Uncover the Lost City of Pompeii
Excerpt from the book On a Tall Budget and Short Attention Span from the Teresa the Traveler Series.
Visiting the Naples Museum inspired me to visit the ruins of Pompeii – one of Italy’s most popular tourist attractions drawing over 2 million visitors per year. I woke up early the following morning and walked to the train station before the streets became littered with the usual assortment of loiterers and lingerers. I was on the verge of opening a can of whoop ass if one more creepy man hissed at me.
The ruins were about a 30-40 minute walk from the train station. When I arrived I noticed many companies offering guided tours of the site and audio guides but I decided to experience Pompeii on my own with the help of a guidebook. I figured I could always blend into a large tour group and listen in if I needed to know more. Yes, I am a cheapskate.
Pompeii is one of history’s greatest tragedies and most important archeological finds. The city was founded in the middle of 6th century BC and destroyed by the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius on August 24, 79 AD. It was buried under 4 to 6 meters of volcanic ash and pumice for nearly 1700 years before it was rediscovered. In 1738, workers building the foundation of a summer palace for Charles of Bourbon (the King of Naples) accidentally uncovered the nearby town of Herculaneum which resulted in the planned excavation of Pompeii, in 1748, by Spanish military engineer Rocque de Alcubierre.
As I wandered around aimlessly, I managed to visit most of its major sights including the Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Jupiter, the Suburban Baths and the House of the Tragic Poet.
The Temple of Apollo housed a cult that was imported from Greece and spread throughout the Campania region.
Some columns, a staircase and the foundation were all that remained of the once magnificent temple. Near the temple was the forum, the city’s main marketplace.
Jupiter was the ruler of the Gods and the protector of Rome and his was the state cult and center of Roman Religion. The Temple of Jupiter, which was built in 150 BC, was actually destroyed by an earthquake in 62 and still awaiting reconstruction when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79.
The Suburban Baths were a public bathhouse believed to be open to men and women. The erotic wall paintings depicting such sexual acts as threesomes and cunnilingus are the only ones of their kind found in a public Roman bath house. Perhaps the people of Pompeii were a bit more sexually liberated then the rest of the Roman Empire.
Famous for its elaborate mosaic floors and frescoes depicting scenes from Greek mythology, the House of the Tragic Poet is a typical 2nd century BC Roman villa. A mosaic of a dog greets guest at the vestibule, along with the warning CAVE CANEM, meaning “Beware of Dog”.
Girls purchased in the East as slaves worked in brothels throughout the city, the largest of which was the Lupanar of Pompeii. Lupanar is a Latin word meaning den of she-wolves. Penises carved in the sidewalks pointed to the 10-room brothel which had stone beds covered with mattresses and wall paintings depicting the variety of carnal pleasures available to customers. Graffiti scratched into the walls relayed messages such as Hic ego puellas multas
futui ("Here I had sex with many girls").
I saw the first one in the public bathhouse - a cast of a man in his last moments of life lying down with his hands above him shielding his body from falling debris. I moved to take a closer look and became overwhelmed with grief. The frightened expression on his face revealed the horror he felt as his world came crashing down on top of him.
The casts, which were made by filling the empty spaces left by decomposed bodies, told a chilling story of Pompeii’s final moments. There were children hiding in a room, a young woman covering her head with a tunic, and people clutching their valuables attempting to flee the city before being overcome by poisonous gases. A tear ran down my cheek as I imagined what it would have been like to live in Pompeii on that fateful day. As I walked back towards the main gate I looked at the ground and noticed the small pieces of volcanic rock that littered the entire site.I
looked at Mount Vesuvius peaking through the misty sky and wondered if this sleeping giant would ever reawaken and, if it did, would the inhabitants of the new Pompeii suffer the same fate or will they have enough time to evacuate? Evidence left behind by nature’s mass murderer. I observed a moment of silence to respect the deceased before heading out. By this time I was famished. No food was sold inside the site and, once you pass through the gates, you were not allowed to re-enter on the same ticket.