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The Silk Route - World Travel: Pompeii, Italy
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Italy: Pompeii History and Regiones I & II
1998, 2017

History Regio I - La Città Commerciale Regio II - La Città nel Verde
Pompeii and Vesuvius


Pompeii is one of the most fascinating ancient sites in the world - it takes a long day to cover it in any depth. This first part looks at the region of the amphitheatre and palestra, workplaces and fabulous villas.

Part 2 Part 3

History

 

Pompeii
The map we used in 2017, with notes on our route through the town. It was impossible to note every photograph but the odd one with times helped a lot later on.

In 1998 we spent a good few hours exploring Pompeii, travelling from near Paestum where we were staying, and managed to see the major parts of the site but it was very hot and quite oppressive and we got very tired, especially as lunch time found us nowhere near the only restaurant on the site and returning to it involved visiting several villas, etc on the way in the interests of efficiency!

Returning in 2017 we stayed in the modern town of Pompei and spent six hours at the site. We were a lot more organised and saw a huge proportion of the town but it's just as well some of the houses were closed (almost always the case) or we might not have been so sensible and quit before we were exhausted.

Pompeii
1998

The story of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD which buried the town of Pompeii, preserving the scene for later archaeologists, is well-known. Though there had been earthquakes in the days preceding the cataclysmic eruption, these were not uncommon and it is not very surprising that many Pompeiians would carry on as normal.

Pliny the Elder, the famous naturalist, and at the time Commander of the Tyrrhenian fleet, was stationed in Misenum across the Bay of Naples. He, his nephew (also Pliny) and sister observed the eruption.

Pompeii
Vesuvius in the distance behind the ruins of Pompeii. 1998

Intrigued, Pliny the Elder set sail for Pompeii, curious to investigate the unusual phenomenon, but also to try to save people from the eruption.

PompeiiMosaic of a skeleton with oil or wine jugs. Found in Pompeii, now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

As Admiral he was able to launch a number of ships. These were inundated with pumice as they travelled across the bay, and as they got closer to Pompeii the water became too shallow to proceed from all the material falling into the water. Instead they made for Stabiae and the villa of a friend of Pliny's. He was, however, not even safe there, and the following morning died as he and his friends tried to escape from the ferocious onslaught.

He had left his nephew, also Pliny, behind in Misenum and it is from Pliny the Younger that we have an eye-witness account, albeit written two decades later, to the historian Tacitus. Though Pliny's two letters are dated in August, there is some question as to whether it was not, in fact, later in the year. Dio Cassius, a historian writing at least a century after the event, is the main source of this dispute.1

Pompeii
The trees were laden with ripe pomegranates when we visited Pompeii in early September 2017.
Pompeii
Some casts look as if the person was running in an effort to escape...

The argument turns on archaeological evidence of, for instance, agricultural activities at the time such as when the grape harvest could have been held - usually this would be later than August but not impossible for early varieties and a different climate 2,000 years ago; whether fresh walnuts, ripe pomegranates would have been available in late August, etc. We know that Pliny the Elder set off around 2pm - could he have made it across the bay before nightfall (as he did) later in the year? Is the fact that people were found wearing woollen clothing significant? Presumably heavier clothing provides more protection and with an ash cloud covering the sky it could have been colder than usual. I will stick to Pliny the Younger's dated letters for this account.

On the 24th August AD 79 something was already amiss in the morning, and some time around 1pm vast quantities of hot gas, ash, rocks and lapilli - small stones - shot out of the cone at a speed of hundreds of feet per second, reaching an altitude of between 65,000 to 1000,000 feet.1

Pompeii
... others as if they have given up hope. This person died in the Great Palaestra in Regio II.

Pompeii
The remains of bakery flour mills.

Lighter particles travelled faster and further to fall on Pompeii within a couple of hours, to be followed by heavier particles later, and Pompeii was buried under a 6 metre layer of lapilli and pumice.

Unable to sustain itself the column of volcanic material collapsed temporarily around 3pm, falling on the sides of the volcano to flow down in a pyroclastic flow of fast-moving, superheated gas, mud and lava which inundated Herculaneum.1,2 There seems to have been some respite for Pompeii at this time, though there was earthquake activity and fires on the slopes of the volcano. The following day, however, the magma chamber collapsed causing surge after surge of pyroclastic flows.1

Though the walls of Pompeii withstood the first onslaught, the city eventually succumbed to the ferocious final stages of the eruption. Most of the population had already left, but around 3,000 people perished, and some of the most poignant remains are the casts taken of the cavities left after the bodies, buried by the ash and pumice, had decayed away.

PompeiiBakery Complex in Regio VI, Insula 14.
One of the many bakeries - the rear mill is almost undamaged. Grain was poured into the top and the upper egg timer shaped stone was turned via a wooden bar inserted into the rectangular cavities on the outside, often powered by donkeys. The grain was ground between its interior and the surface of the lower conical stone.

Pompeii
A thermopolium bar with one inset dolia to hold foodstuffs and cavities for two more. The recess on the end would have supported a pot over a hearth. 1998

 

Pompeii had not grown organically but was planned on an orderly grid system of streets, with the imposing Forum and majestic temples and civic buildings at its heart, all surrounded by a substantial wall with many towers. Even in its origins in the 6th century BC, when the settlement was just a village, it was laid out on a grid system and surrounded by a wall.1 Today the town is labelled according to districts called Regio, of which there are 9, and these are further subdivided into a number of insula corresponding to a block of buildings bounded by roads.

Pompeii
Via della Fortuna
Stepping stones for crossing roads which could be fouled with animal waste - the ruts testify to the many carts which had travelled through the town over the centuries, drawn by mules or oxen for heavier loads.
Pompeii
Electoral graffiti on a wall on Vicolo dell'Efebo.

Like Herculaneum and Roman Villas in the region, Pompeii had suffered in the earthquake of 62 AD and restoration work was still going on. Nevertheless, this was a prosperous, busy town, with shop-lined streets, food stalls, public baths, and many residential properties, from large opulent many-roomed dwellings of the rich to single rooms attached to shops, either behind or above - many of the buildings had two storeys. In the south were two theatres and in the south eastern Regio II the huge palaestra and amphitheatre where the games were held. Necropoli were outside the town walls, often along major roads.

Pompeii
Looking north to the Arch of Caligula at the south end of the Via di Mercurio.
Pompeii is usually heaving with tourists today.

Walls were scrawled with graffiti on a diverse range of subjects, from the simplest so-and-so was here, to electioneering, boasts of sexual prowess and announcements of events such as gladiatorial games. The electioneering graffiti was erased and replaced yearly as new elections took place so we know that what we see now dates from around the time of the eruption.

Interiors of many buildings, especially the richer residences, are decorated with elaborate painted walls. In 1882 painting was classified into four chronological styles by August Mau, a German archaeologist.1

Pompeii Regio II
Fourth Style in Casa della Venere in Conchiglia in Regio II.

The First Style from the 2nd century BC. imitates marble in rows of brightly painted panels.

At the end of the 2nd century AD a new style develops, the Second Style, typified by architectural elements such as columns framing a view of landscapes or artwork.

Pompeii
Venus untying her sandal.
Opus sectile - an inlay technique.
Found in Pompeii, Regio I, Insula 2, in the triclinium of Casa di L & M Volusii Fausti, now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

The Third Style, between 20 BC and AD 40-50, was strikingly different from what had gone before. Walls were now divided into three zones, upper, middle and lower. The middle zone was composed of large rectangular panels separated by elegant designs of architecture or vegetation. Figures began to make an appearance as well as Egyptian imagery.

Finally the Fourth Style emerged around the middle of the first century AD. It is much more complex, with two main strands: the first covers the whole wall and includes architecture, wide landscape views and full-length figures; the second develops from the Third Style with pictures centred in panels - it is this latter of the two forms seen most often in Herculaneum and Pompeii.

 

 

Regio I - La Città Commerciale

Pompeii
Thermopolium in Insula 3.
Here the inset terracotta dolia can be seen.
Pompeii
Fullonica di Stephanus
One of the largest laundries found in Pompeii with many stone basins and tanks for washing and rinsing laundry and drying terraces upstairs. A pressing machine was also found - the sign of a top class laundry.3

La Città Commerciale is the name the guide map gives to this region of Pompeii, but in truth, there is barely any part of the town which doesn't have signs of commerce. Every street of any size is lined with shops - well over 600 have been counted.1 Many so-called thermopolia have been discovered, easily identifiable by the holes in the counters and inset dolia which held foodstuffs. They sometimes also had a hearth over which a pot could be placed for hot food or drink.

Pompeii
Thermopolium in Insula 9.
With dolia and display shelves, perhaps holding cups, glasses or dishes.
Pompeii
Fullonica di Stephanus
Fourth Style painted walls.



Pompeii
Casa del Criptoportico

 

Pompeii
An extensive shop/bakery in Insula 4, centre is a large oven.

Due to its position at the mouth of the Sarnus, Pompeii was in a very favourable spot to profit from the transport and trade of goods. Ships could dock easily and with a well-developed road system Pompeii became a hub of commerce. There are many fine houses, testament to the wealth of some of its citizens.

PompeiiCasa del Criptoportico
Lararium

 

 

Casa del Criptoportico is enormous and much of its beautiful decoration has been preserved.


Pompeii
Pompeii
A lararium was a shrine dedicated to the household gods. Here the god Mercury is painted in a niche with a ledge, two serpents, a peacock, other birds and butterflies.
Pompeii
Casa del Criptoportico
Beautiful mosaic flooring and painted wall panels in the caldarium. On the lowest register are paintings of plants.
Pompeii
Stucco decoration on barrel-vaulted ceiling.
Pompeii
Amphorae found in Casa del Criptoportico.
Doorway to baths area on the right.
Pompeii
Casa del Criptoportico
Wall painting in frigidarium.
Pompeii
Casa del Criptoportico
Frigidarium
Pompeii
Casa del Criptoportico
Frigidarium
In the far wall is a circular window onto a corridor.
Pompeii
Casa del Criptoportico
Mosaic flooring in apodyterium - changing room for the baths.
Pompeii
Casa del Criptoportico
Impluvium (to catch rainwater and channel it to a cistern) in the atrium.
Pompeii
Casa del Criptoportico
Marble table decorated with lion (?) heads and a flower.
Pompeii
Casa di Casca Longus
Fresco in atrium.
Pompeii
Casa di Casca Longus
Definitely marble lions decorating this three leg table support next to the impluvium in the atrium.
Pompeii
Casa di Casca Longus
Fresco in atrium.

 

Pompeii
Casa di Paquius Proculus

 

Pompeii
Casa di Paquius Proculus
Looking from the entrance across the atrium with impluvium to the tablinum, a second room and out to a peristyle.
Pompeii
Sileno ebbro - Drunken Silenus
Found in Casa di Paquius Proculus, now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

 

The most magnificent mosaic flooring to have survived virtually intact has to be in the Casa di Paquius Proculus - it also has a beautiful mosaic of a dog in the entrance, a common motif.

 

Pompeii
Ivory statuette of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi found in the Casa della Statuetta Indiana.
Now in Naples Archaeological Museum.
Pompeii
Vicolo di Paquius Proculus
Pompeii
Casa della Statuetta Indiana
Quite a few marble tables seem to have survived. This one has lion clawed paws at the foot of the table legs.
Pompeii
Casa di Fabio Amandio
Pompeii
Casa di Fabio Amandio
Atrium with lead bucket and marble table.

 

Pompeii
Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus

 

On the corner of Via dell'Abbondanza and an unnamed vicolo running south is one of the best-preserved thermopolia, that of Vetutius Placidus. It had a U-shaped marble bar counter with eleven inset dolia, some still containing food, and a hearth. On one wall is a painted lararium. Most citizens would eat away from home at one of the many bars in the town. Customers could also eat in rooms within the bar.

One of the most evocative finds was discovered here: 1385 bronze coins, mostly small denominations, representing perhaps a few days takings of the bar. In all probability the owner hid his money in the dolia hoping to recover it when he returned.

 

Pompeii
Casa dei Cubicoli Floreali

Pompeii
Casa dei Cubicoli Floreali
A beautifully painted room with gardens and birds. The illusion is that the room overlooks a garden.
Pompeii
Casa dei Cubicoli Floreali
Pompeii
Casa dei Cubicoli Floreali

Casa dei Cubicoli Floreali has some of the most intact wall paintings in the fashionable Fourth Style. The garden paintings are particularly lovely.

Pompeii
Pompeii
Workshop and dwelling.
A big contrast to the opulent houses above; nevertheless, this house had its own latrine, nicely decorated walls, and an upper storey with a balcony overlooking Vicolo del Menandro. The steps led to the upper floor, only the first three were masonry, the remainder were wooden.3

Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
Peristyle garden.

Casa del Menandro is another large opulent, residence - actually it's huge with over fifty rooms and a large peristyle garden. It occupied over three quarters of Insula 10, its ground floor covering 1800 sq m.4

Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
Atrium with impluvium and and, in the corner, an aedicula - a small shrine, though here quite elaborate.
Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
Painting of theatrical masks in the atrium.
Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
A ground floor room with lower rooms visible through the collapsed floor.
Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
Room off the atrium with paintings of mythological scenes.

 

Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
Pompeii
Household shrine.
Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
A room with yellow walls. The case holds skeletons found in the house.
Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
This is the painting from which the house takes its name - "Menandro" was painted on the man's garment.
Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
Part of a fresco in an apse of Diana and Actaeon,3 transformed into a stag and attacked by his own hunting dogs when he chanced upon the goddess bathing.
Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
The central panel of the mosaic floor is a Nile scene with pygmies in boats.3
Pompeii
Mosaic floor.
Pompeii
Casa del Menandro
Staircase with niches below.
Pompeii
Casa del Larario Sarno
Pompeii
Thermopolium of the Phoenix
Lararium painting of a serpent and altar.
Pompeii
Casa e Officina del Garum degli Umbricii
Garum was a uniquely Roman comestible - a salty fermented fish sauce. The smell in the factory must have been appalling!
Pompeii
Casa del Larario Sarno
Pompeii
Tombs on the east side of Porta Nocera.

 

Regio I is separated from Regio II by the Via di Nocera which leads north from the Porta Nocera, one of the city gates.

The outskirts of Roman towns were typically the areas where tombs and necropoli were located, very often near city gates or lining entry roads. Pompeii was no exception and many necropoli can be seen outside the city walls. On the south side of the city in the Regio I area west of the Porta Nocera and east of the Porta di Stabia is an extensive necropolis.

 

 

Regio II - La Città nel Verde

Pompeii Regio II
The amphitheatre in 1998, taken with a fish eye lens...

The City in Green - the area devoted to sports and sporting entertainments. Here is the large amphitheatre where entertainment was predominantly gladiatorial combat, though animal "hunts were also popular.1

Pompeii Regio II
This statue shows a gladiator with sword (broken) and a curved shield. Found in Regio I at the Inn of the Gladiators and Vineyard.
Pompeii Regio II
... and in 2017

 



Pompeii Regio II
Fresco of a brawl in the amphitheatre in 59 AD.
On the right is the palaestra, at the top the town wall with towers.
Naples Archaeological Museum
Pompeii Regio II
The tunnel leading down to the arena.
Pompeii Regio I
Tunnels under the amphitheatre with steps on the left leading up to the seating area.

Built around the middle of the first century BC1 the amphitheatre at Pompeii is the oldest known. Its seating capacity was probably around 20,000, big enough to host Pompeiians and visitors from nearby towns. Tacitus recorded a riot here in 59 AD between the Pompeiians and the Nucerians who had come to watch the gladiatorial games, ending with many of the Nucerians dead or injured. As a consequence the Roman senate (Pompeii was a Roman colony at the time) closed the amphitheatre for ten years.1 A fresco of the event was found in Pompeii in the nineteenth century excavations.

Pompeii Regio II
Looking north on the right is the amphitheatre with the palaestra on the left.
Pompeii Regio IIThe Great Palaestra.
Pompeii Regio II Frescoes from Moregine on display in the Great Palaestra.

 

 

 

 

 

Alongside the amphitheatre is the Great Palaestra, built during the reign of Augustus, around the beginning of the first century AD, when Pompeii was still a Roman colony. It is enormous, approximately 140m by 107m, with colonnades on three sides and a large pool in the middle, 34m long by 22m wide. The pool sloped from a depth of about 1m to 2m.

The palaestra was a kind of gymnasium or training ground, originally particularly for wrestling.

During our visit there was an exhibition here of excavated treasures from the site of Moregine, south of Pompeii.

 

Pompeii Regio II
From Moregine.
I believe this was some kind of water feature, the water being pumped up through the hole in the upper marble surface.
Pompeii Regio II
Via di Castricio, looking west from the north west corner of the Great Palaestra.

 

Regio II has its share of luxurious houses, one of the largest in the whole city is located here - the Casa di Giulia Felice. It occupies the whole of Insula 4 with entrances on all sides of the insula, a huge garden and a full baths complex.

Pompeii Regio II
Entrance portico of Casa di Giulia Felice.
Pompeii Regio II
West portico with beautiful rectangular columns, leading into the garden and to the baths.
Pompeii Regio II
Apodyterium/frigidarium in the baths of Casa di Giulia Felice.

Giulia Felice (fortunate one) was obviously a wealthy woman. It seems her large villa was badly damaged in the earthquake of 62AD and she resorted to opening her extensive baths to select clients. She was quite the businesswoman, especially for the times. Not only did she rent out the baths complex, she also offered five year leases on other properties such as apartments and shops.1

The main entrance of the house is on Via dell'Abbondanza and leads directly into a columned portico and from there to the baths - rather an unusual arrangement for a villa but practical if you are allowing access for commercial purposes.

Pompeii Regio II
Pool in the garden of Casa di Giulia Felice.
Pompeii Regio II
The baths complex seen from the west portico of the garden.
Pompeii Regio II
Shell-framed mosaic above a basin.
Pompeii Regio II
Decorative detail in the baths complex.

Part of the garden of Casa di Giulia Felice which takes up a large part of the property, now planted with vines.

 

In Insula 3, just to the west of Casa di Giulia Felice, is another fine property, this with beautifully preserved frescoes - Casa della Venere in Conchiglia.

Pompeii Regio II
Casa della Venere in Conchiglia

 




Pompeii Regio II
Pompeii Regio II
Perspective painting of a balcony.

Casa della Venere in Conchiglia
Pompeii Regio II
Casa della Venere in Conchiglia
Pompeii Regio II
Pompeii Regio II
Casa della Venere in Conchiglia

The showstopper is in the peristyle garden - the painting of La Venere in Conchiglia (Venus in a shell) on the south wall.

Pompeii Regio II
La Venere in Conchiglia on the south wall of the peristyle.

 

Pompeii Regio II
Pompeii Regio II
La Venere in Conchiglia
Pompeii Regio II
Pompeii Regio II
La Venere in Conchiglia

 

 

 

References

  1. Pompeii: The History, Life and Art of the Buried City, Ed. Marisa Ranieri Panetta, White Star Publishers, 2004.
  2. British Museum: timeline of the eruption of Vesuvius, AD 79.
  3. Pompeii in Pictures - huge thanks also to this site for aiding in the identification of the exact location of a good number of photographs.
  4. www.stoa.org - Casa del Menandro
  5. Ancient History and Archaeology.com - Business Women in Pompeii