Pompeii

Today’s theme is “cities destroyed by Mount Vesuvius, but hopefully not while I’m in the area.” After visiting the Herculaneum archaeological site this morning, I caught a train to visit Pompeii this afternoon.

Pompeii Archaeological Site

I had been to Pompeii during a trip to Naples a little over a decade ago. I knew it is larger than the Herculaneum site I saw this morning. But I had forgotten how much bigger. The Pompeii archaeological site goes on for ancient street after ancient street. Ruins after ruins. It’s huge.

Unlike at Herculaneum, I didn’t rent an audioguide at the Pompeii site. I have a walking tour app. It generally only has tours for cities, but it has one, with two different walking tours, just for the Pompeii archaeological site.

That having been said, I didn’t use it for its walking tours. I hate trying to navigate along its routes, even with the available GPS directions.

Instead, I used its “attractions” feature. That allows me to sort attractions by distance from where I’m standing at the moment. I wandered around. If I found something that looked interesting, I looked on the app to see if it had an entry for it.

The Temple of Venus in Pompeii
Temple of Venus

The app also allows me to sort attractions by name, but that was less helpful. The app provides English names for the buildings. The name signs at the site are in Italian. The Italian words weren’t always apparent to me. And sometimes the names of the buildings weren’t Italian at all, they’re in Latin. For example, I would never have known that lupanar it the Latin for brothel. The app just refers to it as the brothel. I was able to match the two up with the distance-from-me sorting function.

Yes, ancient Pompeii had a brothel. And yes, the excavated building currently stands in reasonably good condition. There are erotic frescoes high up on the walls. And there are a few small rooms with beds of rock. I imagine there was something softer on top of the beds back in the day.

The Forum at Pompeii
The Forum

Unlike at the Herculaneum site, there is a large forum with a triumphal arch at one end and some columns standing in the forum. There is also a statue in the forum, but I think it’s probably a copy with the original being in a museum somewhere.

I imagine that Herculaneum also had a large or largish forum. I think most ancient Roman cities did. But because Herculaneum is harder to excavate than Pompeii (see this morning’s post), they’ve excavated less of it. My guess is that the large or largish forum at Herculaneum just hasn’t been excavated. But I could be wrong about that.

Pompeii also has a large temple or two. The Temple of Apollo has some columns and there are two cute statues facing each other. My app tells me both are copies.

I was a bit disappointed because when I was I there a decade ago I could walk through the temple and up close to the statues and columns. I particularly enjoyed one of the two statues. Not that it’s a great work of art. I just found it very playful.

Even though I now know it’s a copy, I still wanted to drop by and say hello. But I was foiled. The public, e.g., me, can no longer traipse through Apollo’s temple at will. I could only walk on a path along two sides of the temple. This did not take me close to my friend.

I know I’m not misremembering about being able to traipse through the temple on that earlier. I have a couple of pictures of the statue from that trip. They are fairly close up and, in one, some other tourists are standing right beside the statue.

Mercury’s Tower

At one end of the Pompeii site stands the Tower of Mercury. It’s not especially tall, I’m guessing the equivalent of the height of three, or at most four, normal residential stories.

Despite not being particularly tall, climbing it provides great views. Looking in one direction and sweeping your gaze almost 180 degrees offers vistas of most of the archaeological park.

Looking the other way delivers an excellent view of Mount Vesuvius. It allows you to see just how very close the volcano is. It also allows you to see that there are now people living and working between the ruins of Pompeii and the mountain, all the way up to the base.

On the one hand, it’s nice to think that archaeologists 2,000 years after the next catastrophic eruption will have a whole new set of extensive excavations to keep them busy.

In the other hand, death and destruction is something you should do your best to avoid, not celebrate.

Seeing that and thinking that made me a little more anxious about my visit, but I pressed on.

Houses, Shops, and the Like

In addition to temples and forums, the Pompeii site has a large collection of residences of varying styles and sizes. And there are also a number of shops. I recognized one building right away as an ancient eatery because it had the same design as the ancient eateries I described in my Herculaneum post.

(There was also a real, modern-day, operational snack bar in a what I think is a new building built to blend in. What can I say. It’s a big site. People get hungry. I had a gelato.)

There are way more frescoes on walls in the ancient buildings in Pompeii than in Herculaneum. Although, that’s probably just because there are way more excavated buildings at the Pompeii archaelolgical site than at the Herculaneum archaeological site. The frescoes to buildings ratio is probably roughly the same or maybe even a little higher at Herculaneum.

There are also some mosaic tile floors in the ancient Pompeii buildings, but the same comment about the number of frescoes in Pompeii vs Herculaneum also applies to the mosaic tile floors.

Pompeii Theatres

Pompeii has not one, but two old theatres, the Great Theatre and the Small Theatre. They are side by side and of the same general style, namely that of old Greek theatres. As is typical for Greek theatres, they have sets of raked, curved stone bench seating that wraps about halfway, or a little more, around the stage. The Great Theatre is, well, big. Not nearly as big as say the Colosseum in Rome, but still big. The small theatre is also kind of big, but not nearly as big as the Great Theatre. I hope that clears things up.

The Great Theatre seated 5,000 people and was built in the second century BCE. The Small Theatre had a capacity of about 1,500. It was newer, being built around 80-75 BCE. Both, particularly the Small Theatre, are in good condition.

Tourists, such as myself, can go into and sit in the seats of the Great Theatre. I could only look at the Small Theatre from outside. Maybe that’s why the Small Theatre looks to be in even better condition than the Great Theatre.

There is a small wooded area just behind the Great Theatre which is quite peaceful.

Summary

To reiterate what I said earlier, the Pompeii archaeological site is huge. Despite spending about three hours there, I know for a fact I didn’t see all of it. For example, there is a large amphitheatre that I didn’t get to. It has fully in-the-round seating around a large circular performance area. My walking tour app tells me that Pink Floyd were the first people to perform in the amphitheatre in nearly 2,000 years when they filmed a live concert there. The web tells me that happened in 1972.

I remember going to the amphitheatre when I was at Pompeii the first time, but I neither hunted it out nor stumbled on it this time. It’s a very big amphitheatre, but the Pompeii archaeological site is so huge that it’s missable.

I also remember visiting a lovely old villa with some statuary the last time I was here, but I didn’t find it this time.

To be fair, when I came a decade ago I didn’t go to Herculaneum on my jaunt out of Naples, just Pompeii. By the end of the three hours at the Pompeii archaeological site, after a couple of hours at the Herculaneum archaeological site, I was exhausted and had seen more than enough ruins for one day.

Programming Note

I haven’t decided or even thought about what I’m going to do tomorrow, my last full day in Naples. So it will be a surprise to both of us. Although, I’ll experience the surprise before you do because I’ll, well, experience it. You’ll only read about it after the fact. Funny how that works.

One thing I know is that tomorrow will be an hour shorter than today. They go on Daylight Saving Time tonight here in Italy. Back home, we sprang forward a few weeks ago, well before I left for Italy. So, this year I’ll lose hours twice. If I’m not careful, I’ll lose months. Then where will I be?

See you tomorrow, whatever that may bring.

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