In 79 AD, the city of Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, a volcano situated nearby. Pompeii lay dormant under the volcanic ash for centuries, until it was rediscovered in 1599. It was in 1748, however, that excavations began in earnest, and led to what is today one of the most important sources of information about the magnificent Roman Empire. Let’s take a trip into the past and find out how the people of Pompeii lived, and how the history of the area impact on the present inhabitants.
A brief history of Pompeii
Before the fateful eruption of 79 AD, Pompeii was a bustling city, filled with industry and interest, and a typical example of the multiculturalism that was one of the defining characteristics of the Roman Empire. The citizens of Pompeii came from all over Europe, and archeological evidence has revealed that some of them travelled from as far away as Africa to live in the lively port city.
While it is tempting to think of the ancient world as insular and isolated, excavations of Pompeii have overturned that notion. Pompeii was a port city, much like the Cape of Good Hope, in South Africa, in later centuries, and played host to a significant amount of trade, particularly with other Mediterranean nations. This flow of goods and the people transporting them allowed Pompeiians to have a cosmopolitan and global view of the world.
Pompeii was a wealthy town, and had all the trappings of the upmarket lifestyle that many of its inhabitants enjoyed, such as luxurious villas. However, segregation by class or wealth did not feature in Pompeii, and the villas would often be found alongside a modest home, or workshop. Pompeii was a two-story town, with people living above their shops and restaurants. One could perhaps imagine Pompeii as a more integrated city than many we live in today, with rich and poor living together in the same streets.
Some of the must-see sites in Pompeii include the House of the Tragic Poet, which features elaborate mosaics and frescoes; the Villa of Mysteries, which is decorated with frescoes depicting the initiation of a young woman into a mysterious cult; and the House of the Surgeon, which still contains many of the ancient tools that the owner used. Pompeii is also home to the oldest surviving amphitheatre in the world, which is 150 years older than its more famous Roman counterpart.
Another top attraction is the Pompeiian brothel, home to explicit paintings and graffiti courtesy of its historical customers. To get an idea of how ancient Romans spent their leisure time, pay a visit to the Stabian Baths. As well as steam rooms, you will find a gymnasium and a swimming pool.
For those who enjoy the outdoors, a trip to Mount Vesuvius comes highly recommended. The mountain can be reached by train, bus, or on foot. The most popular route starts with a train journey on the aptly named Circumvesuviana, which circles the base of the volcano. A bus can then be taken to a point from which it is possible to start your ascent. The hike only lasts thirty minutes or so, but gets quite steep as one approaches the crater, so pack your hiking boots!
How to get there?
Ancient Pompeii is situated within the Province of Naples, which is itself found in the Campania region of Italy. Visitors can stay in a number of surrounding towns, but top amongst those is Naples, a remarkable place in its own right. Home of pizza, Naples is two thousand years older than Rome, having first been inhabited in the Bronze Age. For those who want an authentic Neapolitan experience, there is the Spanish Quarter of the city. Considered the heart of Naples, this quarter was built in the 16th century to house the Spanish garrison, and features winding streets bordered by six-story apartment blocks. It is here that Neapolitan culture and language are at their strongest.
For more information visit www.pompeiisites.org
More culture and museums with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection article.