POMPEII

 

The History of Pompeii:

Pompeii was unlike other towns in Campania, which were founded primarily by the Greek colonists, since it was built by the Oscans around the 9th-8th Century B.C. The town was developed on lava terracing, formed centuries ago.  This created a natural defense against the threats of invasion by neighboring peoples.  The Sarno valley was particularly fertile due to its closeness to Vesuvius, making Pompeii part of an agricultural economy.

Making contact with nearby Greek colonies Pompeii started to adapt the culture, way of life and religion of Magna Graecia.   We find evidence of this in the shape of the Doric Temples which stands in the Triangular Forum.Later the city was subject to the Etruscans for almost 50 years (until 474 B.C.). Immediately afterwards it came back under the Greek sphere of influence.  It would later become part of the Samnite colony, under which it saw remarkable growth.Meanwhile Rome had begun its gradual advance towards southern Italy overcoming the resistance of the Italic peoples.  As a result of the conquest of Campania, Pompeii also ended up under Roman dominion, becoming an “associate”, a status which allowed for the maintenance of a relative local autonomy.Pompeii continued to expand and develop, especially economically, helped by its fertile land and advantageous position.  All activities that were linked to trade and maritime traffic saw a period of great growth. This all lead to an increase in the level of prestige of Pompeii compared with other Campanian towns, helping to increase the standard of living for many of the social classes.Pompeii’s flourishing economy led to an increase in population, widespread affluence and the remarkable embellishment of the town.  The middle class derived great pleasure from competing with the nobility in the construction of splendid villas. The homes in Pompeii display this opulence and the preciousness of their ornaments and jewelry.However, the life and splendor of Pompeii was destined to come to an end, first the violent earthquake of 62 A.D. and subsequently the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. burying the city under a thick blanket of volcanic material to a depth of several metres. The inhabitants, most of which fled towards the coast, were suffocated by the fumes of the gases, others met death in their own homes.

The Anfiteatro (Amphitheater):

Local Pompeians found the ultimate in entertainment at the Anfiteatro, offering a wide selection of experiences, the favorite of which was the gladiators.  Pompeii’s amphitheater was quite small, seating only 20,000.  It was built in 80 B.C., oval and divided into three seating areas like a theater.  There were two main entrances at the north and south and a narrow passage on the west called the Port Libitinensis, through which the dead were dragged out.

 

The City Center:

Entering the ruins at the Porta Marina, you will come to the Foro (Forum), this served as Pompeii’s cultural, political and religious center.  There are two stories of colonnades that had lined the square; this area was a busy shopping area, complete with public officials to apply proper standards of weights and measures.  On the eastern side of the forum is the Macellum, fronted by an elegant three column portico. Macellum was the covered meat and fish market dating to Augustan times, here vendors would sell their goods from their reserved spots in the central market.  It was also in the Forum that elections were held, politicians spoke out to the public, speeches were given, and official announcements were made.  Worshippers would crowd the Tempio di Giove (Temple of Jupiter) at the northern end of the Forum.  On the southwestern corner is the Basilica, the city’s court of law and economic center.

 

Baths and Brothels:

 

Pompeii was the “Cote d’Azur” of its time; we find evidence of its sybaritic ways in the town’s grand villas, in its baths and especially in the rowdiest of places, the brothels.  Murals at Pompeii reveal a worship of hedonism, Satyrs, bacchantes, hermaphrodites, and acrobatic couples indulging in all sorts of naughty deeds.

At the Terme Suburbane (Suburban Baths) believed to have been built without permission from the planning board, are situated right up against the city walls. Here you find eyebrow raising frescoes in the apodyterium (changing room) suggesting that maybe more than bathing and massaging were taking place.

The walls of the Lupanare (brothel) have murals depicting erotic games, allowing the clients to select his choice.

The Terme Stabiane (Stabian Baths) were equipped with underground furnaces, the heat would circulate beneath the floor, rise through the flues in the walls and finally escape through the chimneys.  The water could be set for cold, lukewarm or hot.  First bathers would enter a lukewarm bath in preparation for the hot room.  Next would be a tepid bath and then a plunge into cold water to tone the skin.  A vigorous massage with warm oil was followed by some rest, reading, and conversation.

Casa dei Vettii:

The owners of the House of Vettii were wealthy mercatores (merchants).  The house has been carefully restored and its interior walls are adorned with splendid paintings and friezes featuring cupids engaged in various activities, such as selling oils and perfumes, working as goldsmiths and metalworkers, acting as wine merchants or performing in chariot races.  In the atrium of the more rustic part of the house is the altar of the lari- the deities who protected the home, the ancestral spirit of the pater familias with two lari and a serpent below.  On the north side of the house is the kitchen; a small cubicle beyond this area is decorated with faded erotic frescoes.

Villa dei Misteri (Villa of Mysteries):

This large villa outside the city walls on Via dei Sepolcri was built in the early 2nd century B.C... A palatial abode it had more than 60 rooms painted with frescoes, the finest are in the triclinium.  Painted in the most glowing Pompeiian reds and oranges, the panels tell the story of a young bride and her initiation into the mysteries of the cult of Dionysius

(Bacchus).  The god of wine and debauchery he represented the triumph of the irrational all the mysterious forces that were unexplainable or unable to be suppressed.

In all there are 10 scenes, depicting children and matrons, musicians and satyrs, phalluses and gods.  There are no inscriptions and historians remain puzzled by many aspects of the trilinium cycle. There are endless debates regarding the meaning of these frescoes, but nevertheless they remain the most beautiful paintings left to us by antiquity. 

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