Pompeii Scavi, Italy

On leaving Rome, my next destination was the archaeological  site of Pompeii.

For those who didn’t study Latin (and Roman history) under the delightful Ms. Frounfelter, aka Frounie, for four years during their mis-spent youths, Pompeii was a Roman city on the bay of Naples which was buried in ash during a cataclysmic eruption of near by Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Rediscovered in the 18th century, it has been extensively excavated (and looted by collectors) and despite this has provided amazing insights into Roman life.  Beautiful art work and the impedimenta of daily life were discovered side by side and some of the buildings still boast the latest political slogans of the day.  Now a UNESCO World Heritage Area and outdoor museum, the site has about 12 acres open to the public where visitors can wander the ancient streets, walking along large block sidewalks and hopping across the crosswalk stones which would have kept Roman sandals out of the street level drainage effluvia.  The Forum, many temples, several bath houses, a pair of theaters (large and small), a coliseum  shops (bakery, laundry etc) and many private houses are open for the wandering.

Many of the most beautiful and artistic elements of Pompeii have been removed from the site by private collectors or to archaeology museums, most notably the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, which I visited the next day.  It was amazing to see the artistry of some of the tile work and the frescos but frustrating how little attempt at contextualizing them there was.  I regret that they were not able to preserve more of them on site to give a more thorough sense of place at Pompeii itself.

The Romans had a healthy disregard modern concepts of body shame and secrecy (well they did dress in loosely draped fabric)  and also considered phallic images to be good luck symbols so quite a lot of the finds at Pompeii were considered shockingly explicit by their 18th century excavators. Never slow to facilitate the prurience of prudery, they promptly collected a number of these in the Napoli National Archaeological Museum but kept them shut away in a room they called the Secret Cabinet and affixed locked metal doors over the frescos left in situ which could be shown (for a price) to men who asked – but not to ladies.  The Secret Room was sometimes shut up (once even bricked up) but more often than not it was open (by appointment) to menfolk of means who could wrangle an invite.  Now its just a room at the end of the mezzanine hallway with the other Pompeii tile work and open to everyone.  A display of antique “letters of introduction” sits outside the entry.

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