By David H. Allen
Over the course of the preceding quarter of a century, I’ve visited Pompeii more than a dozen times. Frankly, I’ve been there so many times that I try to avoid it unless I’m leading a group of students. The reason for this is twofold: Pompeii is normally quite overrun with tourists; and it is extremely hot and sunny within the site. Nonetheless, if you have never visited Pompeii, this stop should absolutely be included in your Italy itinerary, and the reason is that this is one of the most amazing archeological sites on Earth. Suffice it to say that no other place will elucidate quite so well hoe the Romans lived two thousand years ago. Thus, in this blog I will provide a short introduction to the most interesting sites I have discovered in what is for me is the single most amazing archeological dig on Earth.
Historic Sites for Engineers
Pompeii lies adjacent to the coast of the Bay of Naples in southern Italy, and in 79 AD it was struck by an enormous eruption of My. Vesuvius, a still-active volcano lying just to the north. I won’t go into the details of the eruption but suffice it to say that the town was completely inundated by more than thirty feet of volcanic ash. Fast-forward to 1748, when the long-lost city was unearthed by archeologists. And fortunately for us, they have done a fabulous job of restoring the city to its former grandeur.
With that brief introduction, here is a listing of my favorite historic sites for engineers (in no particular order) in Pompeii: the House of the Vettii; the Lupanar; the Villa of the Mysteries; the Temple of Apollo; the Forum; The Garden of the Fugitives; the Necropolis; the Arena; the Theatre. These are just a few of my favorites, and in truth every time I visit Pompeii I discover something new. I will now provide some details about a few of these below.
The House of the Vettii
This house is perhaps the best-preserved villa within the city proper. Unfortunately, it has been closed for renovation in recent years. However, if you are lucky enough to be granted entry, make sure you find the obscene statue located within a tiny alcove.
You may be surprised to know that humans procreated in ancient times (otherwise we would not be here!), and the Lupanar was one of the local houses of ill repute, as verified by the racy wall paintings within. You will find it just off the main street of the city (Fig. 1).
The Villa of the Mysteries
The Villa of the Mysteries has opened in recent years on the edge of town, and it is now my favorite stop within Pompeii. And you may actually get a few moments out of the broiling sunshine.
The Temple of Apollo
Upon entering the Temple of Apollo (just down from the main entrance, Fig. 2) you will be immediately struck by the backdrop of Mt. Vesuvius – so much closer than you may have imagined.
Near the back entrance to Pompeii you will find a quiet out-of-the-way spot which was the necropolis (Fig. 3) in ancient times, just outside the city walls.
In ancient times, every Roman city had a Forum (Fig. 4), the center of city life. And although Pompeii was by no means a populous city, it nonetheless was blessed with a sizable and quite impressive Forum.
The Garden of the Fugitives
You will have to work hard to locate this spot, but the reward will be the bodies of villagers who were killed during the eruption. Actually, they are not bodies, but rather, they are plaster reproductions of the cavities that were discovered during the excavations of Pompeii. Despite this, you will most assuredly be moved by the scene of death before you.
Many tourists are surprised to discover that the Colosseum in Rome was not the only one in the Roman Empire. The one in Pompeii (Fig. 5) is quite grand, and it predated the famous one in Rome.
When it came to entertainment, the Romans adopted the customs of the Greeks, who had written many plays, both tragedies and comedies. The two theatres were the site of popular entertainment, and of course the comedy theatre (Fig. 6) was the larger of the two.
It will take you nearly a full day to see all the above important sites, depending on your organizational skills and the crowds during your visit. But in any case, be prepared to be completely worn out from the heat, dust and crowds by the time you stagger from the exit completely exhausted. Which reminds me, there is a fabulous hotel named the Forum just down the street from the Arena exit – the perfect place to recover.
I hope these tidbits of are of use to you in your trip planning for your once-in-a-lifetime visit to Pompeii, the only place on Earth I’ve visited that is literally frozen in time. In future blogs I will give more detailed reviews of some of the other places mentioned in my previous blogs. Until then, please feel free to contact me if you have questions (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Note: All photos included in this blog were taken by me.