I had wanted to have a big day seeing the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, but we got off to a slow start, which was then stifled by the heat and compounded by infrequent trains. We skipped Herculaneum, and decided to spend more time in Pompeii.
Plans never go to plan, and when we arrived, they had just closed the gates, which wouldn’t reopen for a further two-hours. It wasn’t all bad news, it turned out that as it was the first Sunday in the month, entrance was free, saving us over €20! …which we then spent on pizza, while we waited for the gates to reopen.
At 2:30PM, the anxious mob was let through the gates and into Pompei ruins. I think we missed the official entrance, and ended up starting from an exit… With so many tourists all arriving at the same time, it was a little chaotic. We sat back a little, and enjoyed a movie that showed how the city used to look, helping us get a better understanding before seeing what remained.
Our first stop was the enormous old plaza, which was surrounded by the columns of old places of worship. From the plaza, there were several main streets that lead towards the edges of town. It was quite amazing walking down these streets, made from these enormous slabs of marble/rock. It was reasonably flat, but I could imagine the difficulties horses with carts would have faced – and the nightmares for everyone when it rained. We’ve been to other Roman ruins, including the amazing Ephesus in Turkey, which might have had some buildings that were more impressive, but as a whole, Pompei was far more incredible. It didn’t take a lot to imagine how this town used to look. The amount of the town that has survived until now is truly incredible.
It was even easier to imagine what it used to be like once we landed on the main street, connecting the plaza to the amphitheatre, as there were hundreds of tourists spilling all over the road.
We pushed our way past them as politely as we could, and went to see the amphitheatre. It was much smaller than the Colosseum, and the smaller Campana amphitheatre north of Naples, with none of the decorative exterior walls, however, it was far more complete. They had a large informative piece about a concert that Pink Floyd performed here – for a movie, not for actual audience. Come to think of it, there was more information about Pink Floyd’s concert than there was about the ruins… I guess that’s the job of a guide to explain what we were looking at.
It wasn’t just the shells of old buildings that remained. During excavations, one of the original members of the archaeological team came across the cavities where bodies laid. He had the brilliant idea to fill these cavities with plaster, which produced some chilling moulds of the people who died here. Sometimes walking around these streets, it feels a little like a theme park. Items like these help remind that this was a tragedy that killed thousands in this town alone.
Wandering through the larger villas, with their large open courtyards, and gardens, you could really imagine that those with power/money would have lived rather comfortably. It’s the most complete picture I have seen yet of Roman life.
The shells of the buildings themselves were amazing, but I couldn’t believe it when we caught our first glimpses of some frescos. These were painted 2,000 years ago, and we can still clearly see the decorations that were on the walls of these beautiful villas.
There was a large villa on the outskirts of town had the most incredible frescos in the whole town. They were life sized, and the colour still looked fresh and vivid after two millennia!
The frescos weren’t all beautiful however. Some were a little more… raunchy. One of the buildings that had a constant queue to enter was the old brothel. Inside, apart from the five small rooms, with their brick platforms that would have been beds, were some rather interesting paintings.
We saw another equally interesting painting, of the god Priapus, weighing his penis against a bag of gold – and this was just outside the front door of the house! I was really curious about this mural, as it was just so… unusual. A little research seemed to suggest that it was depicting this god, who was cursed with an everlasting erection, with an STD. Some interpretations suggested that people came to this house to give offerings to Priapus to be cured of this problem. Which is completely different to my more literal thought that he was a gigolo and he was using making large amounts of money from his monster phallus.
There were another set of famous erotic frescos in the men’s change room in the main bathhouse in town, however it was closed today. Searching online, they seemed a little more raunchy than the ones in the brothel!
It wasn’t just frescos, there were incredible mosaics on the floors of some villas, including warnings about a vicious dog, as well as others that depicted what looked like a scene from a battle. This particular mosaic was the clearest mosaic I’d ever seen, with individual pieces that would have been no more than 5mm across. Risa called them High Definition.
And lastly, the details in the bath houses also astounded me. I find it hard to believe that they were able to create such beautiful buildings so long ago. These rooms had the most intricate patterns and decorations and figures. Apologies for carrying on and on about these details, but these are the things that are usually missing from other Roman ruins, and they are what I believe make Pompeii so special.
The site closed at 19:30, and we were there right until the end, with them closing houses and areas as we left them. By now the majority of the tourists had left, and the ruins were so much calmer, and to me, they felt even more beautiful. I know, it’s hypocritical to complain about tourists, but having a little quiet/space is a luxury that we adore.
We returned back to our campsite, rather than to Naples for another pizza dinner. The thought had been in my mind all day, but with the timing of the trains, it wasn’t really possible. Anyway, as luck would have it, the pizzeria next to the camp site was equally delicious.