1800’s as he was uniquely familiar with the social, political and cultural aspects of life all over Italy.
If you want to read some of Crawford’s amazingly vivid stories, you can fined them on the Gutenberg Project website, They are now in the public domain so you can download them for free. What better way to while away the time lounging on the beach in San Nicola Arcella this Summer?
You have been to Rome and seen the ruins and remnants of ancient Roman civilizations piled bit by bit on top of each other until they sometimes seem to blur into a vague category in your consciousness entitled “Ancient Roman History”.
As you whiz through Rome amongst the crazy traffic and high speed buzzing scooters, you can get lost in a world dating back to before Christ when gladiators were rock stars and Roman emperors and their courts were living, breathing reality shows.
You love history but it gets a bit crazed and overwhelming at times doesn’t it?
This is why you need to visit Paestum.
Nestled along the coast among farmlands sprouting olives, artichokes and the famous buffalo (mothers of the creamy delightful mozzarella da bufala that gracefully crowns the best pizzas on the planet) you will find an ancient archeological treasure containing the best preserved Greek ruins in the world.
Paestum not only features miraculously preserved Greek temples (The temples of Hera, Athena and Neptune) but is an entire ancient Greek city laid out exactly as it was 500 years before Christ.
As you wander this ancient city looking at the temples, the marketplace, the gymnasium with its grand pool, and the houses still containing the mosaic tiled floors, you can blink and suddenly find yourself back in that time period.
You can see the columns and loggia (columned walkways) bordering the government buildings and marketplace. You can hear the voices of the vendors in the market selling wine, fruits and vegetables cultivated nearby, and fish just pulled from the sea. You can smell the food being cooked to purchase and take away and the bread baked in the early morning hours in time to be sold fresh at the market later in the day.
It is a perfect snapshot of history still fresh although it existed almost 2,500 years ago.
Paestum was founded at the mouth of the Sele River by the Achaeans (from Achaea in the area of the Peloponnese in Greece) who had originally landed in Sybaris (across the Italian boot on the coast of the Ionian Sea) but fled from there in about 600 B.C and found their way here. *
Before the Roman Empire took over the vast majority of Europe and ultimately parts of Africa and Egypt, the Magna Grecia was in full flower.
The Magna Grecia started in the 8th and 7th centuries BC and covered much of the southern areas of Italy’s famous boot including areas in Campania, Baslilcata, Calabria, Apulia and Sicily.
Settlers from Greece began arriving on these coasts bringing with them the Hellenic culture, philosophies, agriculture and the basics of Greek civilization.
And Paestum was one of the beautiful Magna Grecian cities that was born at that time nestled within its defensive stone walls running along the banks of the Sele River and the crystal blue Tyrrhenian Sea.
A visit to Paestum today is a short and beautiful train ride south from Naples or north from Reggio Calabria.
From our village of Santa Domenica Talao, it is an hour and a half of gorgeous scenery as you wind your way along the glorious coast to the shady avenue that leads you directly from the Paestum train station into the archeological park.
As soon as you arrive within the walls that protected this ancient Greek city, you can see outlines of walkways and buildings and in one glorious sweep you take in the magnificent temple of Neptune (or Poseidon if you are an ancient Roman) rising up and glowing pinkish gold in the Tyrrhenian sunshine.
How to Best Explore Paestum
Most visitors see Paestum in Spring, Summer or Fall. At any of these times the weather can be quite hot and humid making it challenging to see all of the park and the museum.
The best way to see Paestum is to arrive as early in the morning as you can and explore the city before the heat of the afternoon sun chases you inside.
Take a break at lunch and have a fantastic meal at the Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose which is on the corner of the tree lined street filled with gift shops that runs the length of the park.
Normally I do not recommend eating anywhere near monuments and attractions but Ristorante Pizzeria Delle Rose seems to be an exception to that rule. We had an amazing meal with fresh pasta and fish dishes at a great price. The service despite the busy lunch crowd, was warm and efficient.
After your refreshing lunch, head over to the air conditioned museum to see the myriad of artifacts that have been unearthed and put on display.
It is amazing that these every day items are so perfectly preserved giving us a glimpse of a long ago civilization as though we were looking in the shop windows alongside the people who lived there at that time.
Beyond the miraculously preserved Greek temples and the historical snapshot of a bustling city, Paestum is a place that has a very special feel. It is a place of unrivaled aesthetic and spiritual expansion that mortal words cannot really describe.
In short, Paestum has to be experienced to fully understand the inherent beauty, not only of the remnants of a magnificent civilization but of the very civilization that sired it.
Southern Italy, the home of the Magna Grecia is a treasure chest of Ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan civilizations and artifacts. It is also home to some of the most magnificent beaches and glorious stretches of coastline on the planet.
Super Savvy Travelers are Southern Italy experts. We have a home here and spend our waking hours exploring and learning about all aspects of this spectacular region that has been completely ignored by travel guidebooks and is only now being discovered by Savvy Travelers and culinary experts.
Call us if you want to visit this dazzling region. We will set up a trip that you will never forget.
* Historical data gleaned from Guide Arte”m Paestum The archaeological park, the museum/temple of Hera Argiva” and Wikipedia
So you are heading off to Italy! You researched flights online and got the best deal or you went with a travel agent. You have your hotels, your trains, your cars all figured out. It is going to be GREAT!
And it will be. You almost cannot go to Italy and have it be anything other than great.
But Italy, with all its beautiful cities, amazing structures and fabulous art can be a bit overwhelming. Everywhere you look there is something spectacular to see. Italy is a giant art bath and it literally takes your breath away.
So how do you somehow get everything in order in your mind so that you don’t see it all in a giant blur and then not remember any of it?
My husband and I are avid Italophiles. We have a place in Calabria and get over there whenever we can. We always stop over in Rome and many times Florence before taking the train down south and every time we go we see new and exciting things.
Florence is a very special city and the birth place of the Renaissance.
But Rome and Florence can also be a giant blur unless you know the history and at least have an idea of the chronology of the events and the personalities that have shaped these cities and made them bright stars in Italy’s crown.
Since we first realized that we needed proper context in order to really enjoy these cities on a deeper level, my husband and I started purchasing courses through The Great Courses.
In addition we founda great series on YouTube that anyone can view for free. There is so much available that it is difficult to pick out a few favorites.
1) “The Rise of Rome” by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete Ph.D. (The Great Courses Plus)
In his course The Rise of Rome, Dr. Aldrete explains in entertaining detail how from the 8th century BC, Rome rose to a massive civilization that controlled the entire Mediterranean basin and beyond.
Dr. Aldrete not only goes over the chronology of the rise of Rome but puts in perspective all of the main events and characters that shaped Rome as she rose and then started her demise.
Dr Aldrete is as entertaining as he is brilliant sometimes giving his lecture in a Roman toga and inserting anecdotes that enlighten and add color.
Many of the Great Courses lectures are offered in DVD format or you can stream them. They come with an accompanying text with pictures and important information but even if you simply watch the lectures you will gather tons of great data that will put the entire city in perspective for you.
2) “Meet the Romans” series by Dame Mary Beard(YouTube)
Dame Mary Beard is a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge as well a a fellow of Newnham College and the Royal Academy of Arts. Honestly she has so many achievements that it would take pages to list them all, however despite her amazing depth of knowledge of all things Roman, Dame Mary Beard has managed to create a series that is intimate and understandable.
The most fascinating part of her series is that she follows the steps of the Roman Empire and on the way, translates various monuments and grave stones from Latin to English and gives historical context to each one.
Apparently back in ancient Rome, when someone died, a lot of information about them was written on their grave markers. Since these are in Latin, we pass them by in the streets, in alleyways and lining the Via Appia, and never know what secret treasures they contain.
Dame Mary opens up this treasure trove of intimate information so we see how the inhabitants of Ancient Rome lived, from the emperors to the men and women in the streets.
3) “The Prince” by Professor William Landon (The Great Courses Plus)
The Prince is a lecture series that follows the life and downfall of Niccolo Machiavelli and the impact his book “The Prince” has had on society up to and including present day.
Machiavelli lived in Florence during the Renaissance and is a contemporary of Michelangelo, Lorenzo De’ Medici, Rafael, Leonardo Da Vinci and the insane Franciscan monk, Savonarola.
Political situations were volatile back then and one could be in a cushy government job one minute and hanging upside down in a bonfire in the piazza the next.
This lecture series gives a close up look not only at the political situation and surrounding events during that incredibly active time, but also how the crucible of political upheaval helped create Machiavelli’s brilliant work and how his ideas have permeated our culture today.
Walking the streets of Florence, you can’t help but understand better everything around you and to see the city in its ancient context bringing the Renaissance to life.
4)“The Genius of Michelangelo” by Professor William E. Wallace.(The Great Courses Plus)
Of all the courses my husband and I have studied, this is my favorite because I have a deep love and respect for the genius that is Michelangelo.
Professor Wallace shares that love and respect and takes you through the journey of Michelangelo’s life from his relatively ignoble birth to his rise in Florence and to the associations with various popes who commissioned him to create some of the most beautiful art works ever created anywhere.
Florence is a treasure trove of Michelangelo’s works and one of the homes he owned is now a museum dedicated to him where you can see up close and personal his early works like “The Madonna of the Stairs” and “The Battle of the Centaurs”.
Walk in Michelangelo’s footsteps in both Florence and Rome and see where they cross those of Machiavelli and Leonard Da Vinci. Glimpse of the personality of the artist and understand the barriers he had to overcome to create everything he created in one short life time.
This lecture series more than any other take both Rome and Florence from one dimensional tourist destinations to multi dimensional story tellers with every street, palace or museum contributing to the tale.
5) “Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City” by Professor Steven L. Tuck (The Great Courses Plus)
In the days of the Roman Empire, Pompeii was a thriving port city and a playground for the rich. That all changed in 79 AD when an explosion blew the entire top off the mountain of Vesuvius and created a pyroclastic flow that killed everything in its path and enshrouded the entire city and all its inhabitant in volcanic ash where they lay for centuries.
It was not until the 1700’s that Pompeii was properly discovered and excavations began uncovering a city almost perfectly preserved as if in amber right down to a loaf of bread that was cooking in a bakery as the eruption began.
Walk with professor Tuck through the ancient city and get a taste of life on the Mediterranean in ancient times.
6) The Life and Operas of Verdi” by Dr. Robert Greenberg (The Great Courses Plus)
In addition to being an Italophile and Renaissance addict I am also a musician. I have purchased and studied many of Dr. Greenberg’s lectures and find him uniquely understandable and highly entertaining.
Travel with him through the life and the operas of Italy’s favorite musical son up through the Italian Risorgimento.
Verdi’s operas are beautifully constructed and anyone who loves opera has seen one or more of them.
Dr. Greenberg gives us a glimpse of Verdi’s character, his trials and tribulations as well as his resounding successes. This is all presented within a rich historical context giving us a unique slice of life in Verdi’s beloved Italy.
If you love music, you will love this set of lectures. On another topic, Dr. Greenberg has similar lectures exploring the life and works of Beethoven and an all around favorite “How to Listen to and Understand great Music”
These lectures and other similar studies have deepened our understanding of these unique beautiful Italian cities and of Italy itself.
Italy has the deepest and richest history of any European country. It boasts of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and gave birth to the most compelling and greatest artists, architects and statesmen the world has ever seen.
If you study even one on the above lecture series, you will have a depth of understanding that will allow you to remember your trip long after you return home and will also you to reignite your memories when you rewatch them.
The Great Courses offers the courses we referenced above and much more through the Great Courses Plus video-on-demand service offering over 8,000 engaging video courses taught by university professors from top schools. We have viewed many of their courses and recommend them without hesitation. The Great Courses Plus has a free 30-day trial that you can take advantage of by clicking on the banner link below. We do receive a commission from signups through this link, but it’s at no extra cost to you and helps us fund additional content for this site.