Archaeology in Pompeii and Naples with Context Travel's Federico Poole

by Ed Forteau /
Ed Forteau's picture
Aug 11, 2008 / 2 comments

Intellectually curious?  One of our very favorite organizations in the world of travel is Context Travel. We've interviewed them before, and I am always impressed by the scholarly tone that they bring to travel. I recently asked Paul Bennett,
founder of Context Travel, to let us interview some of his docents. 
Luckily for us, we have been able to do just that. Here's the third of
several excellent interviews with a docent of Context Travel, Federico Poole, who is based in Italy.


Federico holds a Ph.D. from the Oriental Institute in Naples.
He has studied in Paris, Berlin, and Egypt. He was part of the team
that set up the Egyptian section in the Naples Archaeological Museum
and has written several articles on Egyptian objects found in
Campania and the cult of Isis in Pompeii. He worked full-time for two
years investigating Roman archaeological vestiges in the Phlegraean
Fields. Today he divides his time between archaeological tours,
lecturing, English translation for archaeologists and museums, and


WE:  Please tell us about your walking tour with Context Travel...

I lead Context Travel tours in a number of archaeological locations in Campania. By far the most in demand tour is the Pompeii-Archaeological Museum in Naples combo. First, a 3-hr walk in the amazingly well preserved streets, houses, and public buildings of ancient Pompeii. Then we leave for Naples. A 10-min. walk through the ancient city center of Naples, a pizza lunch, then off to what is arguably the most important museum of classical archaeology in the world (btw, the pizza is arguably the best in the world too). The site and the museum are complementary, the latter being where most of the finds from the former are kept. Although less often requested, each of the other archaeological walks has something special to offer. Herculaneum is smaller than Pompeii and probably offers less diversity, but it is even better preserved, and different in charming and interesting ways. There are splendid luxury villas of the Roman period, also preserved by the eruption of 79 AD, at Oplontis and Stabiae. The little visited Phlegraean Fields, extending west of Naples along the coast, are a treasure trove of archaeological wonders immersed in a unique natural scenery, from the amphitheater and underground excavations of Pozzuoli to the imposing ruins and unique museum of Baiae, the acropolis of Cumae, and the Piscina Mirabilis. Paestum has three astounding temples (Greek, for a change) and a wonderful site and museum. And then there is the walk up to Vesuvius.



WE: What is your background; what led you to be interested in this city and subject matter?

FP:  I hold a PhD in Archaeology with Egyptology as my focus from the Oriental Institute in Naples. I was part of the team that set up the Egyptian section in the Naples Archaeological Museum. My interest in Roman antiquity began when I worked for a year and a half full time investigating vestiges in the ancient Roman port of Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli). The two interests have come together over the years. I have published academic studies on Egyptian objects found in Pompeii and Capri, and written in newstand archaeology magazines as well as scholarly journals about the cult of Isis in Italy.

WE: What things do you love to share, on your walking tours?

Working in Pozzuoli, I learned to look at ruins analytically and try to figure out "what is missing" and "what happened". Looking with the eye of the archaeologist adds, as it were, the fourth dimension to our perception of objects. We see them in time as well as space. Developing this sense was a great discovery for me, and something I really enjoy sharing on my tours. I also like to make connections between archaeological remains and culture and society. Elements such as the way Roman houses are built to present an unbroken view to the back of the house, through the atrium, tablinum, and garden, to a guest coming into the door can be directly related to social organization, as can the fact that many shops in Pompeii used to be connected to houses, but access from the house was later walled in. Finally, there is a direct, emotional appeal in beautiful objects, whether old or new, that is not to be denied. Among the work of art I find especially compelling are the Indian statuette (possibly of the goddess Lakshmi) in the notorious Secret Cabinet in the Naples Archaeological Museum, the Tomb of the Diver in Paestum, the Farnese Hercules, and the frescoes in Oplontis, but I could name many more.


Context Travel's Federico Poole


WE: Thanks so much, Federico! Your work is inspiring, to say the least. I can't wait to come to Naples and learn with you!


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