Wednesday, May 17, 2017

251. Pompeii - an unearthed city ...

A stay in Naples is not complete unless the tourist takes in a visit to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii just 45 minutes by 21st century electric train south of modern Naples, which, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 metres of volcanic ash and pumice within 24 hours in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. 
 

So, setting off at 7am to catch my local Metro then the Sorrento train from Naples Central Station, I arrived at the site entry gates, with my pre-purchased ticket in hand and camera fully charged - and for a good half hour waited expectantly to be let in at 9am … by this time there had gathered at least 200 excited fellow-tourists behind me … !!! …

 

The historical story of Pompeii is known to most people – but what really interested me more than anything during my visit was recording the wonderful patterns and surfaces and crumbling structures left behind after this cataclysmic event.

Racing ahead of the surges of guide-led tourists I was able to wander for hours in the back streets of this huge archaeological dig unhindered by the senseless chatter of other humans; lost in the sadness and the tragedy of ancient Pompeii - imagining the city as it was over 2k years ago - a port city of traders, laborers, priests, wealthy merchants and probably destitute beggars - much the same as any modern city today. 






Researchers believe that the town was founded in the seventh or sixth century BC by the Osci or Oscans. It came under the domination of Rome in the 4th century BC, and was conquered and became a Roman colony in 80 BC. By the time of its destruction, 160 years later, its population was estimated at 11,000 people.

Today it is some distance inland, but in ancient times was nearer to the coast and was a port city for traders and a haven for the Roman navy. Pompeii is about 8 km South from Mount Vesuvius and the walled city covered a total of 64 to 67 hectares - most of which I am sure that I walked over during my five hour stay ... !!! ...


  
 The amazing thing about the Pompeii site is that is was totally covered in volcanic ash and pumice several metres thick - and all of this has been removed by teams of archaeologists ( and presumably their laborers ) over the years to reveal the ruins - no mean feat in itself ...

 


The eruption destroyed the city, killing its inhabitants and burying it under tons of ash. Evidence for the destruction originally came from a surviving letter by Pliny the Younger, who saw the eruption from a distance and described the death of his uncle Pliny the Elder, an admiral of the Roman fleet, who tried to rescue citizens ( ... watch the movie ... !!! ). The site was lost for about 1,500 years until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and broader rediscovery almost 150 years later by Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. 



The objects that lay beneath the city have been preserved for more than a millennium because of the lack of air and moisture. These artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Pax Romana. Unfortunately almost all of these artifacts have been stripped from the city and have ended up in museums and private collections around the world.

The archaeological digs at the site extend to the street level of the AD 79 volcanic event; deeper digs in older parts of Pompeii and core samples of nearby drillings have exposed layers of jumbled sediment that suggest that the city had suffered from other seismic events before the eruption. Three sheets of sediment have been found on top of the lava that lies below the city and, mixed in with the sediment, archaeologists have found bits of animal bone, pottery shards and plants. Carbon dating has placed the oldest of these layers from the 8th–6th centuries BC (around the time the city was founded). The other two strata are separated either by well-developed soil layers or Roman pavement, and were laid in the 4th century BC and 2nd century BC. It is theorized that the layers of the jumbled sediment were created by large landslides, perhaps triggered by extended rainfall.



 Outcrops of red poppies are in stark contrast to the ruins ...



The city of Pompeii was fed with water by a spur from Aqua Augusta (Naples) built c. 20 BC by Agrippa; the main line of the aquaduct supplied several other large towns, and provided water for more than 25 street fountains, at least four public baths, and a large number of private houses and businesses.

The aqueduct branched through three main pipes from the Castellum Aquae, where the waters were collected before being distributed to the city. In extreme drought, the water supply would first fail to reach the public baths (the least vital service), then private houses and businesses—and if there were no water flow at all, the system would fail to supply the public fountains (the most vital service) in the streets of Pompeii. 




At the time of the eruption, Pompeii had reached its high point in society as many Romans frequently visited Pompeii on vacations. Modern archaeologists have excavated garden sites and urban domains to reveal the agricultural staples in Pompeii’s economy prior to 79 A.D.
The rural areas surrounding Pompeii had abundant agricultural land that was very fertile and could produce much larger quantities of goods than the city needed. Some speculate that much of the flat land in Campania, surrounding the areas of Pompeii was dedicated to grain and wheat production. Cereal, barley, wheat, and millet were all produced by the locals in Pompeii. These grains, along with wine and olive oil, were produced in abundance for export to other regions. 




Besides the forum, many other services were found: the Macellum ( great food market ), the Pistrinum ( mill ), the Thermopolium ( sort of bar that served cold and hot beverages ), and cauponae ( small restaurants ). An amphitheatre and two theatres have been found, along with a palaestra or gymnasium. A hotel ( of 1,000 square metre ) was found a short distance from the town; it is now nicknamed the "Grand Hotel Murecine". Geothermal energy supplied channeled district heating for baths and houses. At least one building, the Lupanar, was dedicated to prostitution.

 

The inhabitants of Pompeii had long been used to minor quaking ( indeed, the writer Pliny the Younger wrote that earth tremors "were not particularly alarming because they are frequent in Campania" ), but on 5 February 62, a severe earthquake did considerable damage around the bay, and particularly to Pompeii. It is believed that the earthquake would have registered between about 5 and 6 on the Richter magnitude scale.

On that day in Pompeii, there were to be two sacrifices, as it was the anniversary of Augustus being named "Father of the Nation" and also a feast day to honour the guardian spirits of the city. Chaos followed the earthquake. Fires, caused by oil lamps that had fallen during the quake, added to the panic.

Temples, houses, bridges, and roads were destroyed. It is believed that almost all buildings in the city of Pompeii were affected. In the days after the earthquake, anarchy ruled the city, where theft and starvation plagued the survivors. In the time between the 62 earthquake and the Vesuvius eruption in 79, some rebuilding was done, but some of the damage had still not been repaired at the time of the eruption. Although it is unknown how many, a considerable number of inhabitants moved to other cities within the Roman Empire while others remained and rebuilt.



 ... always looming in the distance is the 'hopefully-now-dormant' Vesuvius ...





A multidisciplinary volcanological and bio-anthropological study of the eruption products and victims, merged with numerical simulations and experiments, indicates that at Pompeii and surrounding towns heat was the main cause of death of people, previously believed to have died by ash suffocation. The results of the study, published in 2010, show that exposure to at least 250 °C hot surges ( known as pyroclastic flows ) at a distance of 10 kilometres from the vent was sufficient to cause instant death, even if people were sheltered within buildings.

The people and buildings of Pompeii were covered in up to twelve different layers of volcanic ash, in total 25 meters deep, which rained down for about six hours.






 ... A memorial to the 11,000 that perished ...


 ... Excavation and restoration and preservation work 
is still being carried out by teams of modern day archaeologists ...





The eruption was documented by contemporary historians and is generally accepted as having started on 24 August 79, however the archeological excavations of Pompeii suggest that the city was buried about three months later, which gives the date of the eruption as November 23.

People buried in the ash appear to have been wearing heavier clothing than the light summer clothes typical of August. The fresh fruit and vegetables in the shops are typical of October – and conversely the summer fruit typical of August was already being sold in dried, or conserved form. Wine fermenting jars had been sealed, which would have happened around the end of October. There is no definitive theory as to why there should be such an apparent discrepancy.







After thick layers of ash covered Pompeii and Herculaneum, they were abandoned and eventually their names and locations were forgotten. The first time any part of them was unearthed was in 1599, when the digging of an underground channel to divert the river Sarno ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions.
  
 ... the stone vats used to store oils and other liquids
were lined with lead vessels ...


 ... original mills used for grinding grains for flour ...


 ... two wall frescoes from inside the brothel ...




Objects buried beneath Pompeii were well-preserved for almost two thousand years. The lack of air and moisture let objects remain underground with little to no deterioration. However, once exposed, Pompeii has been subject to both natural and man-made forces, which have rapidly increased deterioration.

Weathering, erosion, light exposure, water damage, poor methods of excavation and reconstruction, introduced plants and animals, tourism, vandalism and theft have all damaged the site in some way. Two-thirds of the city has been excavated, but the remnants of the city are rapidly deteriorating.

 

 

 

For those of you who like seeing photographs of living people, here are few of the hundreds that climb over these ruins each day - and the ones that I try my hardest to avoid ...








 ... The Grand Theatre ...

 ... The Amphitheatre ...


 ... I really thought I had left this group behind in Prague eight months ago ... !!! ...
... but it looks like they have finally caught up with me ...

During excavations of the site in the early 1800’s, occasional voids in the ash layer had been found that contained human remains. It was realized by the then archaeologists these were spaces left by the decomposed animal and human bodies, and so the technique of injecting plaster into them to recreate the forms of Vesuvius's victims was devised. This technique is still in use today, with a clear resin now used instead of plaster because it is more durable, and does not destroy the bones, allowing further analysis.





Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Today it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors every year. A large number of artifacts from the buried cities are preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum - which I featured in my previous Blog post .... 

The concern for conservation has continually troubled archaeologists. June 2013 UNESCO declared: If restoration and preservation works “fail to deliver substantial progress in the next two years,” Pompeii could be placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

And so after pacing the streets of this ancient city for nearly five hours - with a short break for a panini and coffee - it was a final wave to king Vesuvius and a sleepy 90 minute trip back home ...



I thought I'd take you underground in my next blog - stay tuned ...

( The source of most of my written material is from the pages of Wikipedia ... )