Thursday, August 12, 2010


Wow, I can definitely tell that my energy level is slowing down. This is the third day in a row that I haven't managed to write a post by midnight, and I also woke up later today than I've woken up all week. I now have one week left in Italy, and while I'm still enjoying all the new things I'm seeing, I can tell that I'm ready to take a rest and give someone else the reins for a little while!

Anyway, yesterday I visited Pompeii! And gosh, what a day. I haven't seen crowds like that since I left Rome - people everywhere, trying to snap the photo that will sum up the quintessential Pompeii experience for their Facebook friends. And gosh, it is dusty and hot. I wore my black sneakers yesterday, and now they're my gray sneakers. And my feet, they are sore. But looking back at my pictures and thinking back to my experiences, I can't believe I was in all these famous places.

Here's a shot of the Forum that I took pretty soon after entering the archaeological park:

That's Vesuvius there in the background, and the volcano has kind of an interesting effect on visiting the ruined city - sort of like the murderer returning to the scene of the crime. You catch glimpses of it from time to time as you're walking through one fancy house or other, and the site is always a sobering reminder that this city was wiped out in a terrible disaster. It's strange.

I walked into the Building of Eumachia and found it mercifully deserted:

I wonder if it would be more populated if the Pompeii guides reflected recent research that suggests that the building may have been a slave market, rather than a wool market as previously believed.

There were big crowds in the market next door, probably because of this guy:

The plaster casts of the victims of the volcano are a rather fascinating aspect of a visit to Pompeii, and everyone else seems to think so, also. This one is part plaster cast, and part bone - you can see the skull in this picture - which I was not expecting. I always had the impression that the casts were made by pouring plaster into the voids where bodies had disappeared, and didn't realize that some of them actually included human remains. This makes the whole thing much more complicated - what about the expression on the face of this figure, for instance? It's chilling, but was it manipulated by the person who made the cast? And does this bring the casts even closer to the realm of sculpture than I had originally expected?

The other funny thing was that every tour guide who went by said that we knew this figure was a slave because of his belt. I wonder how true this is.

After passing through the Forum, I stopped at the only restaurant inside the excavation for lunch, and I was sorry I did. It was incredibly crowded and noisy, and a lot of people over here seem to think they can get away with cutting ahead of you in line as long as they stand close enough to you and wiggle their way in. It's really annoying. But I did get to eat a nice big hunk of fresh watermelon, which was lovely.

Then, it was on into the park. This caupona (bar) was pretty cool:

It was funny, because there was another one right next door, but this was the one that was labeled, and all the tour groups were waiting in line for their turn to stand in front of it. I snapped this picture during a brief lull. I was excited the first few times I saw marble bars, but by the afternoon, I wasn't anymore - there are dozens of these in Pompeii. So many storefronts and eating establishments all over the city! Pompeii must have been a bustling place in its heyday.

I got to see a famous mosaic in the doorway of the House of the Tragic Poet:

Beware of the dog!

I also loved this house in general:

The courtyard was so peaceful, and I really loved the layout of the house. I've always liked the mixture of small rooms and open spaces in Roman houses, and I could definitely understand the temptation anyone might have to build replicas of them. I wouldn't mind having a home on the same plan as the House of the Tragic Poet - cool, dark rooms alternating with sunny outdoor spaces. It would be lovely.

My day took kind of a strange turn when I got to the House of the Vettii. I really wanted to go in here, because this house has been a big part of the study of freedman art in Pompeii (even though we have only scant evidence that its occupants were freedmen). When I got there, however, I found out that the house was under restoration, and was thus closed. I moped outside for a bit, and was just about to leave when suddenly the gate opened, and a guard appeared with a couple who had obviously just been inside the house. Huzzah! I looked at the guard for a bit, and he looked at me, and finally I asked him if I could see the house. He didn't speak much English, but he winked at me, and waited for the street to clear, then let me into the house. So I got to see the splendid paintings inside the House of the Vettii, including this frieze of little Cupids and Psyches at work in the dining room:

I'm more convinced than ever that it's silly for so many interpretations of this house to be focused on this little frieze. It's tiny, and very close to the floor. I don't know if the inhabitants of the house would have given it much thought.

But here's where things got really odd. This guard, who was so short that he came up maybe to my armpit, and was probably in his early 50s, took the "friendliness" of Italian men to kind of an extreme level. He kept leading me around by the hand, and kissing my cheek, and saying "Bella, bella" over and over. I thought we would part ways after the House of the Vettii, but it turned out that he had other things to show me. I ended up seeing four other houses that are usually closed to the public, including the House of the Prince of Naples and the House of the Caecilii. This would have been a wonderful memory of Pompeii (I know I've been complaining that I'd like more access to a lot of the sites I've visited) but the guard's behavior made me really uncomfortable. I think a lot of men here take advantage of foreign girls who don't speak Italian to do things that would get them slugged if they ever tried them with Italian women, and I really think this sucks. Thanks, guard, for giving me creepy memories to take home with me.

Anyway, weirdly enough, the closest place to visit after I managed to escape the guard was the brothel:

Again, I was rather amazed that so much interpretation has been spent on one small building within the vastness of Pompeii. The stone beds and erotic frescoes in this building are pretty cool, but I'm sure there were plenty of other, similar establishments in Pompeii that used wooden furniture instead.

I wasn't able to go inside the so-called "Samnite palaestra", but I took a quick picture through the gate:

This is where the Doryphoros that is now in the Naples Museum was found, and I think the identification of the spot as a palaestra, or athletic field, was based largely on the presence of the Doryphoros. After visiting it, however, I am a bit skeptical, because this is a tiny space, not much bigger than the courtyards in some of the larger houses. Unless the sport in question was tiddly-winks, I don't really see this as an appropriate space for athletics.

Right next to the "palaestra" is the Temple of Isis:

This was also a magical little spot that almost no one else was visiting. Not sure if I had any new insights, but I was really glad to take a break from the crowds for a little while and photograph the temple from multiple angles.

And then it was on to the House of the Menander:

I wrote a paper about the House of the Menander during my last semester of coursework, and I was really frustrated at the time that I couldn't visit the house to draw conclusions based on seeing the actual spaces. Now that I've been in the house, I think the plan does tell a clear story - that the house is divided into definite zones based on whether the spaces were for service or for company. Above is the grand central courtyard.

I got a kick out of seeing the Fullonica of Stephanus:

A fullonica is a laundry establishment, and I remember a fun day last fall after we had all read an article explaining that the Romans usually washed their clothing in urine. I don't remember whether that's the article where I first read the words "communal sponge" in reference to Roman latrine habits, but last night Charlie and I were talking about how "communal sponge" is a phrase that just sends shivers down the spine.

Finally, the House of Octavius Quartio:

This house gets kind of a bad rap in literature about Pompeii because Paul Zanker once expressed his opinion that it was a tacky Disneyland, with a mini canal, a garden, and several sculptures all within a very small space. Now that I've been there, I can say that I get exactly what the owner of the villa was trying to do:

Here I am inside, and boy was I glad to find this quiet green space after the hot, dusty, crowded city. I can only imagine how much greater the relief would have been when the city was in full operation, with all the sights and smells that a Roman city would have, and when the canals in this mini-villa would have been full of water and functional. This is a perfect little oasis from city life, and I could definitely understand the impulse to build it.

By this time, I was almost completely out of steam, but I forced myself to walk to the other end of the archaeological park to see the paintings in the Villa of the Mysteries that show up in every art history class. And here they are:

I must say that photographs make this room seem a lot bigger than it is, and the paintings brighter as well. I had to take this photo with a very slow exposure, wedging my camera into a chink in the wall, and so the photo is brighter than my viewing experience actually was. The paintings are indeed lovely, but at this point, I was just completely wiped out. So I got back onto the train and headed back to Naples, where I had a lovely dinner at the hostel with a few of the other young people here.

So that was my day in Pompeii! I've been sitting here writing for so long that I don't think I'm going to make it to Capri today, so I'm going to have to think of something else to do. I'll probably see some more of the sights of Naples - who knows what I will have to report this evening!

1 comment:

  1. Hey:-), I am really impressed very much after seeing art in pompeii. It looks like an interesting place for visiting. Certainly, I will make some plan there. Thanks!
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