Pompeii, the buried city

Thinking of Pompeii means immediately imagining ancient everyday life – so well documented by archaeological excavations- but also, at the same time, the greatness and fragility of human civilizations. Even the most powerful and millenary can vanish under the ashes for a whim of nature and it is precisely this sense of fatality that increases in us the wonder of rediscovery. 

Pompeii has certainly witnessed events that have shaped the history of humanity. Founded by the Oschi around the sixth century BC, under Roman rule it became an important commercial center. Its strategic location on the Gulf of Naples made it a vital crossroads for trade in the Mediterranean. The fate of Pompeii, as is well known, was tragic. In 79 A.D. a violent (and completely unexpected for the inhabitants) eruption of Vesuvius buried it under a thick layer of lapilli and volcanic ash, extinguishing it, but also preserving it for eternity.

Pliny the Younger wrote to Tacitus: “The whole sky seemed to ignite and a blaze of fire shone around us. The night was approaching, not the night we know, but a black and sinister night.” 

Pompeii recovered 

It was in the eighteenth century, and precisely in 1748, that began the path, not finished, of rediscovery of Pompeii. The King of Naples Charles III of Bourbon started the archaeological excavations and, little by little, unearthed paved streets, houses, temples, theaters and spas. 

The buildings and finds tell us about life in ancient Rome with an extraordinary detail and insight. They remind us above all of our origins, they invite us to reflect on our habits, on social conventions, on what has changed but also on what, despite the discovery of electricity and the invention of some comfort, has remained the same.

The Italian archaeologist Fiorelli, who led the excavations during the nineteenth century, introduced the casting technique to create plaster models of the inhabitants of Pompeii, immortalizing their last facial expressions and their movements right at the moment of the last breath. The casts are in fact a shocking testimony of the impact of the eruption.

Foto: Unsplash

Visiting Pompeii is a continuous discovery but in the list of places not to be missed:

  • Villa of the Mysteries

It is located on the eastern outskirts of Pompeii and is known for the well-preserved frescoes that adorn the walls. It owes its name to the ritual initiation room, known precisely as the “Mystery Room”, which shows scenes of a possible initiation rite to the mysteries of Dionysus. The frescoes, refined and vibrant, have about two thousand years but compete in beauty with those signed by the great masters of the Renaissance.

  • House of the Faun

It is one of the most imposing and rich residences of Pompeii. The rooms, luxurious and spacious, give a clear idea of the lifestyle of the Pompeian elite. The house takes its name from the statue of the faun that adorns the courtyard, a symbol of fertility and prosperity. Its frescoes, mosaics and sculptures testify to the sophisticated taste of the owners and their wealth.

  • Grand Theatre

It is one of the best preserved theatres in the ancient world. Built in the 2nd century BC, it could accommodate up to 5,000 spectators and was the beating heart of Pompeii’s cultural and social life. The extraordinary acoustics and majestic architecture continue to enchant visitors of all ages. 

  • Foro

It was the political, commercial and religious center of the city. Surrounded by important public buildings and temples, such as the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Apollo and the Basilica, the Forum was the place where the inhabitants of Pompeii met to discuss business, trade and attend religious ceremonies. Today walking among the columns and ruins of the Forum offers the visitor the opportunity to immerse themselves in the public and social life of ancient Pompeii.

  • Casa di Sallustio

The House of Sallust is one of the most opulent and best preserved private houses in Pompeii. The house, probably belonging to a rich merchant, has a series of luxurious rooms decorated with frescoes, mosaics and sculptures. It takes its name from an inscription found inside, which contains a reference to Sallust: it remains a mystery whether it refers to the famous historian or a member of the family.

  • Orto dei Fuggiaschi

It is a secret garden, a vegetable garden hidden among the ruins of Pompeii. It was discovered in the nineteenth century and owes its name to the thirty-two victims who sought refuge here during the eruption of Vesuvius. 

The most recent discoveries

No one has ever written the word “end” about the excavations of Pompeii, which continue to turn out to be an inexhaustible treasure of discoveries. In recent years archaeologists have made some extraordinary, like the still life in Insula 10 of Regio IX that depicts a focaccia topped with fruit and moretum (a kind of pesto)Although it is not a pizza, the news has aroused a lot of hype for the curious resemblance to the most famous Italian dish in the world. The very last discovery darkens the mind because it concerns three skeletons: two women and a child of about 3 years, perished most likely not by the eruption but by a collapse caused by one of the earthquakes that announced it.

Pompeii beyond the excavations

If time allows, the visit of Pompeii can also extend to other experiences. For example, you can contact a local guide to book an excursion on Vesuvius, an activity that is always surprising for those who did not grow up with a nearby volcano and can therefore, on this occasion, understand its beauty and devastating potential. 

The Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Rosary of Pompeii, founded in the nineteenth century, welcomes thousands of pilgrims every year and is one of the most visited Marian shrines in Italy. Beyond its importance as a sacred place, the Sanctuary hosts artistic works of the late ‘800 and early’ 900, the result of the inspiration of Vincenzo Paliotti, Federico Maldarelli, Ponziano Loverini, Fermo Taragni. Marble, frescoes and mosaics will not disappoint art lovers.

Thanks to the Pompeii Street Festival the city is also full of murals signed by famous artists. The Pompeian street art tour includes, among other works, “Look at the threatening sky” by GOMAD, “Maradona” by Maximiliano Bagnasco and “Leave no stone Unturned” by Mr.Kas.

Foto : Unsplash

Flavours of today and yesterday: gastronomic Pompeii

No trip can be considered complete until you sit at the table: it is worth even if you are visiting Pompeii where the gastronomic proposal is wide, divided between pizzerias, trattorias, starred restaurants, bars and historic pastry shops. 

The best advice possible is to win hurry and laziness resisting the temptation to eat a sandwich on the fly. Better to sit down and choose from a real Italian menu, which is then an integral part of the culture of our country. 

The restaurants in the area offer a variety of traditional Campanian dishes, such as puttanesca pasta and eggplant parmigiana. 

There are also those who propose experiments based on recipes of ancient Rome: the staff that welcomes guests wears a tunic and serves dishes such as fried anchovies, spelt soup and chickpeas flavored with rosemary, marinated sea bass, goat cheese creams. Try the garum. In ancient Rome it was a preparation obtained from the fermentation of the entrails of paranza, used to season other dishes. Today (fortunately?) it is proposed again in the form of anchovies.

The most refined palates will appreciate the local catch, protagonist of traditional proposals or declined with contemporary look. 

In Pompeii the local vines produce high quality wines (including the famous Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio) that have been celebrated by poets and wine connoisseurs throughout the centuries.

Finally the pizzerias: to choose the best it is good to rely on the advice of Pompeii or the reviews on the net, without ever forgetting that the real Neapolitan pizza is crisp outside and soft inside, elastic enough to be folded to book. It should be eaten like this, with the hands and above all without guilt.

Copertina: Unsplash

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