So in 79 CE, Mount Vesuvius, which we just trained passed from Naples, erupted and covered the Roman city of Pompeii in about 4-6 meters of ash and pumice. This left the city in a preserved state that archaeologists have been sifting through for years. It should offer a rare look back at the time period and the structures, art, and culture. They’ve also recovered something like a thousand bodies from the ash. I’ve got high hopes that it’s one of the coolest things we investigate this trip.
We enter through the Stabia Gate in the South West of the large site and are immediately greeted by an open field with a crumbled columnade in front of a large theatre.
We travel through the Quadriportico to the theatre entrance like Roman theatre goers would have in ancient times.
My little audio guide thingy says that this large theatre was built by rich wine makers in the second century BCE. It’s sectioned off in three tiers. The lower section is for nobles and senators, middle is for middle class, and the top is for the plebs. Wider and more comfy seats at the bottom, steeper and shittier seats closer to the top. There was also a box seat for the real important folk.
Let’s go up and take a look. Pretty good condition for a two thousand year old theatre.
Spinning around from the theatre and we’re on a rise overlooking a massive amount of foundation ruins.
Some of these buildings are well intact, including pillars, stairs and statues.
Around the corner is the Triangular Forum. Named after it’s shape, the forum stands on a ridge of lava rock that overlooks the valley and the mouth of the river Sarno. It is visible from the sea. This is one of the oldest areas in the city, dating back to the 6th century BCE.
This is at the end of a long road. Whoa. Ok this is going to definitely take all day to explore. The site is about 165 acres.
Temple of Isis
We happen upon the Temple of Isis, another building from the 2nd century BCE. It was rebuilt after a major earthquake back in 62 CE. A perfect little spot for cult sacrifices and purification rites.
The Cult of Isis gained influence in Pompeii around 100 BCE. The Romans adopted a lot of the Egyptian and Grecian Gods (as well as their architecture stylings, as shown in the fusion here). The deities kept their usual stations but were also adapted to suit Roman sensibilities and geography. Isis was swapped in for Demeter and Venus, for example, when it felt like a better fit. She took over Goddess of the Sea duties on the Island of Philae as well.
This temple saw a lot of foot traffic being that it was en route to the theatre and also the triangular forum. This was handy when you needed to fit in a quick cult ritual before catching a tragic comedy or business meeting.
Apparently Mozart kicked it here for a bit when he was 13 and it inspired him to later write the opera The Magic Flute.
There are some statues and a fresco in the backyard.
The foundations of the buildings here have lots of interesting things inside to tickle the imagination.
We swing down Via dell’Abbondanza, which looks like the ancient equivalent to a main drag. The roads and layout of the city are amazingly modern feeling. There is an elaborate complex here that was a central bath area called the Stabian Baths. It is 3500 square feet. Placed near the gymnasium so you could come and relax here after a good scrap.
There are changing rooms, a steam room and then three areas for cold, medium and hot baths. Piping in the walls heated the place moving hot air from the furnace through double floors. Moveable bronze braziers kept things cozy. Some clever engineering.
This area was built in the 2nd century BCE and fancied up after the 62 CE earthquake. “So they basically founded the YMCA in the 2nd century BC.” “Yes, but the dance didn’t become popular until the 1970s.”
Back to the streets
Whaaaa.. this looks interesting.
Casa dell’Orso Ferito
We find a nicely preserved spot without many folks milling about called the House of the Wounded Bear because of the welcome-style fresco at the front. ‘Have’ is the latin form of ‘Welcome’.
This was a middle class home with a fountain and other frescoes of birds. The large, colorful fountain in the back has Venus lying in a shell with Neptune below surrounded by all manner of fishies. This place is crazy cool.
Beside the Wounded Bear place are a number of shops with area for storage behind them. The audio guide says that good Vesuvian bread was made in one of these bakeries. 81 loaves were found preserved in ash here, already cut into 8 slices and ready to be sold.
Casa della Caccia Antica
Next up we come across the House of the Ancient Hunt. The frescos in here show Venus fishing between Mercury and Apollo. Another room shows carpets being blown up by the wind. There is also Diana and Actaeon, a hunter that the goddess transformed into a deer because he peeped her naked while she was bathing.
Mystic Fountain of McBurger
Now just a drinking spring, this once was an ancient site where the Camo on Camo cult would congregate and get royally gooned most weekday afternoons. The fountain magically flowed with fine Chilean wine. Any virgin followers attending rituals without wearing beefy hiking boots were subsequently drowned in the wine with great revelry.
House of the Faun
We come across another massive complex called the House of the Faun. It is a sprawling 3000 square meter area that covers an entire block, one of the largest houses in Pompeii. Complete with a small bathing complex, servants quarters, kitchen, lavatory, some exceptionally decorated reception rooms, multiple peristyliums (aka porches with columns), and a large garden area. The place is even heated from the kitchen with raised floors.
It’s named House of the Faun cuz of this lil dancing satyr duffer right here in the main atrium.
Incredible area. We take a stroll through the garden
Here’s a fresco showing a trio of thieving albino pigeons stealing a sting of pearls from a jewelry box.
And why have one peristylium when you can have two?
In the living room between the two
peristyliums (perisyliae?) outdoor columned areas there is mosaic of the decisive battle between Alexander the Great and the Persian King Darius III. The Battle of Gaugamela in 331 BCE. It is easily one of the most important battles of all time that changed the course of world history.
This fresco dates back to the 2nd century BCE. It’s slightly more subtle than the Alex da G statue we saw in Skopje.
“What the hell?” “Yaaaaa. That’s a super baller thing to have in your living room.”
Let’s zoom in on our world conquering, eunuch loving hero there. What a unit. Looks handsome. Determined.
So whoever owned the House of the Faun was a rich af history buff. Who did he commission for this piece, I wonder? Michelangelo’s great grandfather (x1044)? Maybe I can get Frank Miller to do a Battle of Thermopylae fresco in my peristylium.
“Well this place rules. What’s next map boy?” MacKay opens up the little pamphlet, “Looks like there’s a cemetery and shit over this way. Check that out?” “Ancient graves? For sure.”