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.
The forum, with Vesuvius looming in the background. I don’t know what the Pompeians would have thought of it but in the light of hindsight it is distinctly ominous.
The forum sundial. The Romans told time by dividing the day and night into equally sectioned “hours” so each the changing day length meant a different division of time through out the whole year.
The forum baths. Calderium or hot water pools.
A statue in the center courtyard of a private house.
The Romans were never averse to making it out of brick and stuccoing it over to look like stone.
Brick, brick and more brick make up the structure of Pompeii.
The classic entry forcourt of a private house.
Brick, and rubble, I should say.
This smaller theater had a roof with supposedly remarkable acoustics and was specifically for musical performances.
This little girl was trying to scale the wall – without the added incentive of lion’s to escape.
The most disturbing thing about the eerily empty city of Pompeii is a choice of the curators to pepper the grounds with unmarked cases containing the human forms discovered in the excavation. The unceremonious display struck me as disturbingly disrespectful.
The history of the forms is interesting if appalling. During the eruption and ash shower, many people were trapped in the city and some died in open areas. Their bodies were then covered over by ash fall which hardened to rock around them. When the site was being excavated, the workers found human-shaped cavities with bones in them where the bodies had decomposed and desicated away. They preserved these finds by filling the holes with plaster, then chipping away the negative space of ash to leave casts of the bodies. The detail is is startling and the positions of fear and agony are evocative and horrible. I was morbidly drawn to and repelled by the forms but unequivocally disliked they way they were scattered around so … haphazardly. Nonetheless I seem to be perpetuating the process by choosing to photograph and post them. This form was displayed in the second of the bathhouses I visited. Perhaps it was found near there? There was no explaination.
This form was simply set in a gated storage area off the main forum with a number of finds too apparently unremarkable for the museum. I didn’t know how to respond to it and fell back on reflexively taking its picture.
The Urban Landscape.
The stepping stones to get from one sidewalk to another. Open water in the street was part of the drainage system of the city.
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.
Cockfighting and Midgets. Those Romans were all class.
But this is truly beautiful.
Actors in masks.
A famous battle.
The wall decor of a private house.
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.
The house of the prostitutes – I would have missed this one (its down a side street) if it hadn’t been pointed out to me by a friendly guard.
Advertising or suggestions or just decoration. Who can say?