Finding Pozzuoli


findingPZIn my first blog post, In the Beginning there was a Camera, I shared about living in Naples as a teenager and discovering photography during that time.  I would venture to downtown Naples and take photographs of life on the streets.  One day back then I decided to explore the old town of Pozzuoli with a friend of mine, I was about 14 at the time.  I recently came across those old negatives and decided to write this blog post after visiting Pozzuoli again last month. All the black and white photos here were taken back then.

Pozzuoli is an ancient little town about 20 kilometers northwest of Naples, Italy.  Originally named Dicearchia, it was settled by the Greeks around 521 BC.  Later, around 194 BC, the Romans renamed it Puteoli, which eventually became Pozzuoli. Over time, this little town became a major crossroads of travel and commerce for the Roman empire.  In spite of being nearly 250 kilometers away, Pozzuoli essentially served as the main port city for Rome until around 54 AD.  Agriculture and commerce passed through Puteoli from as far away as Egypt, Spain, and Palestine. Misenum, in the same bay as Pozzuoli, was once home to the largest navy fleet in the ancient world.

The outer walls of Pozzuoli under renovation. The peninsula in the distance is the other side of the bay and was once home to the world's largest ancient naval fleet.
The outskirts of old Pozzuoli now renovated.

The history of Pozzuoli is rich and fascinating. The apostle Paul landed here and spent a week in the city on his way to Rome. An amphitheatre in Pozzuoli called the “Flavian Amphitheatre” is the 3rd largest ancient amphitheatre in Italy, behind only the Roman amphitheatre and Capuan amphitheatre in Caserta. This region was a favorite vacation spot for Roman nobility, including some emperors who had vacation villas here. Pozzuoli is also the childhood home of Sofia Loren.

Vespa repair shop in old Pozzuoli

The region where Pozzuoli is located is a  large volcanic area known as the Plagraean Fields (Campi Flegrei  in Italian).  The area is comprised of 24  volcanic craters. One of the dormant volcanoes close to Pozzuoli is named Solfatara.

One of the renovated chapels

Solfatara continuously emits steam with sulfur fumes.  When my family lived in Naples, my high school was just a couple kilometers from Puzzouli next to the US Navy base. The rotten egg like odor of sulfur always lingered in our school. The name Puteoli cames from the Latin word puture, ‘to stink.'

I became especially interested in the history of this region after reading the book  Pompeii by Robert Harris.  This is a historic fiction based around the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which buried Pompeii. I actually read it while I was visiting the area several years ago. What was especially interesting was the reference to the aquaduct system which once served the area, the Aqua Agusta. The Aqua Agusta served 8 cities of the region including Puteoli, Naples, and Pompeii.  This was one of the most costly and difficult aquaducts built in the ancient world, extending 140 kilometers. It took 10 years just to plan it. Part of the system included vast caverns under Naples which were carved out of tufa limestone formations and served as cisterns for storing water. During World War II these caverns served as air raid shelters. It's possible today to actually go under the city and tour some of these caverns. Naples Underground

This map shows the Bay of Naples and route of the Aqua Agusta

The above map of the Aqua Agusta was provided by Professor Dr. Cees W. Passchier, a preeminent expert on the Roman aqueduct system. You can see his work at:

Roman Aqueducts Project and Roman Aqueduct Info

At the time my family moved to Naples in the 80's, this region was experiencing extensive earthquake activity. It was so bad that the ancient little town of Pozzuoli was essentially abandoned, creating a wave of local refugees. The government set up mobile housing villages and attempted to find homes for all the displaced families. The home that my family would end up renting became available as a direct result of this situation. Our home was a beautiful new villa in a beach community about 20 or so kilometers north of here. It was built by a successful Italian business man as a second home for his family, who lived not far from Naples. Given there was a shortage of housing and the fact that this was going to be a second home, the government essentially gave him an ultimatum - either rent his new home  it to an American family or rent it to one of the displaced families of Pozzuoli.

Ancient Roman columns in old Pozzuoli
A view of the old city with the bay in the background


The oldest part of the town is built up on a small hill with high walls and jets out on the sea.  It is built up because the "new" parts had essentially been built on the old Roman town. There's a network of tunnels and corridors underneath. After the evacuation, the whole old town had essentially been sealed off.  My friend and I ventured down and actually found a way to sneak in.  It was truly abandoned, empty, literally an ancient ghost town. It was surreal and a little eerie to walk around an empty town that had been a hub of life and activity for thousands of years and now stood empty. Heavily damaged apartments were opened and some even still had some furniture in them.  There were two churches and ancient Roman columns which once served as some type of structure.  We climbed on the roof and could see the entire bay of Pozzuoli which had once been the busiest bay in the Roman Empire.

A view of the old town from the metro station



On the top of a roof with a view of the bay
A destroyed apartment building
The entrance to the old Roman corridors under Pozzuoli, not open to the public
These men seemed to have some type of official involvement with the town's restoration
Modern view of the bay
Ancient market at Pozzuoli

About a month ago I ventured back to Pozzuoli after spending a week on a photo shoot in Catania, Sicily.  The old town has undergone extensive renovation over the past decade and is still uninhabited.  The idea is to turn it into some type of tourist attraction/destination.

It was amazing to walk these narrow little streets again after nearly 3 decades.  The day I went was a Sunday, and it happened to be Mother's Day.  They were holding a church service in the very church that had been in ruins when I photographed it as a teenager.

A catholic mass was in procession in this church when I re-visited Pozzuoli.
At Pompeii, I realized I have some kind of connection to Italian towns next to volcanoes, Catania: Mt. Etna, Naples: Vesuvius, Pozzuoli: Solfatara

I spent a couple days in Naples photographing the streets where I first discovered my love of photography.  I love this crazy and chaotic city and always feel at home when I'm here.  I met up with a friend who happened to be traveling through Naples at the same time and went to Pompeii.  I've been to Pompeii many times over the years but it's always great to return. My trip to Naples wrapped up an amazing and intense 10-day adventure through parts of a country that I have a deep and profound connection to.  I captured some amazing moments and will be sharing these images in the coming months and making many of them available to purchase as fine art prints.  Now, it was time to get back to Prague!

Downtown Naples
(L) Gladiators once walked through this main entrance to the Pompeii Colosseum. (R) A Neapolitan family busking on the train from Naples to Pompeii - the kid had some crazy chops on that drum!
Vinyard at Pompeii. The modern
One of the vineyards at Pompeii, some of these vines were planted in the exact same location that grape vines grew 2000 years ago.
Downtown Naples
Downtown Naples

Back to Prague

I hit the 3-month mark of living in Prague.  It's amazing how much changes in just 3 months.  I keep loving this place more and more.  I've made some great friends and keep feeling more at home here.  I'm starting to run into people I know on the streets.  The hardest part has been missing friends and family.  Sometimes, this missing literally takes the form of a physical ache.  I hadn't really thought about this part of being an expat, but it's definitely something people deal with.  I left a deep root of connections to an amazing cast of characters that are my friends and family in New Mexico.

Morning in downtown Prague

I'm encountering a lot of interesting, serendipitous run ins with people who have some connection to New Mexico.  There are two people I will be playing music with soon, one an American from Albuquerque, the other a Czech man who's a professor and once taught at the University of New Mexico.  It was a little surreal to be sitting in a bar in Prague talking to two people I just met about Frontier Restaurant green chili breakfast burritos - and they both got it.  The Czech Realtor who I randomly called and helped me rent my flat has a friend in Albuquerque, and I found out that I have 11 mutual friends with her friend.  I have a new 'beer buddy,' an American expat who lived in New Mexico; he uses his friends' address in Albuquerque to receive mail in the states and his friend lives just a couple blocks from my sister. Breaking Bad has ensured that people all around the world know about my little home city in the desert.  The other day when I told someone where I'm from he got really happy and said in a deep European accent, "Oh, that's where Heisenberg is from!" It's almost as if the Land of Enchantment is looking out for me, little by little filling in the holes of loneliness with a great new cast of characters, and keeping me connected to my other home.

My new favorite hang, Simply u Kravaty, the best "dive bar" in Prague.
A few of the cast of characters, my new friends at Simply u Kravaty, Luca, Karl, Sara, and Jack
A few of the cast of characters, my new friends at Simply u Kravaty, Luca, Karl, Sara, and Jack
Luca and Sara, The Italian owners of Simply Y Kravaty
Luca and Sara, the Italian owners of Simply u Kravaty. Luca is a master multitasker, he doesn't miss a beat with the beer tap while keeping both eyes on the latest soccer game playing on the big flat screen above the bar.

New Mexico, "The Land of Enchantment," is often referred to as the "Land of Entrapment."  There are endless stories that go something like this: a guy was driving through Albuquerque and his Volvo broke down on Central and he never left, a couple goes to Santa Fe for a weekend of skiing and they end up buying a home, etc.  I'm kind of starting to get the feeling that Prague is a little like the "Land of Entrapment." I consistently hear stories from people who came to spend a week, a month, etc., and never left.

I was suppose to go to Romania last week.  I was registered for a conference and was going to spend 5 days shooting around Bucharest and Transylvania. However, I missed my flight.  There's really no reason I should have missed it,  I gave myself enough time but it took almost 30 minutes longer than normal to get to the airport.  When I realized I missed my flight, I did what any wise person does when they miss an airplane, I went to the bar to have a beer and think about what I was going to do with my life.  It was really going to be too expensive to try to make the conference, and I would have missed most of it.  I thought through it and decided to just cancel the trip, I could do the photo shoot another time and I actually I thought it would be better to go when it's cooler.  Prague had other plans for me, and that was actually OK!

Karaoke in a medieval cellar

This is what happens in my neighborhood (make sure your volume is up)


I was very excited to get this e-mail-my visa was approved! 



It's not like there was any reason to be concerned that my visa wouldn't be approved, but there's always that fear that something's going to happen, like getting a message from some bureaucratic that goes something like: "Hey we're changing all the rules now and we're starting with you!"

The final step to actually obtaining my visa was to get my health insurance lined up and registered with the police.  After this was in place I had to actually go to the Czech embassy in Berlin to physically pick up my visa.  The annual premium for my health insurance with the largest provider in the Czech Republic is about $700, yes my American friends-$700! My visa advisor, Jitka, "The Visa Guru," said that she could actually have my visa picked up by another one of her clients, Sara who would be going to Berlin to get hers. Once I had my visa in hand, I had 3 days to register with the police. This process is pretty straightforward but involves going to the central police station, taking a number and waiting  for hours along with hundreds of other people from all over the world who are also registering themselves.

I went in the morning to make sure I would have enough time to complete the process and make an afternoon doctor's appointment.  I had injured my leg and I couldn't miss this appointment.  After a couple hours I started to think I wasn't going to have enough time and might need to just come back and finish the process of registering the next day.  As I sat waiting, I was reading a book, a lady sat next to me.  I couldn't tell what country she was from but assumed she was probably European.  After about 15 minutes I looked up from my book and made some comment about how long it was taking.  She responded and turned out she was American, from Texas.

We talked for a bit and I asked her if she had help getting her visa - she said "yes, this lady the Visa Guru" helped me.

I said, "Huh, did you just go to Berlin the other day?"

She said "Yes!"

I said, "Well thanks, you picked up my visa for me!"  Soon I realized that my number would not be called in time for me to make my doctor's appointment.  I decided I would just come back the next morning.  I gave Sara my ticket which saved her about an hour of waiting, a small payback for saving me an entire day's journey to Berlin.

I wrote my first blog post back in November as I was working hard to set sail on this journey.  Here's a small part of that first post:

"The serendipity I experience with photography is now, for me, the equivalent of spiritual bread crumbs, leading to a path that has a heart.

This blog is the beginning of sharing that serendipity - both past and present. I’ve started the process of scanning years' worth of film negatives, and as I go through them, I realize I have some stories to tell."

It's happening.


3 thoughts on “Finding Pozzuoli

  1. Kyle Zimmerman

    I love the bread crumbs... Where they lead, where they originate. Thank you for knowing me!!

  2. Pamela Catey

    Seth, what an amazing journey you are on. Keep following those spiritual breadcrumbs and keep writing about them. It was so fun to read this!

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