"Frozen in time, its ghost remains." Pompeii by leics
Pompeii Travel Guide: 980 reviews and 2,702 photos
Ever since I first heard of Pompeii (when I was a very little girl) I have wanted to visit. I don't think knowing about its existence actually sparked my interest in archaeology (that was down to a combination of finding a Victorian stoneware cream jar on wasteland and reading Enid Blyton's 'The Treasure-Seekers'), but it certainly encouraged it.
It took me a long, long time to get to Pompeii but the wait was worth it. I deliberately chose to travel out of season: it wasn't particularly warm or sunny, but there were so few visitors around the whole area (not just Pompeii) that I saw someone from my flight at least once every day! And, of course, that meant anywhere one visited felt much, much more special.
By getting to Pompeii for around 10am I had the whole town more or less to myself for a couple of hours or so: there were only about 40 other people around (including the guards/guides) until lunchtime, when a few tour groups began to arrive. 40 may sound a lot, but spread over a town the size of ancient Pompeii it meant that much of my time was spent wandering entirely alone, out of both sight and earshot of other visitors. So that's my first piece of advice: go out of season, and go early!
I'm not going to re-tell the story of the Vesuvian eruption and its effects on Pompeii and the surrounding countryside: it is too well -known to repeat here. But well-known though it is (and the BBC recently produced a most excellent reconstructive documentary, based on archaeological evidence from the site), actually being there produces an entirely different feeling. Makes it real, I suppose. It certainly brought home to me what a busy and vibrant place the town of Pompeii was, and how suddenly it had simply ceased to exist. I knew about the cart ruts in the roads beforehand (see main photo); I had not really taken in how many thousands of carts must have passed along the streets to make those ruts.
And I knew also about the graffiti, the temples, the civic buildings and the luxurious villas, the ordinary houses, the sumptuous wall-paintings, the brothel and the theatres, the amphitheatre, the bakeries, the street-food bars, the shops. But I hadn't fully understood what it would feel like to walk along the deserted streets, nor how easily the place would come to life again in my mind.
When I used 'ghost' in the page title I did not mean the spooky haunting kind, for Pompeii did not feel at all eerie to me. I meant, simply, that the traces of what it once was are so strongly present everywhere that one cannot but understand at least a little of what it was really like to live there.
Pompeii is huge, of course: about 66 hectares, with around two-thirds of that excavated. I spent 5 hours there altogether, but there is still some left for me to see (and more to see in proper depth). Don't expect to have full access everywhere: you won't, because excavations and restorations are ongoing, and some parts of the site are clearly not safe (exposure to the elements doing the damage that Vesuvius could not). But there is much to see, and even if all the villas and buildings were closed (which they won't be) it would still be unmissable.
As always, as ever, I liked the ornate and beautiful villas and the awe-inspiring public buildings but lmore enjoyed looking for the smaller details, and in the back-streets, to see evidence of how ordinary folk lived. Ordinary folk in the past are those who interest me most, for their lives pass largely without historical record: what we know comes, mostly, from archaeological excavation. It is the putting together of clues to create knowledge which engages me most when I am digging.
So I looked at the cart ruts, and the stepping-stones provided so people could cross the streets without getting their feet filthy. I noticed the carvings on the corners of some of the streets (for most people could not read, and how else could one find an address?), and the organised way water supplies were set out (cisterns on crossroads, each with its own carving from which the water flowed.....a way of identifying problems, perhaps?).
The narrow streets reminded me very much of those parts of Italian towns/cities which retain their Medieval street-pattern (as did the number of bars and bakeries dotted about; I bet the latter produced excellent cakes and pastries as well!). I imagine them full of noise, from carts and children, barking dogs and shouting mothers, arguments between husbands and wives, drunken singing.......
.......and the excitement of the games in the amphitheatre, the whole town wending its way through the streets, the hawkers and street-stalls, the chanting and the roaring..........
......the seriously rich and the seriously important meeting in the forum, talking business, seeing and being seen........
...the brothel girls, what their lives must have been like....wonder how old they were, wonder if they were actually enslaved or just poor, wonder what happened to them when they lost their youth.........
.....putting your faith in whichever god seemed appropriate for your needs, making sure you had a shrine to your 'lares and penates' (household gods) somewhere in the house or garden, making sure you gave what you could when you could so that things carried on ok. because you had very little control over much of your life.........
........grabbing a bite to eat from one of the bars, or drinking with your mates of an evening (perhaps they had tables and chairs outside in the sun, those bars which had courtyards?), or spending your evenings walking in your own beautiful garden (for all the villas seem to have had beautiful gardens), enjoying the fountains and the flowers and the birdsong in good company.............
........all gone now, though the dogs remain (glossy enough, sleeping off their doggy night-time activities in a sunny patch, totally ignoring the visitors).
And a few, just a few, of those people who were caught in the eruption remain too, plaster-casts of their bodies on show in what was once the granary alongside the forum. There's a fascination about looking at them, and I did, but I'm not sure (still) whether they should be there. It brings home the horror, certainly, but I don't know if I (and hundreds of thousands of others) should be privy to someone else's last agonies.
There is so much of Pompeii to see, and I took many, many photos. I'll make travelogues focusing on individual aspects, of course. But don't wait as long as I did to visit; if you can go, go.
Apart from anything else, another eruption is long overdue........
- Pros:Nowhere else brings you so close to the reality of the past.
- Cons:Get there early: crowds destroy its atmosphere.
- In a nutshell:Iconic and unmissable. Frozen in time, its ghost remains.
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