In 79 AD life suddenly came
to an end in the space of two days for a city and many of its 20,000
after an earthquake had badly damaged Pompeii and before the city
had fully recovered from the large shake, nearby Mount Vesuvius
erupted and a storm of ash and cinders buried Pompeii. Those that
managed to escaped did so with very few personal belongings. Some of
her people hesitated and were overcome by the poisonous fumes. The
city never rose from its ruins and the site was virtually abandoned.
|Between 1594 and
1600 signs of the buried city came to light during an excavation to
cut a channel for the waters of the River Sarno, however,
investigations were not pursued.
wasn't until 1748 that sincere excavations began in
Pompeii but the search was focused on recovering
sculptures, paintings, mosaics and other objects of art
leaving the ruins themselves to be reburied.
in preserving the city itself rose and excavations took
a more systematic approach.
technique of recovering the shapes of buried organic material
(human bodies, trees, wooden objects) started by identifying a
hollow space below the surface where organic material had
decomposed and drilling a hole and pouring in plaster to
obtain a form.
|The rain of ash
was not unduly destructive and indeed caused the preservation of
even the humblest momentos of everyday life in the first century -
coins, food containers, cooking implements, glass funnels; even
caramelized loaves of bread in the bakery. Roots from gardens have
even been identified.
Before entering we purchased
from the gift shop a book entitled Pompeii Past and Present which
shows pictures of Pompeii, as we were about to see it, plus overlays
that helped us to envision it prior to the eruption of Mount
entered Pompeii through the Porta Marina (left) where
two archways (one for pedestrians and one, less steep,
for pack animals) were once close to the sea (thus the
(pictured top of page), a rectangular piazza (124 ft x 482 ft)
was the setting for important ceremonies and is surrounded by
numerous public buildings.
Pompeii with the ones for Apollo (above right) and Isis close to the
Forum and Basilica.
The baths were another
gathering place for the people of Pompeii. Although there is much
evidence of sexual indiscretions, the men's and women's baths were
in separate wings.
||We walked through
the change room with it's benches, warmed bronze massage table and
statues holding up a shelf above where the lockers would have lined
the walls; to the cold bathing room (frigidarium - ahhh so that's
where they got the name). Passing through the tepidarium (warm room)
we entered the hot bath.
floor a furnace heated up air that kept the floor warm and
then circulated through the double walls. The arched ceiling
is ribbed so that the condensation would run down the ceiling
walls and not drip of the patrons enjoying their leisure. At
one end is a deep pool while at the other end is a fountain
where one could wash their face and hair. 79AD was an election
year in Pompeii and archeologists have dug up many propaganda
hot bath's fountain is rimmed with words that
basically say "I was responsible for putting
this in here ... remember that when you vote."
outlets are not a twentieth century idea. Pompeii had many
fast food shops open to the street for a
quick-pick-up (although we didn't find one for a chariot
drive thru). Holes in the counter top were fitted with bowls
and, if needed, kept hot from below while at the same time
being on display.
|At one of the homes we
saw an foyer paved with mosaic tiles depicting a vicious dog
pulling on its chain leash and the words Cave Canum [Beware of
Dog]. Another mosaic spelt out "HAVE" [Hail To You].
|In the brothel
frescos, like promotional ads for services, decorated the walls
above the doorways which opened to small chambers only slightly
larger than the rock beds within.
|Pompeii was built
on a grid system. Near some intersections there are still remnants of the water fountains that were allowed to overflow helping to keep
the stone streets clean.
the intersections are crossing stones which allowed
pedestrians walking on the elevated sidewalks to cross streets
without getting wet. Some streets - the narrow one way lanes,
have only one steeping stone where cart wheels could travel
uninterrupted on both sides.
|| We marveled at the centuries deep
wheel groves in the street's paving stones. Where the street
is wider there are two stepping stones spaced to allow two way
the intersection water fountains were lead pipes. The
lead would have come from Brittany. Pompeii's water came
in via an aqueduct (similar to the one we canoed under
at Pont du Gard) and held in a reservoir above the town
then pressure fed through three pipelines into Pompeii.
case of water shortages the pipes supplying water to the
baths could be shut off (the lowest priority need). If
needed, the second pipe could be shut off which would
eliminate water going to private homes. With these two
pipes no longer demanding water from the reservoir,
there was hopefully enough water to feed the public
fountains from which most of the population took their
water for drinking and cooking.
needs a full day (or more) to appreciate both the way in which
people lived here in 79AD and the magnitude of the
archeological excavation and the means being used to
accomplish this feat. We so very much enjoyed maneuvering
through its streets, homes, shops, bakery (left), public
buildings, brothel and temples and finishing at the theatres.
||There are two
theatres ... a smaller roofed odeum for recitals and mimes and a
larger theatre (open but could be covered by an awning if required -
retractable roofs aren't new either) which held about 5000
spectators. Behind the large stage, which back then had a high and
elaborate backdrop, is a quadriporticus. Originally this enclosed
space was used by theatre goers as one would use a theatre lobby
today -- to stretch, walk and visit between performances. After the
62 AD earthquake it was converted into barracks for gladiators.
||As we left
Pompeii we met Marcus and Monica - one of the couples from
yesterday's train ride to Sorrento. It's fun to bump into
people you recognize when you are so far away from family and
about 66 hectares of which 21 hectares have not yet been uncovered.
Just inside the exit gate a crew of archeologist were continuing to
dig through this incredible piece of preserved history.
[Happy Birthday, Stephen !]
We learnt a lesson today ... one
does not "visit" Napoli [Naples] nor does one "see"
Napoli ... the truth clearly is one "experiences" Napoli. Today
we experienced Italy's third largest city ... at ground level ... not in
some posh tour bus nor peering from some American style hotel window, or
being guided by some English speaking Italian with a bright scarf tied to
the end of a stick held high so the tourist does not venture onto a side
street away from the high priced shops and clean streets.
|We experienced Napoli's traffic --
as chaotic as Rome with a New York attitude. Traffic that views stop signs
as suggestions only and if there is an inch ... someone will take it -
usually on a speeding Vespa. Should someone be so timid as to not
jump a light or not pass a slower vehicle by going up on the sidewalk, tempers
and voices flail through the air like the hand and arm gestures that
We started off easy by taking the
metro train into Italy's most crime-ridden city.
|| On the train gypsy women
bring their children on board to beg or musicians play a few bars of a
song on their concertina and then walk around with their hand out. A third
of Napoli's population is said to be unemployed and many work cons or do
some light-finger pickpocketing.
| Off the metro (where most pickpocketing
takes place) with all our possessions still with us, we walked up to the
Museo Archeologico [Archaeological Museum] ... no backpack, no visible
camera and looking as Italian as possible except for our shoes. The
Italians are big on shoes (like the latest styles shown above) and quite frankly our hiking boots just don't
make the grade.
||Fearing another eruption from Mount
Vesuvius (the last eruption was 1944), the powers that were decided it
would be a good idea to gather together the artifacts (then housed in
three different locations) and hold them in a former palace in Napoli.
This relatively small museum, other than a section on Egypt (every museum
seems to have one), for the most part is dedicated to Pompeii and it's
neighbouring city Herculaneum which was also damaged by the 62 AD
earthquake and buried by the 79 AD Mount Vesuvius eruption. The only
difference was that Herculaneum was overwhelmed by clouds of scorching
toxic gas and (at least six separate times) was bombasted by
torrents of volcanic mud.
We were able to view mosaics
upon first sight look like paintings.
| Some were large and beautiful while
others were small and funny. One even looked like it could be a caricature
of Jay Leno's ancestor.
In the Secret Room (by appointment
only - to keep out youngsters) were more frescos removed from the brothel
(a little more specific) as well as other X-rated mosaics, paintings,
sculptures and even tableware.
|Amazing were the glass pieces. Such
delicate, thin glass in beautiful shapes, sizes and amazing colours. We
were looking at pieces that had not only survived years of use but an
earthquake plus being buried for centuries. We were in awe.
|On the top floor we were able
to see one
room where the palace itself could be appreciated. The great hall is the
third largest covered hall in Europe. It has a frescoed ceiling and the
walls are draped with paintings.
| In the floor there is an long angled
rectangle (now roped off and covered with glass) marked off in squares,
some displaying the signs of the zodiac. It is a calendar. In line with
the rectangle high up where the wall meets the ceiling there is a pinpoint
hole allowing the sun to beam through. What a wonderful conversation piece
it must have been during the banquets held here.
|Leaving the peaceful surroundings
of the Museum we ventured out into life at its most vibrant. We once
more took to the streets to experience Napoli.
Our route started by going through
the ornate Galleria which was eerily quiet as if in anticipation of
something more exciting than everyday shopping ... perhaps the stage
erected at the end of one of the cross arms was a hint. We wrapped the
camera cord around a wrist and finger and then clasping it out of sight
up a sleeve we took to the crowded streets.
Somehow it all works. People
dodging people, Vespas and cars. Cars dodging people, buses and delivery
trucks and Vespas with their mufflerless chainsaw engines zipping through
the tiniest of spaces left by buses, trucks, cars, other Vespas and people
... like us. The trick is not to alter your walking pace ... this way cars
and speeding Vespas can guage whether to rub your nose or polish your
backside with the wind they create. It is helpful to also look like you
know where you are going with facial expressions that announce "Yes,
and I intend to get there."
Living in such cramped quarters
most Italians share the sidewalk and street with their neighbours as part
of their living space. Parks are rare in Napoli. Private space is also
rare and neighbours know all about neighbours just as families do within
their own home. Just like in some families tempers flare in loud
passionate exchanges, hand jesters and facial expressions but just as
quickly you can hear or see exchanges of love and forgiveness. In other
cultures you might hear the phrase "don't hang out your dirty laundry
for others to see." Here, all the laundry is hung out - both
metaphorically and actually.
Narrow streets are like chasms with
towering flat walled apartment buildings on both sides. Each window is
fitted with shutters and most often below the window are three lengths of
clothesline hung between two brackets set a distance from the window just
as far as the arm can reach. Draped from these lines, like flags
indicating the kind of person who dwells within, fly everything from
sheets and jeans to dainty pink laced panties.
|We walked through one of the
squares which has a monument to the plague and where people congregated
... some to have dinner at one of the square's restaurants and others just
exchanging news of the day's events ... which in some cases caused heated
debates including pretend spitting as though they had a disgusting taste
in their mouths that must be discarded upon the street.
||Down another side street ... and we
literally mean down the street because the sidewalk was either occupied
by parked cars or people lounging in chairs after a full day's survival
.... we could see the transformation of shops. During the day people
living on the ground floor, with doors and windows fronting onto this
compact street, use their livingrooms as shops to show and sell their wares
from tools to toilet paper, from bananas to bandanas. In the evening they
reclaim their living space and allow it to flow out onto their sidewalk
| A little further down the street amongst parked cars, we
could see a gathering of men around an animated game of cards as though
they were sitting in a private room at an unusual country club.
Fascinated, Sherrie pulled the camera from her sleeve and snapped a
picture. One of the men looked over with some suspicion at the bold move -
in this city where organized crime is only slightly less active than
Sicily - but seemed to relax when she flashed a big innocent smile and
turned to disappear around the corner.
|The memory of Napoli and it's
people, who will continue to live with so much intensity, will balance our
perspective when we return to home with all its space and greenery, it's
well mannered traffic and it's polite people who often show a different
face in public then they do in the privacy of their own homes while they
change their laundry over from the washing machine to the automatic dryer.
Whoever designed the first
rollercoaster must have been inspired by a bus drive along the Amalfi
Coast ... only to save space did they change the ride to up and down
rather than from side to side whizzing around narrow corners within an
inch or two of some flimsy metal fence dividing road from sheer rock faces
plunging to the water far far below. At least on rollercoasters the seats
are attached to a guide rail rather than a four wheeled, free falling
oversized tin can.
|The bus was crowded with
standing room only. In fact there wasn't even any standing room left as it
squished from back to front including stepwells. The air-conditioning was
keeping the breath-filled air only tolerable and even it had to be shut
off when climbing up some of the steep grades.
We were sitting on the right side
(cliff side) in the second row of seats. Half way through the trip we
snagged the front seats, cliff side still, where we could see even more
clearly the inch space between bus and useless barricade and more visually
appreciate the twists and turns and turns and twists and near misses with
other cars and buses. The big blue bus we rode in would honk its horn
"beee-bop beee-bop" which sounded a lot like a goose with a head
cold doing an imitation of an ambulance siren. These noises were to tell
the driver of a vehicle approaching that a bus was coming and was going to
take the whole road to make the curve ... and upon hearing this painful
goose, they were to stop and wait.
Well, the locals might know what it
means, but there were plenty who didn't ... much to the consternation of
our driver and our pulse rate.