Thursday, November 04, 2010

Nestled In The Fertile Plain

You wanna talk old? Let's discuss Pompeii.

Many of the descriptions of the following photos are going to be from a guide book we were given when we arrived, I will put that text in italics. Most of us know the general story of Pompeii, from school books or TV and it's fascinating. What's even more fascinating, is that the site where Pompeii lies, receives approximately 2,500,000 visitors each year!

Pompeii rises on a plateau of Vesuvian lava, overlooking the Sarno river valley, at whose mouth was once a busy port. The origins of the city are uncertain; the oldest reports date from the end of the 7th and the first half of the 6th century BC, when the first ring of tufa walls, called "pappamonte", was built around an area of 156.9 acres. In 62 AD, a violent earthquake struck the whole Vesuvian area and reconstruction of the area took a very long time (17 years), when Vesuvius suddenly erupted on the 24th of August, 79 AD and buried it under ash and rock.
It was rediscovered in the 16th century, but exploration did not begin until 1748. This photo shows part of the Basilica. Built in the second half of the 2nd century BC, as part of the plan to create monuments throughout the city. The building was dedicated to administering justice and for business negotiations.
We arrived at Pompeii under the threat of rain. The skies were dark and the atmosphere felt very gloomy. I'm actually glad it was overcast, because everything we read said that if you go on a sunny day, be sure bring water and an umbrella, as there are no areas for shade and there are no vending machines or areas to buy beverages (although they did have a cafeteria/snack bar which looked extremely out of place).

Walking the streets gave the feeling of what it might have been like to be there, as they're exactly the same as they were centuries ago.

These photos were taken in the House of the Small Fountain. Almost all of the rooms open onto the atrium; an area sumptuosly organized so that the guest would become aware of the host's social status immediatly upon entering. The walls of the peristyle (garden surrounded by a colonnade of porticos) are richly decorated with frescoed landscapes and maritime buildings.
The pieces of the mosaic were miniscule and beautiful. Use of the fountain-nymphaeum, covered with mosaics and decorated with sculptures, became widespread in the middle of the 1st century AD.
Every building we visited, was along one of these stone roads. The layout of the city was so precise and so advanced, not what I would expect from such an ancient place.
It was organized with facilities that any large city would have. According to Wikipedia, "Pompeii was a lively place, and evidence abounds of literally the smallest details of everyday life...besides the forum, many other services were found: the Macellum (great food market), the Pistrinum (mill), the Thermopolium (sort of bar that served cold and hot beverages), and cauponae (small restaurants). An amphitheatre and two theatres have been found, along with a palaestra or gymnasium. A hotel (of 1,000 square metres) was found a short distance from the town; it is now nicknamed the Grand Hotel Murecine."
Near the produce market and built into the east wall of the temple of Apollo, is the Mensa Ponderaria, the public office to control weights and measures, gauged according to the local Oscan system, later standardized to the Augustan system as noted in the inscription engraved on the front (approximately 20 BC). It consists of two stacked limestone benches, each with cavities corresponding to the different measurements, and with a hole at the bottom through which to pass the product measured.
The layout of the streets were one of the most amazing aspects of the city. In the next photo, you'll see the stones that most of the streets have. These stones were specifically placed on the streets for several reasons. One, they were to be used as stepping stones. The city flushed the streets with water daily and in order for the residents to cross, they had to use the stepping stones. The number of stones depended on the width of the street; in some areas there were as many as five, allowing the people to cross.
The stones were also used to designate what kind of traffic was allowed on that street. They were arranged so that the wagon wheels were able to straddle them. If there was only one stone, the wheels of only one wagon would pass over, designating a street that went only one way. In other areas, like in the picture, the stone were arranged in a way that would allow two wagons, going in opposite directions, to pass each other.

This area, from what I heard one of the guides describing, was like our modern day concession stand. The holes in the countertops were used for containers of food, wine, water, etc. Cool, huh? It looks just like the many restaurant kitchens I've worked in over the years.
This mosaic was found at the entrance to the House of the Tragic Poet. The mosaic is famous, of a chained dog and the message CAVE CANEM (Beware of the dog), typical of other dwellings in Pompeii. Again, the pieces of the mosaic were so super tiny, creating such a large picture. I know the whole concept of mosaic is tiny pieces, but when you see them up close, it's really amazing that someone was meticulous enough (and patient enough) to place each and every one of them.
This piece was photographed at the Temple of Venus. Built at the western edge of the hill of Pompeii, stretching towards the sea and the River Sarno, this temple was raised during the early part of the Sullan colony (80 BC) to honor the goddess Venus.
Ed and I didn't realize how accessible Pompeii was. First, we took the train from Sorrento to Pompeii and you get off the train practically at the entrance to Pompeii. I guess I never really realized that it's right there, that close to Naples and the surrounding modern city. I thought it was a location that was going to be hard to reach, and much closer to the base of Vesuvius.

After a few hours, I couldn't look at another stone house or broken pieces of marble, so Ed continued on for another hour without me. I went back to the conveniently located cafeteria for a cappuccino, which to me was the perfect end to a day of traversing ruins.

I wish I knew what this said so I could end this post with something cool, but I don't have enough time to do that kind of research. If anyone knows, feel free to jump in!

** According to the guidebook, Campania means "fertile plain", hence the title of this post. Campania is the region in Southern Italy in which Pompeii is located.

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