Among the cities buried by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, Pompeii is surely the most famous and the most visited of all. A stroll among its remains is a unique marvellous experience. The ancient city offers an opportunity to travel back into the past and to capture the feeling of its life. Monuments, public bath complexes, luxurious dwellings, temples and shops reveal the most evocative aspects of the town life in ancient times.
Perched on a hill overlooking the bay of Naples, the ancient town of Pompeii was also close to the Sarno river and it was very well connected with other river towns of the Sarno valley. Its strategic position made it a bustling commercial city and one of the most frequented towns in the area. The highly fertile volcanic soil, the favourable mild climate and the close proximity to the port of Puteoli (actual town of Pozzuoli), which was the most important port of the Roman Empire, gave Pompeians the opportunity to live a very comfortable life which is still evident from the remains of its buildings. The sumptuous and elegant houses, in particular those which were overlooking the sea and the river, still maintain amazing mosaics on the floor which, with the light of the sun, give us an idea of the prosperous life of its inhabitants. One of the most famous and grandiose mosaics is the one depicting the battle of Issus, which was discovered in the so-called House of the Faun. The original mosaic is now displayed in Naples National Archaeological Museum while a copy has been replacing it on the floor of the exedra room which lies between the two gardens of the magnificent residence.
The walls of the dwellings in Pompeii were decorated with exclusive and delicate frescoes depicting the life of Pompeians, their trades, their temples and their exhuberant gardens. Paintings were usually indicating the cultural and social status of the owner of the house and even the most humble homes were painted and reveal the owner’s cultivated taste for eye-catching art. The educated upper class inhabitants used to depict Greek mythological matters on the plaster walls of their residences. Some designs represented images of deities or narrated episodes from Greek history. The newly rich people used to decorate walls with frescoes representing still life subjects, illusionistic perspectives, landscapes of all sorts, like harbours, rivers, deserts or mountains but also animals and figurative compositions. Some of the walls and ceilings were also elegantly refined in stucco reliefs. Shops were also decorated with frescoes either depicting the lares and gods, who were supposed to protect business, or showing the goods that were sold. Brothels walls were decorated with grotesquely erotic caricatures or with scenes showing sexual activities. Each private or public building was also decorated with marble or bronze statues representing, most of times, gods, emperors, politicians or vip subjects. The marble relief of the frame surrounding the entrance door to the Eumachia clothes market, in the Forum, is one of the examples of the level reached by sculptors during the Roman time. They had been practising, for long time, the art of engraving derived from the Hellenistic art, and they became so skilled that they produced many marble carved artworks still visible in the archaeological site.
During the Roman Empire most of the rich upper class members started to express their social level and wealth by collecting luxury objects which would impress and delight the guests visiting a house. Most of those objects like silver vessels, glass bottles, miniature works of sculpture, precious stones, cameos and gems are now on display in Naples at the National Archaeological Museum but sometimes copies are replacing them inside the ruins.
Gardens had also an important role in the life of Pompeii. Considered a place of relaxation the gardens were the heart of the house. Whether large or small, the internal gardens of the houses of Pompeii were usually embellished with marble fountains and spouts, various litlle statues, small temples and splendid mosaics. Most of those gardens have been rebuilt thanks to the plaster casts of the trees which were obtained by pouring liquid cement into the cavities left by the plants in the layers of ash. The gardens were usually surrounded by porticos, covered by tiled roofs, which were useful in case of rain or shine.
Other buildings which are really worth a visit are the bathhouses. The most beautiful ones are the so-called Suburban Thermae placed outside the town in proximity of the Marina Gate entrance.
They are embellished by floor and wall mosaics, frescoes and stucco reliefs. Here it is possible to note the heating system that Romans were using in the thermal bath structures. The thermae were divided into sections for men and women and there were at least seven of those buildings in the entire town. However, the Forum baths, close to the Forum square and the Stabianae baths, the oldest ones in Pompeii, are the only other two bathhouses still open to the public for a visit.
The theatre district, close to the Sarno river, is another area which is really interesting. Besides the Samnites Palestra (the Gym) and the Triangular Forum where the temple of Hercules was, this section of the town is famous for the Egyptian Temple of Isis where the remains of stucco reliefs and a hall, where the sacred water from the Nile river was kept, are still visible. The temple itself was visited by Wolfgang Amedeus Mozarth among other very famous travellers. Most of the frescoes and objects which were embellishing the temple were removed from Pompei and they were brought to Naples National Archaeological Museum.
The nearby large theatre, which could host some five thousand spectators, was decorated with marble reliefs and the names of the spectators are still engraved on the private seats. The small theatre, known as the Odeon, was used for music and for reading poetry and it was decorated with grey lava rock sculptures. Close to the two theatres there is still the beautiful Quadriportico which was the square where spectators used to gather before and after the theatre performances. After the earthquake of the year 62 AD, this area was used as a gym by gladiators.
To participate in a private guided tour, with a qualified tourist guide, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach me on the phone at +39 339 3982433
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© 2016-2017 Dr Maria Sannino