Friday, 4 October 2013

The Ancient City of Pompeii...

A strange thing... to walk on streets 2000 years old.

Colosseum with rare solid floor 
But that's what we found ourselves doing after a short drive North and towards the looming Mount Vesuvius. The Pompeii we all know and love is now a district of the modern city Pompei (notice the subtle difference?). Parking the van was comparatively easy and after a few minutes paying for tickets and we were met with a huge Colosseum type building and the slaves entrance through a few tunnels opening out in to the amphitheater.

This theater had a solid floor, unlike other Roman remains, and so gave the viewer an immense sense of immersion. If I blanked out the hoards of old and chinese people (Two seperate groups, sometimes combined) it really felt like I could have been there... doomed by my previous owner as he sold me to the slave master for the measly sum of 2 Denarius's (Roman coinage). Luckily I only had to fight off the urge to photo bomb the Chinese tourists as Kerry and I walked to and through the otherside of the arena.

All around Pompeii there are typical, stepped vineyards. All of the vines are orientated to a certain direction to give greatest exposure to the sun, and consequently increasing yield of grapes. Each yard was owned and operated by a well-to-do Roman aristocrat and produced their own seperate brand of wine with completely different grape varieties. By looking at the grape vines that were buried in the ash, archaeologists were able to determine over 400 totally different types of grape vine.

So what's all this about ash? Who's he? Mount Vesuvius is actually a comparably very active volcano. It's most notable eruption was in 79AD when it spat tons of rock, ash and gases 20 miles in to the atmosphere. It produced running lava flows consisting of 1.5 million tons of material per second. That's a lot of rock!

The result to the neighbouring cities of Pomepeii and Herculaneum was a deposit of ash and rock nearly 3 metres thick in places. This rock and ash was devastating to the cities. An estimated 16,000 people died in the initial lava flow and rock expulsion. Archaeologically, however, this layer protected the site, maintaining a whole Roman city in that one instant, when the volcano erupted. After excavating a large portion it is now open to the public.

Ruins of the Basillica used by Roman Pompeii citizens for prayer

We walked around the streets of Pompeii as if it was a sort of theme park. There was no sombriety shown by any of the multi-national sightseers. And I myself didn't feel like I do when I've visited war graves in Belgium, or any grave for that matter. Because this is what Pompeii is... A mass grave. Granted it's in quite an obscure setting, how many graves ARE a city as well?

Perhaps the whole place detaches itself from the reality of what happened? Maybe it's just too preserved. Walking around the streets and sometimes you could wonder what all the fuss was about. The infrastructure is still there, roads are very definable, kurbs, sewers, swimming pools, even obligatory modern water pipes to quench the thirst of today's unattached spectators.

What was actually quite disturbing to me was the few lost souls who were truly immortalised by the eruption. Some city dwellers met their end asleep such as this guy in the glass case. That is not their actual physical self mummified. The cast is made of plaster of Paris and is injected in to the void that the now rotted flesh left behind. It enforces the very speed in which events occurred.

I found it very vivid. Some buildings and rooms were open. Anyone could walk inside, there were spectacular pictures painted on the walls with barely any empty space. You could walk around the house, as if you were there before the eruption. Shops still had their frontage and pots for their wares. 

 There was also some interesting conservation work being done. This photo demonstrated how they use scaffolding systems to support falling sections of wall. It appeared that rainfall had dug away at the foundations.

As we progressed through the labyrinth of streets, some with massive 'speed humps', the landscape opened out in to a sort of square with the ruins of a respectably sized basillica. This was obviously the main congregation area of the city with decorative fountains and large open spaces.

It then transpired that we had come in to the city through the back entrance and we were spat out at the main entrance a few minutes walk around the walls of the city from our van and where we had entered.

Both Kerry and I were hungry when we got back to the van and having an hour left on the parking meter took the chance to grab some cheap food in the form of a kebab. Kebab, chips and a drink dented our pocket to the tune of 6 Euros a head and we were fully satisfied for the drive to Rome which we wanted to get done before night fall.

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