Showing posts with label the resurrection of city. Show all posts
Showing posts with label the resurrection of city. Show all posts

Friday, July 5, 2013

History mystery: Pompeii The resurrection of a city -3


The third area of public buildings consisted of the amphitheatre and the palaestra, or gymnasium. Providing free entertainment for the public was a passport to popularity and political success. It was probably for this reason that one of Pompeii’s two magistrates. Caius Quinctius Ballbus, a rich landowner, financed its construction in about 80 BC. Here, the Pompeiians would gather to watch entertainments which ranged from performances by clowns and pantomime artists to sports such as fencing and boxing. But what the crowds loved best was blood. A favourite spectacle included gladiatorial combats to the death between criminals and wild beasts. The different types of gladiators were often illustrated in the city. There was the thrax, who was armed with a short sword, shield, and visored helmet, and the retarius, who fought with net and trident.

Champions enjoyed great popularity, and their praises were sung in the ubiquitous graffiti. Of the public baths that have been uncovered, the Stabian baths contained a large palaestra for taking exercise, a swimming-pool, changing rooms, and chambers heated to varying temperatures. Alongside the baths stood the brothel. Hard work sent hand in hand with high living in Pompeii. One of the city’s artisans had the motto ‘to earn is joy’ inscribed in mosaic in his house.  And the vitality of the city’s trade and commerce is reflected in the stalls which sprang up, often at house entrances. A fabrics shop, which an inscription tells us belonged to a man called Verecundus, still has paintings that depict everyday scenes in the life of the workshop: the carders at their benches, the dyers sweating over boiling vats, and the owner proudly displaying the finished pieces of cloth. Several bakeries survive. In one of them, a baker had slid 81 loaves into his oven minutes before the eruption. There is a laundry, which belonged to a certain Stefanus. Inside, a press, pestles, and basins have been found. Jars into which passers-by were encouraged to relieve themselves would have been left outside on the street. For urine was used as a washing agent on account of its alkaline properties. One inn was identified when some jars were discovered with the address to which they had been dispatched: ‘To Pompeii, near the Amphitheatre, to the inn-keeper Euximus.’


 In a typical Pompeiian house, the front door led into a small corridor running between two rooms – one on either side – that were usually used as shops. At the other end, the corridor opened onto a central courtyard, or atrium. The tablinum, or family meeting place, was at the far side of the atrium. In turn, this opened onto the garden. The House of the Faun – so called because of its garden statue of a dancing faun – had a second atrium with rooms leading off it. It also had two gardens surrounded by columns. On the paving stones of one of the colonnades the skeleton of a woman was unearthed, probably overcome by poisonous fumes as she attempted to rescue her most precious jewels. Scattered over the floor are pieces of gold which would have made up the wealth of an average Pompeiian family. For those who had the means, the ultimate status symbol was a villa built outside the town. The Villa of Mysteries stood slightly to the south of Pompeii. It is distinguished by a complete cycle of paintings on the walls which celebrate the mysteries of the cult of the god Dionasus. Here, as elsewhere, the inhabitants of the villa can be seen in their last tortured moments: a group of workmen asphyxiated in the cellars, a couple of women dashed to the ground the debris of the tumbling building, and the porter slumped across the couch in his dark cubbyhole. One of the most striking features of Pompeiian houses is the sumptuousness of their decoration. They abound in marble and bronze sculptures, and precious plates and dishes. The sculptures were inspired by the art of the Greek world, and were to be found gracing the fountains, colonnades, and gardens of the villas. In 1978, the life-sized bronze statue of a young man was found in a house that had belonged to Julius Polybius. In the house of Menander, 118 silver dishes and plates wrapped in pieces of wool and cloth were discovered stored in a large wooden chest, out of the way of the restoration works that were being carried out at the time. Pompeii also had a large amount of mosaic decoration. In its early days this was a form of pavement art. Gradually, it came to be used to decorate walls and its designs became more elaborate. In some cases it took the shapes of animals or men out hunting, sailing, or participating in sports. There was a fashion were set with mosaic, using brightly coloured glass paste and gold leaf. So popular was mosaic as an art form that Pliny the Younger held it responsible for the decline of painting. But of all the decoration to be found in the houses and streets of Pompeii, there is one piece of graffiti that must have the last word: ‘I wonder, oh wall,’ a wag has written, ‘that under the weight of so mush idle chat, you have not yet crumbled.’

Friday, June 28, 2013

History mystery: Pompeii The resurrection of a city -2



Pompeii’s other main features included the Temple of Venus (8), the Temple of Apollo (9), the Basilica (10), the Temple of Jupiter (11), the Civil Forum (12), the Building of Eumachia (13), the Forum baths (14), the central baths (15), the Stabian baths (16), the Triangular Forum (17), the theater (18), the gladiator’s barracks (19), the Odeon (20), the palaestra (21), and the amphitheater (22). Homes included the House of the Faun (23) and the House of the Vettii (24), both in the city’s north-west sector. The pictures on the walls and sophisticated paintings, the bawdy graffiti and dignified inscriptions engraved in marble, all materialized before the eyes of the archaeologists. Even the streets still bear the track marks of carts. A vivid picture of daily life began to emerge simply from the insults and proverbs scrawled on walls – ranging from ‘Figulus loves Idaia,’ to the more lyrical, ‘you could as soon stop the winds from blowing and the waters from following as stop lovers from loving.’ Election posters illustrated the vitality of political life in the city: ‘Vote for Maurus Epidius Sabinus as administrator of justice. He is a respectable man, considered by trustworthy judges to be capable of defending the citizens.’ Every one of Pompeii’s excavated buildings gives the historian an insight into the city’s public and private life, yet surprisingly little is known about its early history.



The uncovering of a Doric temple proved that the town existed in the 6th century BC and that it was subject to Greek influence. It was probably a settlement of the local Ausonian people, thriving as a free port used by both the Greeks whop had settled on Italy’s west coast and the Etruscans to the north. Its economy was based on the production of wine and oil and supplemented by a flourishing commerce in wool and woollen goods. The coming of the Romans around 80BC opened new vistas of economic enterprise. The neighbouring town of Puteoli (Pozzuoli) became Italy’s principal port and Roman traders began to flood the eastern Mediterranean.

Pompeii prospered not only as a market town and port, but also as an immensely popular resort. Every summer thousands of Romans flocked to the city to take advantage of its climate and its beautiful position in the Bay of Naples. The orator Cicero was one of the many who acquired a holiday home in Pompeii. As the fashion caught on, the area became a playground for the rich. Then, in AD 62, an earthquake struck. The drama is depicted in the bas-reliefs which a wealthy banker, Caecilius Jucundus, had sculpted in the hallway of his house. Buildings tilt, arches and monuments crash to the ground – all evoked with rude vigour. The banker probably commissioned the reliefs to give thanks to his household gods for his survival. Pompeii reacted to the ravages of this catastrophe with a frenzy of building that was proof of the city’s prosperity.

The art collection of a local politician, Julius Polybius, was found stored in the room of his house to keep it safe from the building work, still in progress when Vesuvius erupted 17 years later. The largest public buildings stood in the south-west corner of the city, where the first settlers of Pompeii had made their homes. Here, clustered round the Civil Forum, stood the Temple of Apollo, the most ancient of all the buildings in Pompeii- proved by the discovery of Greek pottery dating back to the early 5th century BC. Next door the Basilica, A combined market hall and law court, is the best preserved of the city’s buildings. Thanks to graffiti on the walls, it can be dated to the 2nd century BC. Its main hall, surrounded by a colonnade, testifies to the commercial might of the city. At the end was a tribunal where justice was administrated. Graffiti covers the walls. ‘Lucius Istacidius,’ wrote a citizen, ‘who did not invite me to share his meal, is a barbarian!’ On the opposite side of the Forum stands the Building of Eumachia. Inscriptions inside describe how Eumachia, a public priestess, paid for the construction of the building and how she dedicated it to the ‘Peace and Harmony of Augustus’.

 The Macellum, or general market, stood at the north-east corner of the Forum. The rows of stalls which encircled the main building can still be seen, as can the remains of the various cereals and fruits that were being sold on the fateful August day in AD 79. A drain full of fish bones marks the position of a fish stall. Nearby stand the public baths of the Civil Forum. The second area of ancient public buildings clustered round the Triangular Forum, with Pompeii’s public entertainment district spread out along its eastern side. The city’s largest theatre could accommodate an audience of 5,000 in the open air. The Romans were passionate theatre-goers; its repertoire would have included classical drama, comic mime, and low burlesque, interspersed with clowning, dancing, and acrobatics. For lavish marine spectacles, the stage could be flooded with water, and in the heat of the Mediterranean summer a sprinkling device showered perfumed water on the audience.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

History mystery: Pompeii The Resurrection of a City -1


Almost 2,000Years ago a provincial city in Italy was buried beneath a thick layer of volcanic ash. Hundreds of years later Pompeii was discovered – a miraculously preserved mausoleum which provides a vivid record of the life of a Roman city? ON THE MORNING OF AUGUST 24, AD 79, Carts and mules jostled their way through the streets of Pompeii. Peddlers hawked their wares from wayside stalls. Girls gossiped lazily at a corner fountain. In a wine shop, a customer had just put his money down on the counter for a drink. But the barmaid had no time to pick up the coins. For suddenly, a terrifying noise ripped through the air. Vesuvius (Vesuvio), the volcanic mountain which dominated the town, had erupted. Under pressure from the gases inside, the plug of lava that blocked the opening of the volcano had burst, releasing a great mass of red-hot lava. Solidifying into balls of stone as it cooled, the lava rained down on the houses and blotted out the sun. By nightfall on August 25, Pompeii was buried beneath about 6m (20ft) of lava, dust and ashes. It happened too quickly for many of the inhabitants to escape. Asphyxiated by gases and crushed beneath tumbling buildings, they fell in the streets or met death in their homes and cellars.

Before he died, one of them recalled the terrible fate that had befallen two Old Testament cities by scratching ‘Sodom and Gomorrah!’ on a whitewashed wall. Fortunately for us, the modern world has an eyewitness account of the fall of Pompeii. The two letters which the Roman writer Pliny the Younger sent to the historian Tacitus are exceptionally vivid. Pliny the Younger was staying with his uncle, Pliny the Elder, at Misenum, 30km (19 miles) from Pompeii. This is what he saw as he made his escape: ‘Ashes were already falling,’ he wrote, ‘not as yet very thickly. I looked round: a dense black cloud was coming up behind us, spreading over the earth like a flood…. ‘Darkness fell, not the dark of the moonless or cloudy night, but as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room. You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, other their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying.  ‘Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the Universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.’

 At the time Pliny the Elder (a Roman administrator and himself a profile writer) commanded the Roman fleet at Misenum. When the eruption first started, he went by boat to Stabiae to rescue a friend and get a closer view. After spending the night there, he ‘decided to go down to the shore and investigate the possibility of any escape by sea,’ wrote his nephew, ‘but he found the waves wild and dangerous. A sheet was spread on the ground for him to lie down, and he repeatedly asked for cold water to drink. Then the flames and smell of sulphur which gave warning of the approaching fire drove the others to take flight and roused him to stand up. He stood leaning on slaves and then suddenly collapsed, I imagine because the dense fumes choked his breathing. When daylight returned two days after the last day he had seen, his body was found intact…..still fully clothed and looking more like in sleep than death.’ Embalmed in lava, Pompeii remained undiscovered for nearly 1700 years. It was not until 1748 that Joaquin de Alcubierre, engineer to the King of Naples, chanced upon its business quarter. In order to inspect an old water tunnel, he sank pa shaft into the ground and unearthed a brilliant wall-painting. Next, he came upon the body of a Pompeiian clutching a fistful of gold.

No one will ever know whether this man as a thief or was just trying to flee with money he had saved over the years. Alcubierre went on excavating the site. It was another 100 years before the Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli introduced the policy of moving forward slowly, house by house, to make sure that nothing was lost in the excavation. He also devised the technique of pouring plaster into the cavities left by the bodies, so that they reappeared as they were at the moment of death. As the city was disinterred, it seemed to come back to life. Vesuvius, the cause of Pompeii’s destruction, looms to the north of the city. Pompeii’s chief north-south through fare was the Via di Stabia (1), running between the Vesuvius Gate (2) and the Stabian Gate (3). Running east-west were the Via di Nola, from the Nola Gate (4) across to the west side of the city, and the Via dell’ Abbondanza, between the Samus (5) and Marine (6) gates. The gate in the north-west corner of the walls (7) led to the neighbouring city of Herculaneum.