Italian Adventure Part 6 – Pompeii

We were up reasonably early today, Monday 7th, as our coach was picking us up at 08:50. As it happens, they arrived about twenty minutes late but never mind, this wasn’t to be a long journey and we had been sat chatting in the hotel lounge.

So today we were going on a guided tour of the archaeological site that is ancient Pompeii.

For those of you who don’t know  …….. From Wikipedia …..

Pompeii was an ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples, in the Campania region of Italy, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

Pompeii is vast, it covers a total of 64 to 67 hectares (170 acres) and was home to approximately 11,000 to 11,500 people on the basis of household counts of the time.

Pompeii was not engulfed in a huge lava flow, rather it was enveloped in layer upon layer of volcanic ash. The victims died through asphyxiation. It is because of the ash that so much has been preserved.

Pompeii – Ancient Roman Tourist queuing to buy souvenirs ?

We were on a guided tour with the usual radio head sets. Our guide was very good, with lots of information about what we were seeing. Unfortunately my little grey cells are not up to the job of retaining all she said. The following is a selection of the photos I took. Where I can, I have included snippets of information that I remember, supplemented by a little research of my own.

Pompeii – This larger than life character “Daedalus” looks down near the entrance to the site. I expect he’s wondering about all the tourist tat shops Perhaps wishing Vesuvius would bury the lot of them

What you see in Pompeii isn’t all as it was found. Some parts have been re-constructed and, as seems to be the case wherever I travel, there are some areas covered with scaffolding.

Pompeii – It’ll look great when the construction work is finished

The streets of Pompeii were built to last, to withstand the passage of wheeled chariots and carts. They were also the place where every kind of effluvia ended up. Be it rain water, horse droppings, human waste and the general detritus discarded by the population of the city.



Many of the streets had large raised blocks across the width of the street. These were the Pompeii equivalent of a pedestrian crossing, There to help Pompeiis citizens avoid splashing through who knows what.

Many of the streets in Pompeii were not wide enough for two-way traffic. In fact, none of the streets in Pompeii are wider than 3 meters across, and it is believed that such streets may have been permanently designated as one-way. No signs to support this theory have been found. However, by looking at the wear patterns of the ruts, archaeologists have been able to identify the predominant direction from some of the streets.

Pompeii – Water Fountain

Water is fundamental to all life and no less so for the citizenry of Pompeii. Only the richest residents  would have had water supplied to their houses. Everyone else  would have relied on public fountains. Fountains, such as the one above, would be found at most street corners.

Another water related fact is that the citizens of Pompeii were not very tall. This is put down to the amount of lead used in the water systems. Lead pipes that fed the water fountains and also the richer homes. Water storage tanks were also made of or lined with lead. Apparently lead can stunt growth. However, there is a counter argument that says the amount of calcium in the water would have led to the calcification of the pipes and tanks and that in turn would have reduced the amount of lead contamination.

Our guide made a point of informing us that the lead came from England. What she omitted to say that it was the Romans who did all the serious mining and presumably exporting most of it back home.

One of the largest homes, identified so far, in Pompeii is the House of the Faun. The house was home for a very wealthy  family and takes up a whole block. It had an interior space of about 3,000 square meters (nearly 32,300 square feet).

The large mosaic in the picture above is the Alexander Mosaic  Follow the link to Wikipedia for a better picture and more information.

The photo above, with the columns, is the smaller of two peristyles. A peristyle is an open space surrounded by columns.  Even the smallest is not insignificant, being about 20 meters (65 feet)  by 7 meters (23 feet). The current reconstruction of this peristyle includes a formal garden. It may or may not have been a formal garden when it was originally in use.

Time for a little moan. The House Of The Faun is one of the most popular places to visit in Pompeii. There are two gateways and if they had put both of them to use there would have been a better pedestrian flow. Instead folks were trying to get in and out of just the one, narrow, gateway. A lack of courtesy meant that the flow would be only one way for quite some time.

Another popular building to visit is the Lupanare or brothel. I never thought it would happen, but I took my wife to a brothel. A great deal, was made by our guide, about the saucy images that we would see on the walls within the building. So much so, that a family group with two young boys were considering not taking them through.

They needn’t have worried, you aren’t inside for very long and what is on display, is fairly faded and difficult to interpret.

The prostitutes in the brothel would have been mostly Greek and Oriental slaves. Apparently, they were paid between two and eight Asses (a glass of wine cost one Ass)
for their services. The building has two floors. The homes of the owner and the slaves are at the top and there are five rooms at the bottom, all fitted with a built-in bed, on either side of the corridor that connects the two entrances of the ground floor. The rooms were
closed by a curtain. A latrine is at the end of the corridor, under the staircase.
Small paintings with erotic depictions on the walls of the central corridor informed customers of the activities that took place.

Our guide led us ever onwards through the maze that is Pompeiis streets. Directing our attention to various structures that have been identified as this business, or that business. Here are a couple that I can remember ….

The first two photos are of a bakery, showing the oven and flour mill that would have probably been operated by slaves. The third photo shows the remains of a thermopolium, effectively a fast food outlet. The Roman equivalent of a McDonald’s although the food would probably been better that a big Mac.

The residents of Pompeii were not averse to the arts and we were soon entering one of the many theatres.

The Odeon or theatrum tectum, as it was called by the Romans, was built during the early years of the colony, c79 BC.

This building was the place dedicated to the most popular theatrical genre at the time, mime. The Odeon would also be used for musical and singing performances.

Leading to the Odeon is the Quadriporticus of the theatres or Gladiators Barracks, a large quadrangle surrounded by 74 Doric grey columns, used as a foyer, an area where the spectators could stop during the intervals in the shows.

After an earthquake the building changed its function and became a barracks for gladiators. This resulted in parts of the building being reorganised.  The rooms upstairs may have been the apartments of the undertaker of the gladiators. During the excavations ornamental weapons, used in the parades that preceded the battles,were found in two wooden boxes. Many victims were also found here, such as four skeletons of slaves and 18 people were found in a room, including a woman with a very rich collection of jewels.

Our party was introduced to the Stabian Baths so-called as they lie at the intersection of the Via Stabianaand the Via dell’Abbondanza.

Here the citizens of Pompeii would have made use of the cold (Frigidarium), warm (Tepidarium) and hot baths (Caldarium)

The floor of the Caldarium would have been very hot. So hot that visitors to the baths would have to wear clogs to insulate their feet.

Much is made of the speed with which the residents of Pompeii were trapped by the pyroclastic clouds from Vesuvius. So much so, that not only were the buildings preserved, but the bodies of the inhabitants.

As the archaeological digs proceeded, throughout the years, many of these bodies have been found, or rather the cavities where the bodies had been. Basically providing a negative image in the compressed ash. By using a form of plaster of paris these forms have been revealed.

The example in the above photos is said to be of a servant / slave girl. She was also, judged by the curve of her belly, believed to have been pregnant. Very sad.

As our tour continued we arrived at The Forum, a vast area. This would have been at the political, commercial and social heart of the town.

The most important civic buildings of Pompeii would have been located here. For example, municipal offices, the basilica (court-house), the principal temples (such as the Capitolium). Also the macellum (market) would likely have been here.

After visiting the Forum it was time for our tour group to head back to the coach for our journey home. How quickly two hours passes by.

Our route to the exit leads us, once again, to the huge sculpture/statue of “Daedalus”. From whichever angle he is viewed from, he is impressive.

And finally, here are a few more photos from our visit.

I would recommend everyone, who has the opportunity, to visit Pompeii. Probably, the best way would be to do your own research before visiting, then self guide to see the key items. Since our visit I have viewed a few other blogs and websites and seen photos of items that we would have enjoyed. The guided tours have their set routes, and not everything can be covered in the two hours that we had. Unfortunately with such a tight schedule our tour was more like a route march.

Pompeii has so much to offer and I am afraid we only scratched the surface.



2 thoughts on “Italian Adventure Part 6 – Pompeii”

  1. The best way to visit Pompei and the other archaeological sites nearby is
    1/ not to take a guided tour
    2/ to read a lot before you begin your trip; a must read is “Arria Marcella” by the French author Théophile Gautier, I suppose one can find a translation of this short novel by the author of ” The Story of the mumy ” which has been often used for horror movies
    3/ to find a nearby hotel especially near the entrance to the amphitheater which is less used by tourists
    4/ to make your visits in mid afternoon till the closing time so that you will enjoy the site practically alone which makes the visit more enthralling.
    5/ To dedicate to the site at least 3 or 4 days each one to a part of the town. So that you don’t get exhausted and take your time to appreciate what you see and the strange atmosphere of the place; at times you may think that a citizen will appear from a corner of a street. And last but not least try to lower your voice when speaking and listen to the silence only interrupted by birds singing.
    Claude from Paris-France

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