I’ll never forget my trip to Pompeii. It was one of the most haunting places I’ve been to. It was a place of mystery and magic, which you could feel in the air. If you’ve never heard of it, the city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania. In the year 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted near it and buried the city under a thick blanket of ash.
It remained mostly untouched until 1748, when a group of explorers looking for ancient artifacts arrived in Campania and began to dig. They found that the ashes had acted as a marvelous preservative: Underneath all that dust, Pompeii was almost exactly as it had been 2,000 years before. Its buildings were intact. Skeletons were frozen right where they’d fallen. Everyday objects and household goods littered the streets. Later archaeologists even uncovered jars of preserved fruit and loaves of bread!
These were some of the places we visited as we walked around the ancient streets:
- Lupanar. An ancient brothel with pornographic frescoes over the entrance to each room, presumably indicating the services on offer.
- House of the Vettii. This is believed to have been the home of two brothers who were freed slaves and became very affluent. It contains many frescoes. In the vestibule there is a striking fresco of a well-endowed Priapus, God of Fertility and among the frescos in other parts of the building are illustrations of couples making love, of cupids and of mythological characters.
- House of the Faun. This is named after a statue of a dancing faun found on the site. It is considered to be an excellent example of the fusion of Italian and Greek architectural styles, and occupies an entire block.
- Villa dei Misteri (Villa of the Mysteries). A house with curious frescoes, perhaps of women being initiated into the Cult of Dionysus. Contains one of the finest fresco cycles in Italy, as well as humorous ancient graffiti.
- House of the Tragic Poet. This small atrium house is best known for the mosaic at the entrance depicting a chained dog, with the words Cave Canem or “Beware of the Dog”.
- Bars and Bakeries. You will walk past where their bars and bakeries once existed. The bars had counters with three to four holes in them. They had water or other beverages available in the holes. The bakeries’ ovens look similar to the old brick stone oven. The House of the Baker has a garden area with millstones of lava used for grinding the wheat.
- Forum. This was the center of public life. It was surrounded by many of the important governmment, religious and business buildings.
- Baths. There are several baths to be inspected. The Forum Baths are just north of the forum and close to the restaurant. They are well-preserved and roofed. Be careful not to miss them as the entranceway is a long passage with no indication of the delights inside. The Central Baths occupy a much larger area but are less well-preserved. Close to these are the Stabian baths which have some interesting decorations and give a good idea of how baths used to function in Roman times.
- The amphitheatre. This is in the most easterly corner of the excavated area, near the Sarno Gate entrance. It was completed in 80BC and could hold about 20,000 people. It is the earliest surviving permanent amphitheatre in Italy and one of the best preserved anywhere. It was used for gladiator battles, other sports and spectacles involving wild animals.
- Garden of the Fugitives at the south-east side where plaster casts of several victims are on display where they originally fell. The plants in this garden have been reconstructed to match ancient growth, based on the study of plaster casts of plant roots.
It’s probably one of the most amazing sights one can see in one’s lifetime. The excavation of Pompeii has been going on for almost three centuries now. Scholars and tourists remain just as fascinated by the city’s eerie ruins as they were in the 18th century. In fact, a Hollywood film has just been made about it. Released on 21 February, read more here. I was also astonished to read that a new finding of food scraps in the drains of the Roman city revealed that the middle and lower class residents dined on cheap but healthy foods, while slightly wealthier citizens dined on delicacies such as giraffe! Book your tour of this ancient city today at Viator. (Or walk through the city on streetview in Google Maps!)