Saturday, September 09, 2006
After our drive along the Amalfi Coast, we decided to visit the site of ancient Pompeij. Pompeij is located in modern day Pompei (without the "j" at the end), which - somewhat to our surprise - is practically a suburb of Napoli (Naples). Looking at the map, and knowing about Pompeij what an interested traveler knows, I had envisioned that it was practically on the other side of Mount Vesuvius, and I guess technically, it really isn't part of Napoli, but in reality, it is just part of the sprawling Napoli metropolitan area.
In our great accidental tradition of visiting archeological sites when it is pouring rain (it has rained when we visited Delphi, Chichen Itza, ancient Rome, Indian cliff dwellings in Arizona, and more, and I bet when we visit the Valley of the Kings in Egypt one day, then it will be raining there too for the first time in millennia...), we arrived in Pompei just as dark clouds started to re-appear. We stayed in a nearby hotel and walked to the site, and by the time we got there, we were drenched. Nevertheless, it was still very impressive and the weather improved a bit as time went on.
Pompeij is very impressive. It is by far the largest archeological site I have ever visited. It is as big as a modern day town. We only allowed some 4 hours to see it all and it clearly was not enough. One could spend days in Pompeij. Usually, there are a lot of people at the site (more than 2 million visitors a year), but it doesn't seem crowded at all, since the area is so large.
The roman town of Pompeij was a rather important site. It is estimated that up to 30,000 people lived there before the town was wiped out when Mount Vesuvius erupted. In general, it seems that pompeijians were not blessed when it comes to natural disasters. Only a few years before the eruption, an earthquake caused serious damage (probably related to the vulcanic activity). Much of the rebuilding effort was not even complete by the time Vesuvius erupted. The eruption of the volcano was devastating, covering the city under several feet of ash, before it was re-discovered by accident more than 1,600 years later.
Here is a picture of the "forum" with Mount Vesuvius in the background:
The city of Pompeij was very advanced, with many places dedicated to trade, law, culture, and competitions. For instance, Pompeij had several theaters, one of which is still used for events today:
Pompeij also has a colosseum which was used for gladiatorial fights:
It isn't as large as the Colosseum in Rome, but it is still very impressive.
What really makes Pompeij unique is that it left a record that is not available anywhere else: When Mount Vesuvius erupted, Pompeij's citizens were caught completely by surprise and had no chance to escape. The 19-hour eruption covered everything in feet of volcanic ash, including people, houses, furniture, and other every-day items. Eventually, all organic material decayed, but since the volcanic ash had hardened by then, all decaying organic material left cavities. During excavations of Pompeij, these cavities were discovered and in a stroke of genius, it was decided to fill the cavities with plaster. This way, we now have plaster casts of all kinds of things, including people in their dying moments. The casts still show the expressions of people's faces. One can see the folds of their clothing, and much more. It is a very unique records, since normally, all organic material is lost.
Here is a cast that shows a person who died sitting down:
Here is someone who apparently fell down, perhaps during a futile attempt to run away:
And yet another cast of someone who appears to be lying on his or her back:
And the following is an up-close shot of a victim's facial expression:
Yikes. I guess being Roman wasn't all fun and orgies...
BTW: We stayed at a hotel very close to the archeological site. It was a nice enough hotel which featured private parking (which is very important in the south of Italy, if you intend to bring your car back with all windows intact). However, I would recommend that you do NOT stay in modern-day Pompei. Instead, stay somewhere further south on the coast. If you can, even on the Amalfi Coast. Pompei is a somewhat scary, run-down dump. There aren't any nice places to eat, and walking around at night is somewhat scary.
Posted @ 9:20 AM by Egger, Markus (email@example.com)