29 January 2016

Legendary Pompeii

L and I both wanted to see Pompeii so we set aside a day during our Rome leg specifically for that. I spent a fair amount of time investigating how to get there and in the end we decided to book ourselves a shuttle "tour" with Enjoy Rome. This agency offers many tours and what we ended up booking was basically just a bus ride to/from Pompeii. I don't remember the price off the top of my head but I do remember that it was comparable in price but easier than booking a 35 Euro train ticket each way to Naples where we would transfer to a local train to take us to Pompeii.

The larger of the two theaters in Pompeii
A thermopolium

The size of Pompeii alone is impressive. Although over the last couple hundred years there certainly has been time to do major excavations. After its burial in ash in 79AM Pompeii was first rediscovered in 1599 but recovered only to be 'properly' rediscovered during the excavation of nearby Herculaneum in 1748 and has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Not to sound like a ruins elitist or anything...but I've seen cooler. As a snapshot of ancient Roman life, art, and architecture it's phenomenal, don't get me wrong and the surviving frescos and artwork are beyond words. However Pompeii had nothing outstanding to single it out; no Roman Colosseum, no Ephesian Celus Library, or Athenian temples. Had it not been preserved by tons of volcanic ash Pompeii would have lived and died and been forgotten by history.

Traditional villa courtyard

Enjoy Rome offers two options with the shuttle deal: just the shuttle, or the shuttle and a two-hour guided tour. L and I chose to take the guided tour. While we didn't see as much of Pompeii as we could have done on our own we got a lot of information we wouldn't have got just from the guide book. Some of what he told I us I learned (but if I'm honest I learned then forgot) from the Roman architecture class I took. Some of it was very new.

Stepping stones for when streets flooded

Wall detail

For example, the old Latin word for brothels is lupanare. The root word for lupanare is lupus, wolf. I'd heard before that brothels were called lupanare and always wondered why. Our guide explained that in order to advertise their presence and guide customers through the streets to find them, the girls would lean out the windows and howl. If you needed more help than that to find the lupanare you could follow the penises etched/embedded into the streets that pointed the way. Seriously. Some of the surviving Pompeii frescoes are in the lupanare. According to our guide, the different paintings advertised a girl's particular skill or "game" and the stone beds in each room encouraged customers to play through quickly and not linger.

Ceiling detail
Public bath
A lupanara

Brothels weren't the only place to get your party on. You could also find 'company' on the floor above a thermopolium. Aside from the wealthy who had other people to do it for them and space for a dedicated kitchen, cooking was not a high priority. Many people got food from thermopolii where you could also enjoy a brief, unlicensed "game" upstairs. A thermopolium was like an ancient fast food place with large jars sunk into a counter where cold/dried foods and wine were stored and served to go.

'specialty' fresco in a lupanara
stone bed in a lupanara-does not encourage lingering!
'specialty' fresco in lupanara

After our tour we did not have much time left to wander around on our own. Choosing morbid curiosity over vivid frescoes we headed to the amphitheater where there was a special exhibition about the dead of Pompeii (will post about that soon!). As that didn't take quite as much time we suspected we elected to book it all the way across the city to visit the Villa of Mysteries.

On the outskirts of Pompeii, the Villa of Mysteries, despite also being buried in ash, sustained very little damage and many of its frescoes were found to be well-preserved after the villa was recovered. The villa gets its name from the frescoes in the triclinium (basically a dining room) which people believe depict a young girl being initiated into one of the more secret cults of Bacchus. If I were going to join a secret cult it would definitely be one headed up by the god of wine. Bravo young girl.

The triclinium

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