They say that only fools go into combat with nature. One of the most famous tourist attractions in Italy is the ruins of Pompeii- a major commercial capital from days gone by destroyed and preserved by the wrath of Mt. Vesuvius. It is one of those places which make you reflect on the brevity of life and the might of nature while transporting you to a different world. Pompeii is presently one of the most magical outdoor museums in the world. Located in the Italian region of Campania, Pompeii was buried in layers of pumice and burnt ash in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.
Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Researchers believe that by the time of its destruction the town of Pompeii was home to over 20,000 occupants and had a sophisticated water system, an amphitheater and even a port. The story of the Roman Emperor Nero playing on his harp even when Pompeii was being destroyed is well known. The story of Nero and his harp is still cited to describe the indifference of people in the face of an imminent crisis. As a site, Pompeii was lost to our knowledge for about fifteen decades before its rediscovery in 1599. A hundred and Fifty years later a Spanish Engineer led to the broader rediscovery of the town where history had literally been preserved under layers of pumice and ash. Since the objects and artifacts have been preserved for thousands of years due to the lack of air and moisture, the ruins of Pompeii provided us incredible insight into the lifestyle of the contemporary Romans.
The root for the name ‘Pompeii’ is probably the word ‘Pompe’ which means ‘five’. This suggests that the town Pompeii was probably founded by five men or as a congregation of five hamlets or households. Situated about 8 km away from the Vesuvius, the ancient town of Pompeii was an important seat of power in the region of Campania. Though the ruins today stand quite inland, in olden days the city was situated closer to the coast.
Archaeologists suggest from the study of layers in the ruins of the city that it had been witness to many a seismic catastrophes, landslides and torrential rainfalls before the fated eruption of the Vesuvius. Minor quakes were frequent in the area and seventeen years before the Vesuvius erupted, an earthquake had caused considerable damage to the town of Pompeii as well as many adjoining towns. The quake affected Pompeii greatly and rebuilding was under progress even after seventeen years. The rediscovery of the lost Pompeii throws quite a number of surprises, notable among them being the erotic Pompeian style. The artwork and frescoes discovered in Pompeii depict the phallus as an oft used good luck charm. Some notable architectural signatures that survive today from ancient Pompeii are the Temple of Apollo and the Villa of Mysteries.
Pompeii being a getaway to a different world has become a major crowd puller today. Despite the fact that less than one third of the buildings being open today for public viewing today, millions of tourists throng to explore the site every year. Pompeii is a part of the Vesuvius National Park. Though for nearly two thousand years, the town of Pompeii had been conserved by natural elements, once excavated, it has become susceptible to both natural an man-made forces of decay and deterioration. In 2010 the 2,000-year-old Schola Armatorum (House of the Gladiators) collapsed bringing into light the dire state of Pompeii’s priceless monuments.
One of the most interesting thing to see in Pompeii are the plaster casts of its inhabitants. When the layers of ash were being excavated, the void left by decayed human bodies were filled with plaster, leaving behind casts of the ghosts of Pompeii. When in Pompeii, the charm and allure of history is best felt in places like the Villa of Mysteries, the House of the Tragic Poet, House of the Vetti, The Temple of Apollo, The House of Faun etc.
Villa of the Mysteries
The most amazing part about the Villa of the Mysteries is that despite a volcanic eruption, the building suffered from minor damages, and its magical frescoes survive intact almost two thousand years later. The meaning of the frescoes have been hotly debated on. Some are of the opinion that they depict a young woman being initiated into the cult of Dinosyus, some say that they depict a girl undergoing nuptial rites.
The villa was actually located outside the town, separated by the city walls and funerary monuments; and the ownership is ambiguous.
House of the Tragic Poet
The House of the Tragic Poet is a small building in Pompeii which has been of much interest to scholars throughout the ages due to the wealth of Greek mythological frescoes strewn around the house. The house speaks of excellent taste which does not sit in harmony with the size of the house. The juxtaposition of the beautiful images with the mystery of Pompeii make this place hauntingly magical and a place to cherish.
Weathering, inconsiderate excavation, lack of adequate restoration, tourism, vandalism, theft, exposure to natural elements- the list of factors contributing to Pompeii’s decay is endless. Without proper restoration, Pompeii will be lost, once again.