A childhood dream

24 07 2011

Vesuvius looms over the town square at Pompeii

In about 1974 or 1975 an exhibition of artefacts from Pompeii toured Australia. I visited it at the SA Museum in Adelaide. I was probably about 9 years old. I still have a postcard of one of the statues, carefully stuck into the back of my childhood photo album.

I had been fascinated to hear that when they were excavating Pompeii they kept coming across holes in the ash with bones in them. They tried filling the holes with plaster before they exposed them – and discovered that they were producing plaster casts of the people and animals who had died when Vesuvius erupted.

My lasting memory of the exhibition was of the plaster cast of a dog – arched around on its back with its legs in the air.

Fast forward to 2011.I am in the main square of Pompeii. Vesuvius looms large in the background, ever the reminder of why this town is the way it is. Pompeii is massive. They estimate between 12000 and 22000 people lived here. It is also remarkable not just for the preservation, but for the things we can find out about Roman life. They had plumbing throughout the town – lead pipes. There were water fountains and wells. The houses each collected water for the central use. Storm-drains funnelled rain away from the footpaths.

Stepping stones enabled people to cross the road without stepping in manure from the chariots. Deep ruts have been ground into the stones paving the roads – evidence of the iron-rimmed chariot wheels. This is one of the most amazing things I saw – evidence of actual human activity worn into stone.

inside a Pompeiian house

The houses were large with spacious rooms. Bars, bakeries and shops lined the paved streets. The most popular visit for tourists these days is the brothel – complete with paintings on the wall – our trilingual guide explains in Italian, English and French, that it is “like the menu in MacDonalds – you point at what you want”. Peppe is not only fluent in three languages, he is witty in them as well.

The plaster replica of a dog from Pompeii that I remember from my childhood

The baths were made of marble, as were the counter-tops in the bars. Houses had tiled mosaic entrances and brightly coloured murals on the walls. Pictures of Vesuvius show a forested pointed mountain, very unlike the denuded flattened top that exists today, post-explosion.

The plaster casts are eerie. Some of them, you can see the bones through the plaster. They apparently died from gas prior to the town being covered by ash. It wasn’t a pleasant death – the bodies are contorted. Some hold their hands over their faces. Families lie together – parents cocoon children.

In the afternoon we climbed Vesuvius, a very steep climb. The crater at the top is large and still smoking. The volcano overlooks Naples. They say another explosion is overdue, but that when it happens they will know in advance.

evidence of life - ruts from Roman chariot wheels

This was my childhood dream, to go to Pompeii. Next time I want to see Herculaneum, the other town lost to the same 79AD explosion.




5 responses

9 11 2011
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10 11 2011
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31 01 2012
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