Ever wondered what it would be like living close to an active volcano? Wondered how the Romans lived? If you’ve seen the movie ‘Pompeii’, then you may find most things in this blog related.
Thousands of years ago, in 79 A.D, the Roman village of Pompeii was buried under ash cloud after the eruption of mount Vesuvias. Starting from 1748 the city was discovered and excavation activities started. Conservation & management of the ruins still continues as years pass by. Pompeii offers the best view of how life in Rome would have been many many years ago. A walk around this excavated site gave us a full perspective in the life of a Roman.
The route included a train from Rome to Naples and then change of train to Pompeii. The train station from Naples, to catch the train leaving for Pompeii is a long walk. The trains were different from the normal trains, looks almost like a tram, but a very long one. The journey took about 45 minutes from Naples and was a 2 hour long journey from Rome and passed through a route overlooking the Bay of Naples in Southern Italy. The train route from Naples takes you to Sorrento which is one of the most beautiful cities in Italy, known as Land of Mermaids or City of Orange and Lemon Groves. The place is famous for the lemon Sorrento liquor also called as ‘Limoncello’. Limoncello is a famous liquor made from alcohol, water, sugar and the freshest lemon rinds produced nowhere else but in Sorrento, sourced from Italy’s sun-soaked huge lemons. This wonderful after-dinner digest is tangy and refreshing and is served at a few restaurants in Italy too.
Outside Pompeii station was a travel desk, where you can book tickets for the walking tour. A walking tour is is recommended, since Audio tours are not much fun while you look at ruins and realise there’s nothing left of the things that once existed. Our tour guide Nancy was a pleasant & charming Italian, knew her history and was very entertaining.
History says that the city of Pompeii was excavated from an ash cloud and there were places on the site where work was still going on. Nancy gave us a feel as to how Romans lived, where they lived, who lived in what kind of houses, how different were they from each of us. Through the tour, we were made to enter citizens’ homes where part of the frescoes remained out of the restoration work done. There were rich people houses and poor people houses. There were shops, which had rooms to stay on the 1st floor and then there were sprawling chambers for the ultra rich. It was said that educated Romans decorated their homes with Greek motifs and kept water fountains in their houses.
One of the most interesting things that history teaches is that the people of Pompeii were lavish people and enjoyed the pleasures of life; something which was derived by the number of brothels in the town. The Romans believed in polygamy as a way of life by enslaving women. The brothels had unique road signs in the shape of a male penis pointing towards the brothel that were inscribed on the stones of the streets or as signs on a building. One of the main attractions of the city was one of the brothels, which had inscriptions of erotic paintings on the walls. Then there were “menus” on the walls; paintings depicting the various “services” that were offered. You could just point to what you wanted. The city was known for its brothels more than its bakeries. And maybe this was the reason why the citizens believed the volcano was an angered God trying to punish them for the pleasures they indulged in.
The streets were made of basalt stones. At that point in time, there was no sewer system and the water from the houses would flow down the streets towards the end. The rich had houses on the top and the poor suffered while staying at the bottom of the streets. The basalt stones were used as steps for crosswalks across the streets too, since the roads weren’t in any condition to walk on directly. 3 large raised blocks of stone in the middle laid across the street signified a major road crossing. These stones kept feet dry and out of the rainwater, slops, and animal waste that would have filled the streets of Pompeii. Chariot tracks could also be seen on the roads in Pompeii.
The Romans followed a caste system & it was evident in all walks of their life including seating at the amphitheatre. It was one of the oldest amphitheatres present having a capacity to seat 20000 spectators. Without the use of modern technology, the sound system created for the amphitheatre at that point in time was phenomenal. We walked through the first amphitheatre, and then moved on to a smaller one, admiring the sound amplification system executed by the Romans with inspiration from the Greeks.
Bakery Shops similar to modern times filled the streets, and most of them had accommodation options for the common men on the top floor or the rooms which housed the brothels. The city had a large bath or Hamam, although it was used only by the rich. It also included a sauna room which was heated with hot water & steam pumped in from the sides of the floor in the room. The entire heating system with elevated floors, central heating system on the sides was as sophisticated as modern times.
The main square of the town was one of the areas in town, where we could find more ruins than any other place. But this was where the buzz was. It was where the temple of Jupiter was erected and the Romans made offerings to the God. A picture of Neptune meant there were offerings given to the sea God near the temple.
Not only ruins, of what’s left in the city of Pompeii, were excavated humans in the same position as they were when the catastrophe stroke. When Vesuvias erupted, the ash cloud tomed all the citizens, who were then excavated with the help of plaster casts in the same position as they were buried in. When they were excavated their casts were found, but inside the body had decomposed and was hollow. By filling these hollow casts with plaster, they have been kept intact. A few of these casts have also been kept for viewing, so you can see how people (and animals) actually died in Pompeii.
20000 prosperous citizens lived in this city, until Aug 24th 79 AD, the date when the catastrophic event happened at about noon, sending a mushroom cloud around the air. The air hurt but the people had no idea they were living under a volcano, since Vesuvias hadn’t erupted for 1200 years. As the eruption began the white grey ash began to fall over Pompeii, some like hail stones some like rain & some falling softly like snow. As the debris accumulated it collapsed the wooden ceilings but left the hall standing. In a few hours the entire city was covered under suffocating debris of fine powder. 2000 people got stuck in this catastrophe and got tomed. The next morning Vesuvias struck again & this time with greater velocity of winds, creating a cloud of ash, pumas & gas. The red lava sped down the mountain at nearly 100 miles an hour, but fortunately it left Pompeii & engulfed the city of Herculaneum 4 miles away. Pompeii laid buried until re-discovered in the 1600s. Mount Vesuvias is still an active volcano having last erupted in 1944.
But the story of Pompeii isn’t only about how its people died. Excavations at the site also talk about how people in Pompeii lived. The layers of ash that destroyed the town also preserved it, allowing future generations to get a glimpse into day to day lives of a first century Roman city.
A visit to this Roman colony is an experience in itself and once you do, you can proudly declare – “I walked the streets where the Romans did.”