The year is AD 79 in Ancient Pompeii – a thriving city nestled under the smoldering Mt Vesuvius.
The earth trembles, like it has oftentimes before, but this time it is different. The volcano erupts and the affluent, hyper-sensualised, hedonistic city is caught in a shower of ash, rock, volcanic gasses and heat. The warning signs had been coming, a large earthquake 17 years prior and tremours so frequently that this time they were ignored like the rest. But unlike previously, the ancient city is brought to a dramatic, disastrous end.
The inhabitants are killed by the sheer heat that radiates from the eruption and the city is entirely covered in ash and frozen in history for 16 centuries.
1599 – The ruins are come across by fluke, with the digging of an underground channel to redirect the river above. It is excavated a little, but is covered up again, possibly because of avoiding the excessive sexual content that would be found and deemed unsuitable for the time.
1738 – Herculaneum, a neighbouring city to Pompeii and also engulfed in the eruption, is discovered by the diggings for a summer palace for Charles of Bourbon, the King of Naples.
1748 – Pompeii is intentionally excavated and to this day it has been excavated and continually conserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now it provides to the modern day an incredible insight to an ancient world.
Street upon street – an entire city is to be discovered. Walking what was once used nearly 2000 years before and entering into people’s villas, decorated to their taste, with frescoes, mosaics and beautiful central atriums, is a very special experience.
Entering the central forum, your eye is drawn to the modern, striking bronze centaur by the artist Igor Mitoraj. Though a modern piece, it helps transport your thoughts back to the grandeur this city would have once displayed.
Also, be sure to keep your eye out for more of Mitoraj’s work.
Now, imagine the bustling forum…
… and the grandeur and size of the Temple of Venus.
Visit the beautiful baths, still standing erect, with a roof over your head and beautiful carvings and frescoes still on the walls.
This is not the first time I’ve stood within an ancient building, but the feeling is always the same – it gives me a shiver up my spine. I love history, I find it inspiring, and to be amongst it and to feel it, fuels my interest even more.
One can imagine how vibrant and beautiful it would have been in the day.
Roman baths were incredibly social places. A place people would gather to conduct business, or meet socially. It was not like our basic shower these days. It was like time spent at a spa!
Roman baths could have a series of rooms, with baths varying from cold to hot. They would also get oiled up and scraped down, with a instrument called a ‘strigil’, accompanied by massages and some would have a sweating room called a ‘laconicum’. The ancient Roman bathing process was in incredible foresight to much of the luxuries we like today – plunge pools, our exfoliation scrubs, saunas and massages. Their genius in developing these places was amazing.
(NB: It’s good to remember they stole it from the Greeks. The Ancient Romans stole a lot of ideas from the Greeks, but don’t tell them that!)
The villas are another point of amazement. Those wealthy enough had homes perfectly designed for the climate.
A central lavishly decorated room of the villa called an ‘atrium’ had an open skylight above and a sunken pool below. The skylight would provide natural ventilation and cooling to the villa and the pool would provide a catchment for rainwater.
Atriums where beautifully decorate with mosaics and vibrant frescoes, which this ancient civilisation is so well known for.
Romans also had a lot of focus placed on their gardens, where much time was spent in leisure, and also as a place to grow fresh produce, which their diet was so based upon.
The amphitheatre is magnificent.
While there are portions of it which are not original, it is fantastic to have it built up to help one imagine the level of importance they placed on entertainment.
And where the trees are peppered, across a lush green lawn, is where the public swimming pool could be found
rimmed with a stone colonnade.
The light is fading though. It is time for us to go.
Back through the darkening ancient streets…
The quietened forum…
To leave the ancient city to rest once more.