Now then missus, titter ye not. Contrary to the title, this is not a review about a 70s sitcom – Nay, nay, and thrice nay. It’s a very serious and uttrly sober account of a visit to the ancient ruins of Pompeii. Well, seriousish but probably not very soberish.
Remember I told you about the dubious and dangerous skills of the typical Napoletean psyc…driver? No? Well, take it from me, you’d be safer diving INTO Vesuvius then driving around it.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum…at Pompeii (see what I did?). We were stuck in a traffic jam whilst traveling along the autostrada from Naples. What could have caused this delay…that’s right, a crash. So, to while away the tedium, we decided to count the cars without dents or scratches. There was ours, that was 1, and maybe another 2…maybe not. I wonder how much insurance costs in that part of the world (if anyone actually bothers).
Luckily, we had set off extra early so still managed to arrive before the influx of tour busses.
We had considered booking an hotel in or near Pompeii, but looking around at the surrounding sprawl we sank to our knees and gave praise that we hadn’t. Let’s just say it’s not the most picturesque area of Italy.
It’s easy to get here by public transport though, with trains stopping almost at the doorstep.
We parked up just a few hundred metres form the entrance and managed to dodge most of the vendors and hawkers that lay in wait. The area around the entrance is awash with stalls and while most of the goods on offer are tat, one thing that is a must is the frozen water. There’s only one facility inside the ruins to buy drinks and it’s a fairly large area so a slowly thawing bottle of ice is a very welcome item to lug around. In fact, get 2 or 3. We were there in June and it was absolutely sweltering…plus, there’s very little shade once inside.
Everyone has surely seen photos and/or TV images of Pompeii, but it still comes as a surprise to see the scale of the place. It’s pretty darn big. Those Romans knew a thing or two about building…not so much about vulcanology unfortunately, and it’s always humbling to witness the remains of a civilization long gone.
Much of the site is still half buried in ash and whatnot, but most of the civic buildings have been excavated.
We had a guide book with map and suggested itinery etc, but generally, we just strolled around and soaked up the history, and the sun. Boy, was it hot. Still, I’m sure it was a little cooler than back in 79 AD.
Some of the buildings are remarkably well preserved with vibrant frescoes still adorning the walls – who knows what gems have still to be discovered. Although the forum, theatre and amphitheatre are impressive, it’s the everyday details in the ordinary streets that make this site so fascinating for me. Little carvings on the corners of buildings, graffitti scrawled over anything that didn’t move and ruts in the roads where the wheels of carts have worn them down – it almost feels like the town was abandoned a few years ago, not practically two millenia.
Everywhere you look, the towering presence of Vesuvius dominates the scene – not the wisest site for a settlement, but at least people have learned the lesson and don’t live so close to such a dangerous volcano nowadays… apart from 2 million or so Napoleteans that is. No wonder they’re so crazy.
As I said, there aren’t an awful lot of facilities for taking refreshments inside the site (although there are several wells and the water is drinkable) – I suppose a few vending machines would look a little out of place.
There’s a modern visitor centre to one side but it’s not obtrusive. We had a spot of lunch there and this being Italy, even though it was a cafeteria, the grub was really good.
Suitably fed and watered, we continued our stroll around the many streets and tried to knock off all the important sites especially the brothel which, unfortunately, was closed for business…it was, however, open for viewing. Having seen this place many times on the TV, I was rather surprised to find how small it was – no more than the size of a present day double garage. I’m sure brothels are larger than that nowadays – but then, how would I know.
The frescoes here are somewhat matter of fact (the fact being various forms of coitus) and leave very little to the imagination. Not surprisingly, this is a busy site and we had to queue to go in although the queue moves very fast due to the small size of the place.
Another must-see is the resting place of some of the unfortunate former inhabitants. I’m sure that like most people, I had some vague notion that the plaster casts of the dead bodies were exactly that – plaster casts of the cavities in the ash where bodies had decomposed. Imagine my delight at spotting, through various broken bits of plaster, bones and teeth. Gruesome.
Pompeii is big on the wow factor, whether you’re interested in history or not and definitely one of the must-see sites in Italy, if not the world, and at only 10 euros admission, it’s a real bargain too.
Now for the drive back to Naples…shudder.