Entering Pompeii’s impressive archaeological site, the sun burns brightly in a cerulean sky, perhaps as it did in 79AD just before the the cataclysmic eruption of nearby Mount Vesuvius which saw this sophisticated, cosmopolitan town reduced to ash. A light breeze stirs the ground sending zephyrs of ash swirling in the air reminding us that the spirits of the past still occupy this evocative and sensitively restored place.
Walking the cobbled streets, there’s an air of serenity and peace. With glimpses of grand homes and walled gardens, you can imagine the life. Gathering water in great Roman urns at the town’s many wells fed by fresh water from the hills 40km away and delivered via acquaducts that ultimately introduced running water to homes and public baths, important social meeting places.
Pompeii boasted three major bathing complexes, even an open-air swimming pool and gymnasium, lifestyle essentials as modern as today! As we walk the streets, we pass cool doorways where citizens would have gathered to gossip and exchange news before heading to the bakery for the day’s bread, a staple in every Roman household to mop up olive oil and sauces.
Pompeii shows the grand and the prosaic from grand archways, temples and a gladiatorial amphitheatre to glimpses into the everyday lives of citizens in this carefully planned, aesthetically pleasing Roman town that still feels vibrant with vitality.
For 17 centuries, the town remained lost, buried and forgotten. Excavations began in 1748 and street by street, house by house, its long lost treasures were revealed. Standing in the remnants of one family home, faded wall frescos and mosaic flooring show the beauty of decor that’s withstood millennia and rarely found elsewhere.
Covering more than 60 hectares, Pompeii’s grid-shaped town’s initial culture was borrowed from Greek cities of the region but with Roman expansion throughout the Mediterranean, and its strategic position near a large port, it was transformed into a Roman colony of wealth and influence. Trading and agriculture fuelled a building boom and you can imagine its bustling streets lined with shops, cafes and bars.
As real estate grew with wealth and status, Pompeii’s designs reflected the classic Roman aesthetic. All homes faced inwards onto a central courtyard with a grand atrium, the largest space in house, where rainwater fell through to a rectangular basin on the floor beneath. Flanked by seating, guests would have been offered refreshments before being shown into one of the formal meeting spaces. Wealthier citizens created elaborate gardens, lush oasis with fountains and citrus trees. Surrounded by colonnades, they were today’s casual al fresco dining spaces while the less well-to-do made do by painting fantasy garden frescos on internal walls.
A volcanic eruption may have temporarily shrouded Pompeii’s glories but like the Phoenix, it has risen from the ashes to live once again.