Pompeii is one of the leading sights in all of Italy because it takes visitors into the past, one that not only surrounds them on all sides, but which resembles the present. Originally, I’d questioned the necessity of visiting Pompeii after hearing that it is a tourist trap. In the spring, school groups fill the buildings and all of summer is also peak-season. However, when I visited the city in April, I rarely crossed paths with other visitors. The site is a full-size city after all, with plenty of small streets in which to get lost.
As I walked through the ancient city, I saw that the streets of Pompeii share the same layout and sidewalks of modern city streets. The homes have courtyards and foyers identical to those in many modern homes, and the public places are just like those in modern life: commercial streets, theaters, temples, and well, brothels. But it’s when I heard the stories of the men and women who lived in Pompeii that I really began to identify with the past.
In 79 A.D., the Mt. Vesuvius volcano exploded, and most of the inhabitants of Pompeii were buried in 60 feet of ash and pumice. It was not until 1748 that Pompeii was accidentally rediscovered and subsequently excavated. Famously, the physical positions that the citizens of Pompeii took in their final moment have been preserved by the volcanic ash, and plaster casts of them have been made for display. I found it difficult to find them, however. I kept searching and eventually found the casts of the dead in the Garden of Refuges.
Equally awe-inspiring are the works of art, the statues and paintings, which are so well preserved. Many of the most striking pieces are on display in Naples’s Museo Archeologico Nazionale. But what perhaps struck me most were the more mundane elements of ancient society, in particular, the frescoes.
You can walk inside many of the homes in Pompeii. You can lean against the walls just like those who once owned the homes did, and you can share the same views from their windows and doorways looking out upon Mt. Vesuvius. The frescoes and other ornamental facets, which cannot be called art but decoration, reveal how the wealthy adorned their living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms. The frescoes are hand-drawn or painted on the walls and filled with beautiful details such as tiny birds, leaves, and seashells.
One of the most famous and striking examples of the lifestyles of the ancient elite comes in the story of the Vetti brothers. Standing in the entryway of The House of Vetti, I stared into a stunning courtyard where they once held lively parties. The brothers were successful merchants who prided themselves on living healthy, sexually active lives. To make sure you got the point, they painted a pornographic image to the right of their entry that symbolizes their abilities both in bed and in the marketplace. Pompeii’s red light district is filled with brothels adorned with even more-risqué images.
I highly suggest taking a guided tour to hear all of the most intimate details of ancient city life. High-quality audio tours cost 6.50€ per person or 10€ for two people. Entry into Pompeii costs 11€. Make sure to pack water, sun block, and other necessities because there is no re-admittance.
Written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com
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Saturday 9th of April 2011
One thing I found fascinating about Pompeii was the number of carved phallic symbols in the streets pointing the way to the brothels. I found them in many places in the streets and some in the corners of buildings. Before seeing this I had no idea how open to the idea of brothels was to the people of this time period.