Located in the Province of Naples in Italy, the ancient city of Pompeii` is one of the most-visited historic places in the world, for being the best-preserved example of a Roman city, buried under a layer of ashes and pumice stone. Once a strong, flourishing city,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompeii Pompeii today is a site of tragedy and haunting beauty, garnering intrigue and attention from all around the world.
In this article, we will take a look at the beautiful destruction in the city of Pompeii.
The Origin Story
Pompeii and the nearby towns were first settled by Oscan speakers back in the Bronze Age. In 800 BCE, the cultured Greeks from Campania came to the city, and their influence has been immortalized in the remains of the temple of Apollo found amidst the ashes. It was then occupied by Etruscans and even the Samnites, before finally becoming a Roman colony after being captured in 89 BCE.
The city is located in the South-Eastern of Mount Vesuvius, one of the reasons why the soil had volcanic remains, making it very fertile for agriculture. Pompeii was a well-developed city, with beautiful residences and people practising many different livelihoods before it was destroyed by the volcanic eruptions from Mount Vesuvius at noon on 24th August, 79 BCE. The phenomenon was witnessed and later recorded by Pliny the Younger in his letters to the historian Tacitus. It is assumed that thousands of people from the city and the surrounding areas died, from being buried under debris and also from asphyxiation due to the ashes and smoke in the air that remained for days.
Rediscovery Of A City
Pompeii was left untouched under thick layers of volcanic debris, pumice stone and ashes, protected from climatic changes, vandalism and looting for 17 centuries, before being rediscovered by architect Domenico Fontana in the 16th century. Excavations began in 1738, and the early haphazard digging which was causing harm was stopped in 1860 when Giuseppe Fiorelli, an Italian archaeologist became the director of excavations. The work continued in different intervals, under the supervision of different people, to uncover the once great city and how people lived there. Pompeii offers a better insight into Roman life and architecture than many other sites around Italy and to date, two-thirds of it has been completely excavated.
The Ruins And Remains
The ancient city of Pompeii had an irregular shape alluding to the fact that it had been built on a prehistoric lava flow. Excavations indicate that the southwestern part of the town is that the oldest, but this is not agreed upon by scholar based on who the builders of these walls were, along with the stages in which they were built. The walls on the city borders, 3 km in circumference, enclose a neighbourhood of about 163 acres or 66 hectares and also include seven different gates. The chief street of Via Stabiana run through a southeast-northwest direction and it connected the Porta Vesuvio or Vesuvius Gate which is the highest part of the city at 44 metres above sea level, with the Porta di Stabia, or Stabiae Gate, which is the lowest part at just 8 metres above sea level. The traffic from the Sarnus River and also the Stabiae came through this gate and this street was also intersected by Via dell’Abbondanza and Via di Nola, the two other main streets.
The public buildings for the foremost part have been grouped in three different areas – the elevated Forum at 34m, located within the large level area on the southwestern direction, the Triangular Forum that stood proudly at 25m with the south wall overlooking the bay and lastly the Amphitheatre and Palaestra, both contained within the eastern direction.
The Forum, considered the to be the centre of the city’s life had been a colossal rectangular area surrounded by a two-story collonaded portico. Dominating the Forum on the north was the temple dedicated to the Capitoline triad of Roman deities – Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. To the east was the large provision market, known as the Macellum and to the south were the tiny sanctuaries of the town Lares (guardian deities), that was built after the earthquake in 62 CE, along with the Temple of Vespasian and the large headquarters of the woollen industry, all of which were built and funded by the rich patroness named Eumachia. On the Southern end of the Forum and opposite the Capitolium, was the forum of the town council and hence the offices of the magistrates of the town. The massive basilica that was a centre for the execution of justice, with its main room surrounded by a corridor on all four sides is one of the most architecturally significant building within the city and is considered important when studying the origin of the Christian basilica. The temple of the patron deity of Pompeii, Venus Pompeiana, was located on the west and across from the basilica was the earliest built Temple of Apollo.
Pompeii presented a stunning amalgamation of thousands of different buildings like shops, a market hall (macellum), large villas, modest housing, temples, taverns (cauponae), schools, pottery, an exercise ground, an arena, baths, public latrines, water towers, a flower nursery, fulleries, a basilica, brothels and theatres, all of which varied in their design and their function. Along with them were many small shrines dedicated to deities and ancestors and about forty public fountains. In short, Pompeii had all the infrastructure and amenities for a community to live prosperously.
Pompeii boasted of having large villas built mostly in the 2nd century BCE that indicated the Greek colonial origins of the town. The standard entry to these extravagant residences consisted of a small street doorway with an entrance corridor (fauceis) that opened out into a large columned atrium with a rectangular pool of water (impluvium) and connected to other rooms like bedroom (cubicula) or dining room. Movable screens, which often depicted scenes from mythology, acted as separation walls and also kept in the heat provided by braziers during the winter months. Other common aspects of these villas were a hall space (tablinum) that stored archives and valuables, and a place designated for the ancestor cult (alae), a common feature of Roman family life. A beautiful and exquisite feature of these residences were their magnificent floor mosaics which depicted varying scenes from popular mythology to the homeowner’s business ventures.
Many houses had an additional feature of a private garden (hortus) surrounded by a peristyle and containing statues, ornate fountains and vine-covered pergolas and sometimes these houses also had areas dedicated to viniculture. One of the best examples of the grandeur of the residences in Pompeii is the House of the Faun.
Many of the larger villas offered guests the choice to dine outside, sitting on cushioned benches, in the form of permanent eating area (triclinium) in the garden Ten of those villas had systems wheredishes floated on the small canals flowing between the diners, letting guests take a pick of all the delicacies on offer. The villas without the aforementioned charms often employed trompe-l’oeil wall paintings to give the illusion of landscape vistas along with adding uniqueness to the house and these wall paintings offered a look inside the myriad of other areas of Pompeian life and culture like religion, sex, diet, clothes, architecture, industry, agriculture and so on.
Contrasting the residences of the rich, slave quarters were also uncovered during the excavations and they show the constricted prison-like existence of this large section of the population. Some of the more humble architecture in the city were basic two and sometimes three-storied residences, simple taverns and small buildings.
The Culture Captured In Ashes
It was possible to reimagine the daily life of the town through the wealth of written records preserved at the site, in the form of thousands of electoral notices and hundreds of wax tablets that mainly detailed out financial transactions. The wax of these tablets had melted but impressions of the stylus remained on the wooden backing, making them decipherable. Other priceless sources of written documents comprises signs, seals, amphorae labels, graffiti, and tomb inscriptions. These typically unavailable sources permitted the historians an insight into usually ignored or scantily treated sections of society like the slaves, the poor, the women, and the gladiators. The many well-preserved house shrines give an unexpected picture of the importance of religion in the families residing there. The bakeries equipped with mills, kneading machines and ovens, some of which still contained loaves of bread when buried in debris, give an insight into how the staple of everyday Pompeian life was produced. Numerous fulleries (processing and cleaning plants for wool) indicate that it was an important industry during that time. The factories for garum (fish sauce) and lamps, the shops with owners like sculptors, toolmakers, and gem cutters, along with the numerous wine and food shops, document other aspects of work life in the ancient city. Pompeii also used to be a busy port city that exported products throughout the Mediterranean region.
Pompeii, upon its discovery, inspired many artists, architects, potters and furniture makers in their works. Pompeian motifs were incorporated in interior stucco works and frescoes. The Neoclassic style, enticed by the findings at Pompeii, completely replaced the Rococo style to become the standard style of the French Revolution and later on the Napoleonic era.
Work continues to be done in Pompeii, with steps taken to protect the ruins from forces of nature and vandalism and looting, before they are lost forever.
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