A Tourist in Rome - Pompeii
|Location:||A bit southeast of Naples, Italy|
|Metro:||None, see instructions below|
|Time:||4 to 8 hours|
|Hours:||Monday - Sunday 8:30 AM - 7:30 PM|
Pompeii was a wealthy city destroyed in the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. It lay buried for centuries during which it was preserved under 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice until it was rediscovered in 1599. Today it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with good reason. There is a lot to see and learn in this large city where so much is so well preserved, and you can get a good feel for how it might have been to live at that time by visiting this city. Visiting Pompeii involves a lot of walking; you should wear comfortable shoes. There is an on-site cafeteria near the beginning of the site, just north of the Forum. Bring a water bottle, save it for refills on site; it can get very hot in the summer sun. There is another similar site much closer to Rome named Ostia Antica, and this comparison might help you decide which to see. To get to Pompeii from Rome, you should take the €30 Frecciarossa Express train from Termini to the Napoli Centrale station, which takes 90 minutes. Follow the Circumvesuviana signs downstairs and down the corridor to the Circumvesuviana ticket windows. Take any train to Sorrento and get off at the stop called Pompei Scavi - Villa Misteri, which is about a 40-minute ride and costs €3. Don't confuse ancient Pompeii with the modern city of Pompei (only one i). When you get off the train, the entrance to Pompeii is just a short walk to the right and across the street. Be sure to pick up a map ("Plan of the Excavations of Pompeii") and the booklet entitled "Brief Guide to Pompeii". If you wish, get an Audio Guide. I didn't, so can't vouch for its quality. To save time on the way back to Rome, when you're already tired from a day of exploring, buy your return tickets when you buy your outbound tickets. Also, don't forget to "validate" your tickets by stamping them in the yellow machines before you board your trains. If you're caught with an unvalidated ticket (which could potentially be saved and used on a later date), there will be a stiff fine.
The first thing you'll see in Pompeii is the Marina Gate in the city's wall (1st photo below), which you'll walk through to enter the city. The first street you'll walk down past the gate is Via Marina, which is pictured in the 2nd photo below. The three raised stones in the street are a crosswalk (2nd photo below. The streets were used as sewers and were washed down with water each evening. These raised stones let you keep your feet out of the rainwater, washwater, or worse, and were spaced such that they didn't block a carriage from passing.
The Temple of Apollo (1st photo below), originally from 575-550 BC, is on your left and and the Basilica (2nd photo below), from the 2nd century BC, is on your right. Unlike the connotation we have for basilica today as a type of church, in ancient Roman times, a basilica was a courthouse and place to negotiate business.
The large open area on the left past the Temple of Apollo is the Forum, shown in the two photos below. This was the city's main square, where shops were found along with city administration buildings. Cart traffic was prohibited. By the way, the 1st photo below shows Mt. Vesuvius looming in the distance. See the bite taken out of the peak between the guy with the white shirt and the guy with the brown jacket, alone, walking away from me? That's the part that the eruption of 79 AD blew off. Extend the slopes still present today to where they'd intersect to form the original peak of the mountain, and you can see the amount of material that was blown off during the eruption, part of which, along with the mountain's innards, buried the ground everyone here is standing on under 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice.
As with the 1st photo above, the 1st photo below shows Mt. Vesuvius behind the Forum (three white columns on the left and single column in front of the mountain) and an Arco Onorario (Memorial Arch). This arch held a statue of Nero in one of the niches and a statue of Drusus in the other (the niche on the right side of the archway is blocked by the white column). An equestrian statue of Tiberius might have stood on top of the arch. The 2nd photo below shows one of several plaster casts of the victims of Pompeii. They're located at various spots throughout the ruins; this one is in the Fish and Produce Market, which is described below. The plaster casts were made by injecting plaster into the spaces in the ash layer that were left by decomposed bodies. Most of the plaster casts show people in agony; the residents of Pompeii who were killed by the volcano died a terrible death.
The Fish and Produce Market (Marcellum), which was the city's main market, dates from the 2nd century BC. The ring of twelve bases in the center (ten of the twelve are shown in the 1st photo below) were stands for wooden poles that supported a conical roof. Stalls for the sale of meat and fish were along one edge of the market, produce was sold in the open central area. Behind me as I took the 1st photo below, is a wall with several frescoes, one of which is shown in the 2nd photo below.
After having seen the Fish and Produce Market, and walking through the arch that held statues of Nero and Drusus, we reach the on-site cafeteria. Just outside the cafeteria are stray dogs who feed on the leftovers of tourists (1st photo below). After lunch is a good time for a nap, resting your back against the curb and thinking "it's a good life". For everyone. A short walk further down the street brings the second Arco Onorario (2nd photo below), this one named the Caligula Arch because an equestian statue of Caligula was found nearby, which probably stood on top of this arch.
The Baths of the Forum were built after 80 BC. The men's and women's sections were segregated, each following the sequence of apodytenerium (dressing room), frigidarium (cold bathing room), tepidarium (warm room), and caldarium (hot room). This is the order specified by the "Brief Guide to Pompeii" and "Pompeii: Guide to the Site". This is contrary to the order described for the Baths of Diocletian and the Baths of Caracalla which specifiy caldarium, tepidarium, then frigidarium which makes more sense to me (wouldn't you want everyone to wash off in the hot baths before going swimming in the cooler baths?), but this order is consistently used for Pompeii. Agreeing with the baths in Rome, they state that the public baths in Pompeii were inexpensive and heavily used.
The 1st and 2nd photos below show a fast food restaurant in Pompeii. People didn't typically cook for themselves in their tiny apartments, so went to restaurants like this to eat. The holes in the counter held thick pots with heavy lids which kept the food inside warm. The track shown in the 3rd photo below was used to seat a pull-down accordion door used to close the store for the night.
The House of the Tragic Poet is a modest Roman house with an atrium, a den, gardens, bedrooms, and a dining room. In the original entryway (now closed off to protect the mosaic) is the famous Cave Canem (Beware of the Dog) mosaic (1st photo below). The house is named after a mosaic that was found here of a theater rehearsal by a choir of satyrs, now in the Naples Archaelogical Museum. The atrium and den are shown in the 2nd photo below. The dining room with its frescoed walls is shown in the 3rd and 4th photos below, and the family well within the house is shown in the 5th photo below.
A street with deep ruts from the wheels of carts is shown in the 1st photo below. Can you even imagine the number of carts that must have travelled down this road to carve such deep ruts in stone? The carts of Rome (and therefore, Pompeii) had standard gauge (distance between wheels) so that things like those crosswalks, also shown in the 1st photo below, could be made. More information can be derived from those crosswalks, by the way. A single stepping-stone was placed in a one-way street (only one cart must pass), two stones were placed in a normal two-way street, and three stones were placed in a major thoroughfare. The 2nd photo below shows the "welcome mat" for the House of the Faun. It's actually a mosaic, can you imagine having that kind of money? The word in the mosaic, HAVE means "Hail to You". As suggested by this welcome mat, and proven by what you'll see inside, this was a wealthy family's home and is indeed the largest home in Pompeii, with 40 rooms and 27,000 square feet covering an entire city block.
The House of the Faun is named for the small bronze statue shown in the 1st photo below. The courtyard of this house is shown in the 2nd photo below. Several mosaics, including the famous mosaic of the Battle of Alexander, are shown in the subsequent photos, along with niches in a wall used for the display of artwork.
The Bakery and Mill is an interesting stop. The 1st photo below shows the bakery and mill as a whole. The four conical things in a row are the mills. Grain was poured into the top of the mill, mules or slaves pushed wooden bars that were stuck into the holes in the double-cone to turn that upper cone against the stationary lower cone and grind the grain. The ground grain fell out the bottom. The spacing between the stationary lower cone and the movable cone was adjustable, and determined the coarseness of the grind. After grinding, the grain made its way into the large brick ovens that look like today's pizza ovens, where the bread was baked. The 2nd photo below shows an oven up-close. Bakeries like this were found in each neighborhood, just like they are today (or maybe were in 1960, but that's a whole other topic). See the Mill of Silvanus in Ostia Antica for a better understanding of the bakery.
Another fast food restaurant is nearby (1st photo below), and a nearby street (2nd photo below) which is apparently a one-way street since it has only one stepping-stone in the crosswalks, displays deep wheel-ruts. They're about 4-inches deep. But the ruts only go up to the second crosswalk, suggesting that the road was undergoing repairs which were incomplete at the time of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. A city frozen in time. Pretty cool, archaeologically speaking, if it weren't for all the deaths involved.
The oldest baths in Pompeii were the Stabian Baths, named after the street they were located on; they were built in the 2nd century BC over a previous facility built in the 4th century BC. The palaestra, shown in the 1st photo below, was an open area surrounded by covered porticoes used for wrestling and exercise. The men's changing room (2nd photo below) contains more plaster casts of victims. The frigidarium (3rd and 4th photos below) consisted of a circular basin framed with four semicircular niches. This room was richly decorated with garden scenes, and the domed ceiling was painted blue to represent the sky. The women's changing room is shown in the 6th photo below. The tepidarium (7th photo below) had a raised floor to allow for the passage of hot air to heat the room and bath. As you can see, the baths in Pompeii were much smaller and more intimate than the huge Baths of Diocletian or the Baths of Caracalla in Rome where hundreds of people could fit in any of the parts of the baths at the same time. Here the tepidarium would be crowded once a handful of people were soaking.
The Brothel (Lupanare) is a very small building consisting of a 5 small rooms (about 7 feet by 10 feet as I remember) with stone beds and pillows that would have been covered by a mattress (1st photo below). Artwork suggesting recommended positions decorated the walls (2nd photo below). Grafiti on the walls (3rd photo below) might have provided reviews of the workers.
The Great Theater was built at the end of the 3nd century BC. The marble seats at the bottom were for the elite. The theater could hold about 5000 people. The semicircular area at the bottom of the seats was called the orchestra and contained seats for magistrates to sit in, and the stage was the rectangular area behind it, raised by a few feet.