‘Jack Nicholson’s’ Cameo Appearance in Naples

Cameo necklace in shop window
Cameo necklace in ‘Jack’s’ shop window

It all started in Naples, typically alive with activity. Shop proprietors were busy selling their wares while lines of hungry people formed in front of several small pizzerias for a lunchtime snack. All was bustling and full of the sights, sounds and smells that make Naples uniquely what it is. Before long I found my funicular, Centrale to Piazza Fuga. It would take me up to San Martino, a neighborhood of Naples high above the city.

After arriving in San Martino, I bumped into Giovanni on the road leading up to Castello San Elmo. His genteel manner and friendly countenance put me at ease immediately, and I found him easy to talk to. We immediately engaged in a lively chat and soon ended up at his shop, De Paolo Cameo factory. I was delightfully amazed. The shop windows were alive with many mother-of-pearl cameos, all delicately carved into beautiful ladies, mythical creatures and lovely flowering scenes. But that wasn’t my only surprise!

Surrounded by Giovanni and his two brothers
Here I am surrounded by Giovanni (far left) his brother, and ‘Jack Nicholson’ on the far right inside the Cameo factory. 

After stepping inside the small shop, I was greeted with warm smiles by Giovanni’s two brothers. One looked a lot like Jack Nicholson. I never said a word to him about it, but when he sold me one of his prize cameos, he gave me a wink and assured me I could tell others that ‘Jack Nicholson’ sold me a cameo.

The shop was fascinating. I learned that the tradition of making cameos had remained in the family for three generations, keeping the Neapolitan tradition of cameo engraving alive and lucrative. Vincenzo De Paolo, founder and CEO, opened shop in 1932 and since then has kept up the passion, pride and uniqueness of product that has built a legacy of this creative family tradition.

Hard at work carving a cameo
Hard at work carving a cameo out of mother-of-pearl

‘Jack’ (never caught his real name) was carving a cameo just inside the door of the shop. It was very intriguing to watch the fine etching that turned each shell piece into a lovely design. There were no two alike.

Two types of shells are used. One is the Sardonic, coming from the Caribbean or the Bahamas, with a brown underside that enables clear incisions. The other is called the Carnelian, which tends toward red tones, of Africa origin.

Proudly displaying many beautiful original cameos
Displays of many beautiful cameos made right here and lin the upstairs factory.

Necklaces, earrings, pendants and bracelets were all bedecked with cameos portraying intricate flowers, female profiles and mythological figures from vintage to modern. Upon closer inspection, I was very impressed by the delicate detail of hair curls and facial expressions.

Lovely Coral Necklaces
Lovely Coral Necklaces

Vibrant displays of coral necklaces and earrings were sprinkled throughout the displays. Interestingly enough, coral has been found in the Etruscan excavations and paintings. I found that even today many people believe coral contains strong healing powers and helps to keep disasters at bay. Coral has always been in vogue, it seems, and is quite striking in appearance.

De Paolo Cameo Factory
De Paolo Cameo Factory window display
Giovanni kindly explained much of the process of Cameo making


When I left with the hand-picked cameo necklace that ‘Jack’ sold me, Giovanni walked me down the road toward Castello San Elmo and the Museum of S. Martino which was once a monastery, built in 1368 (more on this to come later). The views of Naples and the bay between these two was breathtaking and I took a number of photos. Giovanni wished me well and retraced his steps back to the shop. I stood looking down at Naples, taking in the early evening sunset that began to streak the sky with delicate cameo colors.


Naple’s Secret Below the Chaos

Working my way down the vibrant street markets of Napoli just recently was mind-boggling. Scooters roared and car horns impatiently pierced the air. Throngs of people clogged the medieval arteries of the city, pressed in to look over and purchase their products from busy shopkeepers. Store windows behind them displayed rows of hanging tripe, lamb, and prosciutto, as well as mouth-watering bakery items and slices of pizza for a euro.

In a crowded intersection where two streets meet is Piazza San Gaetano. It was here that I found something I least expected in the heart of this bazaar world. Standing in front of me towered an old basilica. San Lorenzo Maggiore was a sight to behold.


This handsome thirteenth century Gothic church was built on top of a previously existing city hall by the Franciscan order in Naples during the lifetime of its founder, St. Francis of Assisi. Evidentially, Charles I of Anjou decided to build his fortress, Maschio Angioino, where the Franciscans had an existing church. Charles compensated them by providing this site for the present church of San Lorenzo Maggiore.


What is surprising and not noticeable until you enter the building is that it is also a monastery as well as a museum. The museum takes up three floors and gives a history of the area around San Lorenzo beginning with classical archaeology.

But the most astonishing part of all are the remains of an original Greco-Roman market that was excavated over a period of 25 years and has been opened to the public since 1992. Located in the middle of the historical center that began as the Greek-Roman city of Neapolis (new city), this market is one of only a couple of large-scale Greek-Roman sites excavated in the downtown area. For those of you who love ancient Rome, you won’t want to miss this.

Very close by is the Napoli Sottoterranea, the Napoli underground which is seen only by tours, but this is not part of San Lorenzo’s underground.

The following photos were taken while I explored the area. It truly is a rare experience of stepping back in time, from the old earthy smell to the uneven stone streets and arches. However, it requires patience and some imagination to figure out just what you are looking at. There are no tour guides or audio guides, and most of the information is posted in Italian. What was labeled or partially described I have identified below the photos.

Once an outdoor street lining the doorway to small shops. Once an outdoor street lining the doorway to small shops. This is the original street level of the ancient city of Neapolis.

Both a Greek (Agora) and Roman (Macellum) marketplace are the main discoveries that lay below the church. Dating from the sixth to the first century B.C., these streets are perfectly preserved underneath present-day bustling Napoli. Built into layers of volcanic ash and rock called tufa, these ruins are remarkably well-preserved.

Stairway leading up from the road and old arches with shops between them.
This covered space was a market area, and shows seven interconnected rooms, with barrel vaults pierced by skylights to draw in air and sunlight.

Small shops, called tabernae, line the roads and each one has a skylight of sorts. They would be dank, dark and creepy without them.

In these shops it is possible to notice selling counters and wall-niches for the storage and display of various articles. Fascinating….

This a laundrette where clothes were scrubbed clean.
This is a laundrette where clothes were scrubbed clean.


A ‘tintoria’ was a shop to dye fabric
Possibly a well of sorts….I just know it is very deep!
One of many small shops with tables and storage underneath, that lined the ancient streets. Notice the ‘skylight.’
More tables with storage underneath


A ‘fornaio’ was a bakery. Imagine all the business they must have had!

Once you are ready to return to the surface, a stairwell leads you up to a courtyard, which is the 14th-century cloister of the church of San Lorenzo Maggiore. Outside the cloister and back into the streets of Naples, it seems inconceivable that below all the surrounding congestion and frenetic activity lay a still, silent world that once was a bustling marketplace of its own.

I’m Going Back …..to Italia!


I am excited to announce my return to Italy in less than one week. I go with great expectations and a huge itinerary of new discoveries to make. There are so many more layers to experience and attempt to unravel about Italy that I must explore, to find out what lies around that next corner.

My itinerary has changed a thousand times since I first started planning my trip over the past year. There is so much I want to see and do yet. After much head scratching, this is what I have narrowed my three weeks down to…..(hard work)!!

After three days in Rome, I will head down to Naples and the wineries of Mastroberardino, where the original grapes of ancient Pompeii are being cultivated and once again made into the wine of the Roman emperors. My journey then takes me down to the UNESCO world heritage site of Matera in Basilicata. From there I will travel up to the Gargano Promontory, continue north along the Adriatic coastline and over to an agriturismo just outside of Florence. It is here I will tour the new Antinori Cantina and taste some of their exquisite Chianti and Super Tuscan wines, hopefully on horseback! 

Along the way I will keep you posted with new photos and updates as often as possible. In a sense, I am taking all of you with me! I can’t wait to share the many dimensions of Italy that I have grown to love so much. Stay tuned….much more to come!

Tutto il mio meglio (All my best)


Italy’s Atlantis–What Lies Beneath

Baia Sunken Nymphaeum (courtesy of Parco Archeologico Sommer) Sodibaia)
Sunken Nymphaeum of Baiae (courtesy of Parco Archeologico Sommer Sodibaia) off the Bay of Naples

Welcome to the ancient sunken city of Baiae (Parco Archeologico Sommerso di Baiae), just 30 minutes northwest of Naples.

Seneca called Baiae a “resort of vice,” while Ovid referred to it as a “favorable place for love-making.” Famous for its prestigious baths and thermal springs, the ancient city of Baiae was a fashionable bathing and recreation area of the rich and famous. But today, much of Baiae is underwater. Remains of Roman streets, Imperial Villas and tottering statues lie submerged in just a few feet of water. Sea life weave in among the ruins, the only live occupants of what used to be the summer playground of the emperors.

Bay of Naples
Bay of Naples

Parts of the ancient cities of Baia and Puteoli (Pozzuoli) became submerged during the 16th century when the ground sank and the sea level rose, known as bradyseism. Volcanic lava from underneath the ground found a way of escape, causing a drop in the elevation.

Today, hoary life-size statues tilt precariously on the sea floor, remains of ancient Roman roads lead nowhere, floors of black and white mosaic attest to a long forgotten villa, bits of ancient amphorae that once held an emperors wine are scattered across the ocean floor. The first century sunken Roman seaside resort of Baiae, built during the time of Emperor Claudius, remains today as a shrine for the fish that dart about its contours and crumpled columns.

Emperors Nero, Caligula, Hadrian and Gaius Julius Caesar once owned elegant summer villas in Baiae alongside the areas famous epicurean thermal baths. Cicero entertained them during Saturnalia feasts. Known as the ‘Italian Riviera’ of its time, the pleasurable coastal resort gives evidence of high living. Below the surface is an ancient Roman road hemmed in by taverns, leading up to Villa Protiro and its colonnaded entrance and rooms with mosaics. Claudius Nymphaeum still remains embellished by once-elegant statues now covered with algae.

Baia Mosaic Floor (courtesy of Parco Archeologico Sommer Sodibaia)
Baiae Mosaic Floor (courtesy of Parco Archeologico Sommer Sodibaia)

Submerged Baiae is flanked by Portus Julius, Rome’s most important fleet of the time. Commissioned into existence in 37 B.C. by the famous military leader and engineer Agrippa, remains of docks, cisterns and repair workshops are evident today.

This underwater city can be observed by glass-bottom boat or scuba as well as snorkeling from the town of Baia. Some of the water over the ruins are shallow, making snorkeling a great way to get up close and personal. As a Marine Protected Area, you are sure to notice various sea life that have taken up permanent residence in the sunken city. Notice the purple sea urchins and sleek little fish darting in and around the arches and statues.

Statue in Underwater Park of Baia-Still from Fabio
Statue in Underwater Park of Baiae- (Still from Fabio)

*Click on Related Links:

*Baia Protected Marine Area Info on Excursions

*The Underwater Park of Baia Info, Maps and Diving Sites/Excursions

Naples, from Egg Castle to Underground Pizza

Naples, one of my favorite Italian cities, is a case-study in the many layers that bring the real Italy into existence. Often described as gritty, undisciplined, shady and confusing, Naples is genuine old-world history iced with nuovo Italia. Don’t be put off by it’s scruffy exterior. Naples will disclose herself slowly, one layer at a time. But one thing I can assure you of is this…..her many dimensions will remain with you always.

Italy Destinations offers an unbelievably exciting adventure(link below) right in the heart of Naples. How does spending an extravagant evening in the San Carlo Theater, the  oldest working theatre in Europe, sound? While enjoying the ambience, you sip cocktails while listening to classical operatic masterpieces of incredible beauty.

San Carlo Theater Panorama
San Carlo Theater Panorama

Imagine exploring Naples Underground the next day, which lies forty meters below the historical center of Naples. Here, inside the ruins of a Roman Theater, you will learn the secrets of assembling authentic Napoletana pizza with experts standing by to help you make it. Open air fire oven included.

Descending to the Naples Underground
Descending to the Naples Underground

Look below the surface of Naples.…there you will discover incredible depths of richness that you never imagined. Ancient historical artifacts, old Roman roads and markets, art and mosaics from the first few centuries, catacombs and ancient temples are all there for you to explore with your group.

Back in the city that evening, a gala dinner awaits you at Egg Castle. Stroll the elegant terrace in the late evening breeze afterwards as you take in panoramic views of both the ocean and the city of Naples. A promise of a romantic evening is in the air.

Egg Castle
Egg Castle

This itinerary had me almost out of my seat and running to the front of the line. Everything from elegance to charm to ancient underground discoveries to Egg Castle had my heart pounding. For anyone looking to experience some of the best Naples has to offer, this is for you. And if you run to the front of the line too, chances are excellent that you will find me there!

For complete details for this tour, see the Italy Destinations website below.

*Naples- A Deep Experience