The archaeological ruins of Pompeii! Images of bodies immortalized in plaster of paris casts, my minds’ eye has had the area around this veritable ash-covered archaeological
ruin out in the middle of nowhere minding it’s own business, save for some interested archaeologists Mt Vesuvius off in the distance keeps a volcanic eye on all that remains of it’s
gigantic eruption of 79 AD.
All this is good in theory; but what was found was an archaeological site contained within high fences surrounded by the mad-dash of modern day Pompeii. At each entrance to the ruins are trattorias, cafes,
restaurants, and streets chock-full with everyone else who expected to view the ruins today, the majority of them having arrived by ominous coaches of varying colors.
And here again -as with Stonehenge- I somehow felt a wistfulness that life had just kept buzzing right alongside this amazing piece of historical value. Surrounding the protected area of the Archaeological Site of Pompeii is the contemporary, noisy, dirty, craziness of all that is modern-day Pompeii. Not only are there many Italians and Pompeians “doing their thing” just living life, but there are dozens of huge tour buses trekking in and out of the area all day. It was a bit of a bummer to see all the buses coming in, convoy style almost, to let off many eager history buffs. I mean, on one hand it is good that this place is so interesting to so many people. After all, without the interest of subsequent generations of people, the memories would die out and then an emptiness full of possibility might remain. Yet, conversely, the problem with this type of “popularity” -if you will- means that people come from around the world to get a glimpse of it themselves. I’m not sure what I think of this. After all, when you have to either take a photo with strangers in it or wait for five minutes for the crowd to dissipate, what does that all mean? I hate feeling like a boring “tourist”. Yet, if I’m “all the way in Italy” for goodness sake, why wouldn’t I try to go see this place? I mean, the geological history alone captivates me, and then the fact that there are layers upon layers of archaeological history contained within the area. Well, it is interesting for certain.
Let’s try to ignore all the rest of it to enjoy our communion with the events and lives that existed in this area many centuries before, shall we? To get in a reverent mood, as it were.
The cultural history of the city of Pompeii is much too diverse
to mention here, which I discovered during our visit to this geologically and archaeologically significant place. Here I found myself in yet another “textbook” location, a place that was granted just a few images and maybe a paragraph or two in the geology texts that I taught out of a few years back, as well as the world history (?) texts from when I myself was a high school student.
Wandering around the ruins for hours was really a trip. I tried to imagine what life would have been like all those centuries before [historians suggest there were four distinct art styles,
which could be extrapolated to insinuate four cultures overlapping through the centuries until 79 AD] . I hadn’t realized how ornate all the buildings and statues and frescoes and mosaics would be. The frescoes and mosaics were really impressive, and amazingly, some of them were still intact enough to see complete designs! The architecture style during those centuries BC was what I would consider unbelievably advanced. After all, they had to carve everything out of marble and stone! The embellishments
alone were so much more intricate than we would see in most any modern-day construction [I think now these adornments would be considered only pompous and too flamboyant, an unnecessary overstatement in a world where the chasm between the classes need no extra
One example of clever construction is how they created
double-walled rooms in the public bath houses in order to pipe hot air between the layers and keep the inner rooms warmer. Where the walls were broken away the double layers could be viewed. There were temples with sculptures literally on almost every block of the city. Little marble sculptures, larger ornate sculptures in varying degrees of decay due to having been around for over 2000 years [although it seemed that most of the works were
referred to as being in protection in the Napoli Archaeological Museum, which became humorous at the 10th, 11th, and 12th place that said something to the effect of “Here would be the marble statue of the Goddess Venus, which is in the Napoli museum”].
Another unexpected curiosity? The cobblestone streets.
They could be more aptly named cobble-rock streets. The smooth rocks were gigantic! And at many locations throughout the area there were very large flat rocks sticking up out of the streets. I was like “what are these?” I couldn’t figure it out until later in the morning I read somewhere that they were crosswalks! Brilliant! Seriously brilliant. I could almost imagine how life might have been like in the area many centuries ago; horses pulling carts, dogs running around, people milling about doing whatever it was they did, and someone thinking “Say! When it rains our sandals and robes get wet. Let’s put some huge stones at the intersections so our pedestrians can cross without getting wet”. Honestly. They thought of everything.
The last thing about Pompeii that I would like to share is the Starbucks. In this old site there are 89 locations accounted
for and identified as being a small public gathering place. They were on just about every block, literally! Hence the reason Brad exclaimed “They’re like Starbucks!” Easily identifiable by the two to four scooped out hollows nested within a marble or tiled counter-top these small establishments had been the local hang out where a person could go to grab a lunch or snack. The hollows in the
counter-tops were intended to hold various dishes that could then be ordered by a diner. In an artistic reconstruction these are painted with four or five Pompeian men standing around the counters all jovial and enjoying their lunches together. [Yes, the women were likely at home or at the public baths or somewhere else].
Suffice it to say, Pompeii of my minds’ eye has been shattered and obliterated by “the real thing”. To some extent this is good. After all, I was able to construct a more precise idea of how I understand these cultures from so long ago that were literally buried alive by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Since high school I had imagined these people running around all crazy wondering where to go or what to do, there really is no escaping the violent ash-flows of a volcano. Neither had I realized there would be so many buildings and such a large city to wander around and see. On the negative, seeing a modern-Pompeii bustling about in all it’s craziness around the tourist attraction saddened me. There is never one perspective, of course. The ruins bring a lot of money to an otherwise economically sparse area. Contemporary considerations that are not unique to any country, the Archaeological Ruins of Pompeii exist both in eternity and in continuity, embodying concepts which are representative of any governments’ concerns. Me personally? I’d rather take it than leave it.