In January we took a 3 night trip to Napoli and its surrounding area. Our main aim was to see Pompeii.
I was a bit nervous as I can’t deal with dead bodies and also felt that hearing about death all day would be very depressing.
Yes, there is one building- the Antiquarium – that has some concrete carcasses – the bodies had been destroyed by the hot lava but the shapes of the people had been protected by the actual magma that had killed them. Still creepy though, so not for me. However the statue of Zeus nearby was enigmatic, such a sexy bum and beautiful facial features – hard to imagine it was made over 2000 years ago.
The rest of the city was all about how the people lived, from their big market area which we walked through first with the ‘council’ offices, courts and business/ finance zones all overseen by a giant, perfect centaur.
We then walked around the area where the people lived and saw their homes – the rich people’s villas with gardens, pools, heating systems, bathrooms, incredibly detailed mosaic floors (one even had a mosaic dog in the floor at the entrance so we called it ‘Buddy’s villa’ after our dog who guards us at home ). The walls were adorned with murals of people and gods – again the quality of the work was not what I expected from 2000 years ago. The poor people had just basic rooms – how the have and have-nots lived, again a bit like today.
There was also a Main Street with shops including a bakers with its own mill. There were marble bowls from where goods and wine would be sold – the local ‘offie’ – and money and change given from one of these marble bowls. It was easy to imagine people rushing around doing their shopping and chatting to their friends.
Entertainment was also a large part of their lives. A large Amphitheatre on the outskirts of the city so that people from the surrounding area could attend without disturbing the locals, watching gladiators and chariot racing. It resembled a football stadium in its style and you could imagine the same sort of noise emanating from the stands. Then in another area, again on the outskirts, were 2 theatres – a small and large one. Again you could imagine the actors entertaining the people with comedies and tragedies popular at the time and the audience laughing, crying, gasping at the stories and actors. Behind this was a large garden where we, like the Pompeians, had our picnic and you could imagine their children running around laughing and playing. At the entrance to these theatres were the remains of shops and the marble bowls that would have held wine and ‘nibbles’ – just like at our cinemas now selling popcorn and drinks to the theatre goers. So people were living, enjoying themselves and working hard.
Despite the size of the city the school was very small, so education was only for the rich. One thing I noticed by its absence was there were no play areas or anything for children… not even parks to enjoy family time, but then I suppose they did that at home in their villas. I guess the children of the poor were working from an early age, and those of the rich were treated more like little adults, so no need for play – or did they find a way but it was never noticed by the adults or the historians?
The builders played a large part in the creation of Pompeii, but they were illiterate. This could be seen by one stone laid in the walls of a large villa, as was the practise at that time – on it was carved proudly the tools of the builders trade and a large phallus – men had to be virile!! And anyone who has taught in senior schools will know that boys draw them everywhere – so no change in over 2000 years – Has men’s psychology advanced at all in all that time?
The Pompeians were great engineers…making sewer systems, water carrying systems etc In the Antiquarium we saw a log burner. Very similar to the style of the ones in peoples houses today. However the intricate metal work on it, small perfect hands ‘holding’ it, a small Zeus decorating the top, ornate hinges etc would be the pride of a silversmith today, let alone 2000 years ago. In one villa there were the remains of an ornate furnace, whether it was used to heat the water for the pool in winter or to heat the room with the pool no-one knows but it was again of an ornate design and a piece of exceptional metal work and engineering, especially for so long ago.
All around there were alfresco, statues, or pictures of their Gods. Zeus took centre stage, but also Juno, Apollo and other Roman Gods. Ironically Nike was a beautiful maiden, the winged goddess of victory – makes you wonder what the folks who buy the sportswear would think of that!
I really enjoyed learning about how the people lived. Yes there was information about how they died when Vesuvius erupted but mostly it was about how they lived. I came away in awe of their abilities to make such beautiful things, and their knowledge of the human body and physiology must have been far better than we assume to be able to carve/ sculpt such beautiful statues of their Gods – after all if a statue was not beautiful what might the Gods do to you?
I would recommend a trip to Pompeii to everyone and going in January meant it was open but not busy. We were able to walk around all day and not queue for anything. To imagine this in the heat of the summer and in busy crowds would spoil the enjoyment we experienced.
And remember – IT’S ABOUT LIFE NOT DEATH 🙂