(Updated with photos)
Yesterday I fulfilled a long held dream and visited Pompeii in Italy. Pompeii has always held a certain fascination for me, as I love social history and learning about how people lived. What can be better than a whole small town preserved exactly how it was when it was inhabited?
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I arrived. You hear about the size of the town, in hectares (49 currently excavated) but it means nothing. You hear about the houses which have been preserved but missing their roofing, but you can’t really picture them.
And then you arrive.
The reality is it really is a small town. There are streets and streets which you wander up and down, just like you can at home. They even have pavements just like modern towns. And just like every modern town, some of the streets are busy with people, and on others there is no one else in sight, it’s just you and the sounds of the birds. Along the streets of course are the buildings, opening right on the street. Some of them are quite big, and some seem tiny.
The trouble is, we just don’t know enough about what each and every building was used as; house or business of some sort. Some are obviously businesses, the tavernas for example with their counters and pots which once held food. Others are perhaps homes, with an atrium or sunken bath. Others? Who knows. Certainly not me. After a while all the ruined buildings start to look the same. And you start to think maybe it’s time to leave. And then you see something really interesting. A mosiac on the floor perhaps, perfectly preserved. A fresco on the wall, still brightly coloured, and drawn as only the Romans would. No modern designs here. And suddenly you remember why Pompeii is so amazing.
One highlight was the Grand Theatre. Firstly because it is so well preserved. But secondly because just after I left, but while I was still within earshot someone started singing. I don’t know who or why, but who ever he was he had a great voice and it me think about how amazing it must have been to see a performance there 2000 years ago. And again Pompeii seemed like a real place. A magical place.
The other place you can see is Herculaneum. This was a nearby small village which was also buried by Mount Vesuvius. Herculaneum is better preserved though as the buildings are less damaged, and some of them still have a second floor or a roof. Some of them even have some of the wood used in construction preserved. The trouble is the modern town is built right on top of Herculaneum, which means some of it will never be excavated, and the archaeological site is surrounded by the modern town. It literally overlooks it. And this does detract from the attractiveness of Herculaneum as the modern town is not especially picturesque.
But, again as with Pompeii remnants of Roman life remain, the mosaics and frescoes on the walls, and the streets themselves.
At neither town is anything actually in the buildings. A lot of the artefacts which were found are now at a museum in Naples, which does mean you have to use your imagination when looking around. I’m going to Naples on Friday and I will try and see the musuem as I’d love to see the artefacts from the houses.