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REMARKABLE RUINS – Pompeii, Italy

Pompeii

Pompeii was an ancient Italian city, located near modern Naples. In 79 AD, due to the deadly eruption of Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice. It was estimated that, by the time of destruction its population was 11.000.

It is believed that, the city of Pompeii was founded in the seventh or sixth century BC by the Osci or Oscans, an ancient race of central Italy. Even in those early days, it had a complex water system, an amphitheatre, gymnasium and a port. The city’s most important religious structure, the Temple of Apollo, was built in the 2nd century BC. The eruption destroyed the city, killed its inhabitants and buried it under tons of ash. It was lost and ignored for about 1,500 years until its initial discovery in 1599.  However, it was rediscovered almost 150 years later by a Spanish engineer Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. It was found that, everything that was buried under the ash, was perfectly preserved for centuries, since devoid of air and moisture. These artifacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the early Roman period. During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids in the ash layers that once held human bodies. This enabled the  archaeologists to find the exact position of  a person, when he or she died.

The devastating volcanic eruption occurred on 24 August AD 79, just one day after the festival of the Roman god of fire. A multidisciplinary study and experiments indicate that, the heat generated due to the eruption was the mainly responsible for the death of the people, who were previously believed to have died by ash suffocation. The result of a study show that, exposure to the tremendous heat of at least 250 °C (482 °F),  that surged at a distance of 10 km (6 miles) from the vent was sufficient enough to cause instant death, even if people were sheltered within buildings.

The Temple of Jupiter and the temple of Apollo in Pompeii, with Vesuvius in the distance

The Temple of Jupiter and the temple of Apollo in Pompeii, with Vesuvius in the distance

Desolate paved ways in Pompeii
Desolate paved ways in Pompeii
Fencing in the temple of Venus and the Amphitheatre of Pompeii
Fencing in the temple of Venus and the Amphitheatre of Pompeii

After excavation it was found that, the ashes had acted as a marvelous preservative and underneath the accumulated dust and debris, Pompeii was almost exactly as it had been 2,000 years before. The buildings were intact. Skeletons were frozen right where they had fallen. Everyday objects and household goods littered the streets. It was also revealed that, Pompeii had suffered from other seismic events before the eruption. An earthquake in 62 CE did great damage in both Pompeii and Herculaneum. The cities had not yet recovered from its damaging effect, when the violent eruption struck as the final blow 17 years later.

Bodies from Pompeii
Bodies from Pompeii

Scholars opined that, at the time of the eruption, Pompeii had reached its highest point in society as many Romans frequently visited Pompeii on vacations. From the large number of well-preserved frescoes it is evident that, in those early days the people of Pompeii were quite advanced in art history of the ancient world, with the innovation of the Pompeian Styles. Some aspects of the culture were distinctly erotic. The image of Phallus was frequently used as a good-luck charm in various types of decoration. A large collection of erotic objects and frescoes were found at Pompeii. Ridiculously, many of those items were removed and kept until recently in a secret collection at the University of Naples

Like many Roman towns, Pompeii was walled. In fact, it was a resort town, and many of its villas and apartments were obviously designed for wealthy visitors. It had plenty of public baths, spots for parties, including a generously-sized brothel where anthropologists have found a lot of hilariously obscene graffiti. Casa del Centenario (House of the Centenary),  the house of a wealthy resident of Pompeii, was discovered in 1879. It was one of the largest buildings in the city, equipped with private baths, a fish pond (piscina), a nymphaeum (a monument consecrated to the nymphs), and two atria. Several rooms of the building were decorated with a number of paintings, which includes a room with explicit erotic scenes.  Probably, that was designed as a private sex club.

Portrait of Terentius Neo with his wife found on the wall of a Pompeii house.
Portrait of Terentius Neo with his wife found on the wall of a Pompeii house.

 

Roman fresco of making love, found in the bedroom of the Casa del Centenario.
Roman fresco of making love, found in the bedroom of the Casa del Centenario.

Pompeii was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy. Unfortunately, the 2 000 year-old Schola Armatorum (House of the Gladiators) of Pompeii, collapsed on 6 November 2010. Reports suggest that, water infiltration following heavy rains might have done the damage.

Mosaic-Pompeii
Mosaic-Pompeii
Dibyendu Banerjee
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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