We entered the Excavations of Pompeii via the Porta Marina (Marina Gate) on a warm & sunny Autumn day in October. The ancient Roman city of Pompeii is situated near present day Naples in the Italian region of Campania. During the great eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD Pompeii, Herculaneum & some surrounding areas was also destroyed & buried under 4-6m of ash & pumice.
The Temple of Apollo which was built during 5BC was Pompeii’s most important religious structure. The arcade of the cloister with 48 columns were added about 300 years later. Found here were also 2 splendid statues, a bronze Apollo Archer & another of Apollo dressed as a harpist now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Mt Vesuvius is a volcano in the Bay of Naples which is about 8km away from the city of Pompeii. The devastating eruption of 79AD shrouded the city in darkness as volcanic ash poured across the land like a flood. About 2000 people died as a result & the city was abandoned for a long, long time until a group of explorers rediscovered the site in 1748. Mt Vesuvius last erupted in 1944 & it is still active & one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world posing great danger to the 3 million who live within a 15km radius.
The surprise was that underneath that thick layer of dust & debris, Pompeii was mostly intact & the buildings, artefacts & skeletons left behind revealed a great deal about everyday life in the ancient world.
Since the Greeks settled in the area in 8BC, the region around Mt Vesuvius & the Bay of Naples attracted the wealthy who came on vacations to soak up the sun & scenery. By the turn of 1AD, Pompeii became a flourishing resort that was favoured by Rome’s most distinguished citizens. Elegant houses & elaborate villas lined the paved streets & tourists, townspeople & slaves bustled in & out of small factories & artisan shops, taverns, cafes, brothels & bath-houses. Scholars estimate that the population at that time was probably about 20,000 & the city covered about 64 acres.
On the east side of the Forum sits the Eumachia Building which was built around 1AD by the priestess Eumachia who dedicated & gave it to the city.
The Marcellum of Pompeii is located outside the northeast corner of the Forum. These 12 column bases form the central structure in the middle of the Marcellum. Initially thought to be a kind of pantheon or temple dedicated to many gods, further excavations uncovered fish bones & scales in the drainage trough running in the middle confirming that the space was in actual fact a fish market. The fishes were gutted and cleaned here.
In 1748, Pompeii was rediscovered & amongst the buildings & artefacts are fragmentary skeletal remains of some of her citizens. The excavators realized that some of the hollow spaces within the volcanic debris were where the deceased Romans had been suffocated by volcanic gasses, ash & debris. Mould formed an imprint of the body in the surrounding ash & excavators filled the air pockets with plaster, resulting in “plaster mummies” that poignantly capture Pompeii’s tragedy.
Pompeii has been a tourist attraction for over 250 years & has been conferred UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1997. This is one of Italy’s most popular tourist draw with approximately 2.5million visitors every year.
The Romans were as particular about cleanliness as we are in modern times. This public bath-house was built soon after the Roman conquest in 80BC & the residents of Pompeii would bathe here daily at public expense.
The Forum Baths as it is known today was excavated in 1823 & was found to be in rather good condition. Right in the middle of this room is a circular cold bath.
Bathing was an important & essential part of Roman life. There are facilities within the bath-house for exercise as well as cleaning but it played an equally important role as a place for socializing.
The Romans had an ingenious way of heating the rooms in the public baths by piping heated water through cavities in the wall.
There were relatively few private baths as this was limited to the well to do who could afford to build rooms suited for the purpose.
The Forum Baths were divided into 2 separate sections for males & females with the various rooms for their different functions.
The house takes its name from the large niche-like fountain that was constructed in the Egyptian style. Part of the beautiful mosaic which adorns the niche with arabesque & bird motives reminiscence of an oriental carpet has been well-preserved.
This street Via Stabiana stretches from Porta Stabia (Stabian Gate) to the centre of Pompeii city. It was a main thoroughfare that was shared by horse carriages & pedestrians.
The objects buried underneath Pompeii were well-preserved for almost 2000 years as decomposition was halted by the lack of air & moisture, providing much resources for analysis & archaeological documentation.
Today, the concern for conservation continually trouble archaeologists as weathering, erosion, light exposure, water damage, tourism, introduced plants & animals contribute to Pompeii’s rapid deterioration.
We exited the ruins near the Gladiators Barracks after spending about 3 hours on this visit & covered only some of the attractions but if time permits, you could put on comfortable walking shoes, slather on sunblock & wander around the 170 acres & discover more about Pompeii’s intriguing history.