Monday, 22 March 2010

Two whole days in ruins...

[There will be pictures one day which will make sense of all these things...]

written 19th March

... Roman ones :)

Having seen Vesuvius, in all its non-smoking, non-threatening glory, we set out bright and early to see the places it had once destroyed; Pompei and Herculaneum.

Pompei is huge, the site stretches over 66ha, 45 of which have been excavated to date, it's streets are laid out in various blocks with grid patterns of very straight streets and it has everything a modern Roman town could want from markets to bakeries to fast food joints, from temples to baths to brothels.

With traces of habitation on the site going back as far as 7th century BC, the first proper civilisation was established by the Samnites towards the end of the 5th century BC but their success caught the eyes of the Romans who swept down from the north and first caputured the area in the 3rd century and then, after a rebellion in the 1st century consolidated their dominion over the city and surroundings.  Most of the infrastructure in evidence today dates from the reigns of the Emperors Octavian Augustus and Tiberius (27BC-14AD and 14-37AD respectively) but unfortunately much of it was damaged in a terrific earthequake in 62AD.  Repairs were still on going when, in 79AD another earthquake hit the city.  Repairs started up again but this time it was a precurser to the horrific disaster that was the eruption of vesuvius - a warning sign which no-one heeded.  People did take note when the volcano started spoting smoke and ash, but not fast enough, and when the volcano finally erupted those still frantically collecting their belongings were asphyxiated by the toxic fumes and then buried in a layer of ash 6-7m deep.  All trace of Pompei was lost for centuries until it was rediscovered in the 17th century with excavation workd beging in ernest in 1748 which still continue today.

Deciding against and audioguide or walking tour, and armed with a map, a guidebook and the satisfaction of an early start, off we bold adventurers went.

The map turned out to be confusing, things were not where they were shown on the map, or at least the entrances were on different streets, and the guide book a bewildering barrage of information with continual references to things in the glossary but we managed to decipher the following:

The layout of a typical roman villa usually consisted of some combination of;

Entrance hall,

Atrium, (covered by a roof with a compluvium (hole in the roof to funnel rain water into the impluvium pond in the middle to collect said rain water

Tablinium, a public room between the atrium and the Peristyle

Peristyle, a garden surrounded by a colonnade of porticos (arches)

Triclinium, dining room where people ate whilst lounging on couches or beds which surrounded three sides of the room

Cubicula, bedrooms

and the servants quarters

The walls were constructed using one or more of the following building techniques; opus aricanum, opus caementicium, opus craticum, opus incertum, opus latericium, opus quadratum or opus reticulatum - basically the sie and shape of the rocks used and by what means they were held together.

The floors and patios were either marble, mosaic covered or sectile opus, signium opus, lavapesta - depending on material used, and the interior walls were decorated wth frescos of the first- through fourth-style, a progressive development of artistic styles from that which merely imitated the structural building materials (ie marble) or architectural features (columns and other elements in perspective) through to more ornamental or fantasy styles, either with 'pictures' as panels within the painted structural elements or full on scenes of forests, seas and other fantastical images.

Still with me?? I said it was a lot to take in, and we had to keep flicking from one end of the book to the other to find the glossary!

Here are some things we saw in no particular order (there will be pictures at some point)

The Forum - the centre of Roman life, surrounded by the meat market, the grain market, the wool market, the public buildings, various temples and the weights and measures office

The Baths - separated into men's and women's areas and apparently on of the big social gathering places for a mid afternoon gossip.  The baths, bulit around a furnace, usually consisted of a waiting room, an apodyterium (dressing room), a fridgidarium (cold bathing room), a tepidarium (warm room) and a calderium (hot room).  Each bathing room had niches separated by telamons (carved men) in which to put your unguents and bath items.

Two of the 34 Bakeries - complete with oven, just like a modern forno a legna (wood fired pizza ovens), and grain grinders with the tapered block meta and bobbin shaped catillus made from lava stone which were turened using donkeys - grain in at the top, four out at the bottom - easy!

Several Thermopolia - Roman fast food joints  - oddly modern looking with storage jars sunk into the counters from which to serve the midday meal which was apparently usually eaten out not at home.

The Amphitheatre

The Small Theatre, used for music and poetry recitals

The Basilica

Various temples, inclusing that of Apollo

and to round off the public amenities buildings, the Lupanare, the brothel, complete with 5 small rooms with beds (presumably there were mattresses as well!) and some surprisingly graphic advertisements as to services rendered...

We also saw many villas of various sizes and layouts from simple town houses to grandiose fresco'd villas in the suburbs where it was apparently fashionable to have a country retreat.  All have been named either after things found there or the likely owner, if one has been identified from things like signet rings or other markers.  In particular:

The House of the Faun, with its eponymous statue and mosaic of the victory of Alexander the Great over Darius of Persia

The House of the Tragic poet (sadly not named after the Cave Canem warning at the entrance)

The House of the Venus in the Shell, complete with frescos of Venus in a Shell (obviously), Mars and a bird bath

The House of the Small Fountain and

The fabulous frescos of the Villa of Mysteries

and countless others, despite a number being inexplicably closed, as well as gardens, orchards and vineyards, which they are beginning to replant with the original species which they have been able to figure out from the carbonised seeds and plaster casts of the roots - amazing stuff.

We also found ye olde roman pizzeria where the pizza was surprisingly tasty and good value - just goes to show!

What was most fascinating though was the stuff of everyday life which has been preserved and what they can tell of how life was.  Much of the really interesting stuff is apparently in the museum in Naples - not somewhere we are anxious to take the van! - but there were still things like the graffiti'd names on the walls which they believe were electioneering campaigns for the forth coming local elections - not so dissimilar to the massive posters plastered everywhere today!  Most spooky though were the plaster cast of the bodies of those who didn't escape, the shapes perfectly preserved i the hardened ash, complete with skeletons, contorted postures and agonised grimaces as they suffocated to death in the fumes - spooky.

They are also continuing to excavate new areas, this time with a whole team of different specialists, not just archiologists, to try and recreate from samples and observations even more understanding of real life - it will be amazing once they get a bit further, if they achieve what their posters suggest.

Having spent a whole day there, but not yet being 'ruined out', we headed back out and parked back in our spot at the foot of Make-out Mountain, ready to do the same again the following day with Herculaneum.

Of similar age and ethnic origins to Pompei and also completely wiped out by the eruption in 79AD, coastal Herculaneum, alledgedly founded by Hercules on his return from Iberia, suffered a different fate from Pompei, having been completely buried 25m of mud and lava which pushed the coastline 400m into the sea.  Thanks to the mud, much more of the organic matter was preserved, frescos, clothes, wooden structures (in Pompei, only some of the wooden doors were recreated, like the bodies, by pouring plaster into the cavities left in the ash) and even food, all petrified in the mud.  The buildings are also more complete, some with first and even secnd floors, as wells a roofs and there was less in the way of barriers so you could really get inside the buildings and have an idea of the scale of the rooms, something which was harder in Pompei as the ceilings were largely missing.

Same drill as the previous day, map and guidebook but this time the map was better, but the guidebook only available in french - just to make life more complicated!

Only 4.5ha of the 22ha site has been excavated and much of it is residential, with houses and shops rather than the big public buildings and monuments found in Pompei, but this makes it even easier to try and image real life.

There were still thermopolium

A Bakers,

A Wine shop with wine list and prices painted on the front wall

Villas with mosaics - big and small.  Some with evidence of ther upper floors

And also the old sea front, with its arches for shops and boat landings and its grand plaza overlooking the coast.

Again, as with the volcanoes, you kind of have to go to Pompei if you are here, but smaller Herculaneum is different, if not better in some ways and definately worth a visit too.

Our combined ticket also got us to an obviously little visited museum which was fascinating for some of the things there - most things are in Naples - including the tools, the vulcanised bread, the vuclanised seeds and nuts and the partially restored Villa Regina which was used for wine production and around which they are once again growing vines.  And all this just in a hole in the ground surrounded by modern day housing estates!

We also had entrance to two further villas promising frescos and all manner of sumptiousness but one we couldn't find and the other was just closed.  Ho Hum, we have definately got our money's worth on all things roman!

Off for a nice relaxing holiday resort and coast drive - typical streets for a change... ;)

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