The Ghosts of Pompeii… Seaports of the Mediterranean

Buried under a pyroclastic flow of molten rock in 79 AD, the ruins of Pompeii have been well preserved. A large harbor on the Tyrrhenian Sea was located where the grass is now seen.

Buried under a pyroclastic flow of molten rock in 79 AD, the ruins of Pompeii have been well preserved. A large harbor on the Tyrrhenian Sea was located where the grass on the far right is now seen. Today, the sea is two miles away.

I have wandered through many ruins in my life ranging from the Anasazi cliff dwellings of the southwestern US to the Hindu temples of Bali. In all of these  locations, you can feel the presence of  ancient inhabitants… if you allow your imagination to run a little wild.

Nowhere, however, have I had a sense of people going about their everyday life as I did in Pompeii. The explosion of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD froze the city in time. It was easy for me to visualize the dead bodies cast in plaster and found throughout the city, coming to life at night, like the animated characters in Toy Story.

In my imagination, chariots raced up and down the streets, citizens stopped to relax in the public baths, bakers produced mouth-watering bread, satisfied customers raved about the girls at the Lupanare, worshippers stopped to pay their respects to Jupiter and Apollo, and people lined up for the Pompeii equivalent of fast-food. I could almost hear the clash of weapons as gladiators practiced at the gladiator school.

Today I will take you on a walk through the streets of Pompeii where all of these activities took place on the day before Mt. Vesuvius blew its top.

The clash of wooden weapons reverberated through the air as gladiators practiced on the field at the left. The hundred or so gladiators who trained at pompeii were housed in rooms on the right.

The clash of wooden weapons reverberated through the air as gladiators practiced on the field at the left. The hundred or so gladiators who trained at Pompeii were housed in rooms on the right. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Pompeii's theater, which could seat 5000 people, is located just beyond the gladiator school. Seats were separated by price and class. Poor folks got the nosebleed seats.

Pompeii’s theater, which could seat 5000 people, is located just beyond the gladiator school. Seats were separated by price and class. Poor folks got the nosebleed seats.

Streets in Pompeii were paved with large granite stones. The deep tracks were made by chariots, all of which had a standardized wheel base. As for the stones on top, you are looking at a crosswalk or stepping stones. These allowed people to avoid horse droppings, and, even more interesting, to cross the roads when the streets were flooded to remove horse droppings and other waste.

Streets in Pompeii were paved with large granite stones. The deep tracks were made by chariots, all of which had a standardized wheel base. As for the stones on top, you are looking at a cross walk or stepping-stones. These allowed people to avoid horse poop, and, even more interesting, to cross the roads when the streets were regularly flooded to remove horse droppings and other waste.

Large ovens such as this were used for baking bread. Can you smell it? The round object in front was used for grinding grain. Small rocks were included in the flour for free. I suspect dentists would be delighted.

Large ovens such as this were used for baking bread. Can you smell it? The round object in front was used for grinding grain. Small rocks were included in the flour for free. I suspect dentists would be delighted.

Fast food, anyone? These large circles held pots of hot food. The residents of Pompeii could get a quick bit to eat here... just like we do at McDs.

Fast food, anyone? These large circles held pots of hot food. The residents of Pompeii could get a quick bite to eat here… just like we do at McDs. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

A typical Pompeii street scene featuring stepping stones, sidewalks, and shops. It amazed me how well the city was laid out.

A typical Pompeii street scene featuring stepping-stones, sidewalks, and shops. I was amazed by how well the city was planned.

Every Roman city had public baths for men and women. The baths at Pompeii are among the best preserved. Each bath came with heated floors and hot, warm and cold water. They were also extensive decorated. This bath had murals on the walls.

Every Roman city had public baths for men and women. The baths at Pompeii are among the best preserved. Each bath came with heated floors and hot, warm and cold water. They were also extensively decorated. This bath had murals on the walls.

Even the ceilings of the baths at Pompeii were decorated. Note the details. Each circle contains a different subject.

Even the ceilings of the baths at Pompeii were decorated. Note the details. Each circle contains a different subject including nudes, a shield and a chalice. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

I found the reliefs on this wall particularly interesting.

I found the reliefs on this wall particularly interesting.

This close up of the wall featuring a father and child in Pompeii, shows a 3-D effect.

This close up from the wall, which features a father and child in Pompeii, shows a 3-D effect.

I close with what, at first, appears to be abstract art but was actually a coiled snake. It had an interesting story. Our guide told us snakes were painted on the walls to keep men from urinating on them. Apparently peeing on the snake brought bad luck.

I close with what, at first, appears to be abstract art but was actually a coiled snake. It had an interesting story. Our guide told us snakes were painted on the walls to keep men from urinating on them. Apparently peeing on a snake brought bad luck. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

NEXT BLOG: I will visit with the gods of Pompeii, plus the market, the forum and the basilica.

18 comments on “The Ghosts of Pompeii… Seaports of the Mediterranean

  1. What grand story telling, Curt… Excellent! And the planning does surprise me tremendously – down to the stepping stones. While I need to catch up, Pompeii was THE sin city of that time and I’m wondering if you will be writing about that aspect as well…

    • Somewhat tongue in cheek, I wrote a blog called R-rated Pompeii, Koji. Normally, I downplay erotica, but it was such a part of the Pompeii story, I couldn’t ignore it. So I took a humorous twist and hoped I didn’t upset too many people. (grin)

  2. Good post Curt. I visited Pompeii, and like you, was enthralled. If you haven’t read Robert Harris’ book “Pompeii” check it out. It’s an account of the last days and is very well done. ~James

  3. What a cool history Pompeii has.. I am forever amazed at how well made these structures are as look here, so many years later they still stand.. truly amazing.. Public baths seemed to be common practice I assume because there was no plumbing..I am curious as to how the floors were heated..

    • There was plumbing, to a degree Lynne. Only the wealthy would have it in their homes, however. The floors were heated by piping hot water under them, if I remember correctly.

  4. Not often I download a whole blog post. In fact, this is only the third. Great shots. And the Romans were genius—until their politicians destroyed them from within.

  5. Is that theatre still in use? Otherwise I’d say it has been defaced (vandalised, even) by all the tallies and notices splattered over it …

    • I have to agree. And they were all over Pompeii. As much as possible, I tried to keep them out of my photos. Just like I try to eliminate the crowds of tourists when they are around. Fortunately, we were traveling off season. –Curt

  6. Thanks for your photos and details. My husband and I visited Pompei three years ago and fell in love with the city. Recently our daughter’s teacher asked me to present to her third grade class about Pompei. Sadly, that same week my hard drive crashed and all my photos were lost forever. I was able to share your website with the class as a guide so similar to our own trip. THANKS!!!

  7. Pingback: MY TOP INTERNATIONAL PLACES TO VISIT – My Blog

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