Most people know about the tragedy that was Pompeii so it would be presumptuous of me to write a post on its history. I will, therefore, content myself with posting some images I took when I was there in June last when I struggled in the heatwave and the crowds that had disembarked from the 3 cruise ships in the Bay of Naples. Here are just a few essential details.
It wasn’t until 1594 that the architect Dominico Fontana, discovered the ruins while digging a canal but serious excavations didn’t begin until the mid 18th century. Of the city’s original 66 hectares, 44 have now been excavated but not all of this area is accessible to the public.
Pompeii wasn’t destroyed by Vesuvius in AD 79: it was buried under a layer of burning pumice stone which means that much of it is remarkably well preserved. Today the visitor can walk down Roman streets, peer into what we know were brothels and bath-houses, snoop around houses, temples and shops and sit in the amphitheatre and pretend to be an ancient Roman. Some of the frescoes are in a remarkable condition, the colours vibrant and the figures well defined. Those in the the brothel are quite explicit as they were there to provide visual inspiration for the clients and they were a cause for scandal in the Vatican when they were first revealed in 2001.
There had been severe earthquakes in the area for two days previous to the volcano’s eruption so many people had left the town for safety, otherwise the number of lives lost would have been a lot more. Nevertheless, 2,000 men, women and children perished. Plaster casts of some of the bodies that were excavated are on display but some are still under renovation.
My first visit to Pompeii was many years ago in late autumn and I would recommend that time of year. The number of visitors visiting the Naples area in late spring, summer and early autumn and ticking Pompeii off their bucket-list makes it a less enjoyable tour for the serious lover of history or archaeology. Besides the crowds, there is the heat, and Pompeii offers no shade whatsoever.
There are many histories of the destruction of Pompeii but the best must surely be Robert Harris’s Pompeii (2004) published by Hutchinson which reads like a thriller and is a true page-turner.
The original account is by Pliny the Younger who was there at the time and most accounts are based on this, another very exciting read.