It was an absolutely perfect day for visiting (or in my case revisiting) Pompeii. And I can confirm that it is still the best European tourist site I have ever seen. And I have seen a lot of fantastic places. If you can experience only one city in Europe, make it Paris. If you can see only one town square in Europe, make it Prague. And if you can visit only one site in Europe make it Pompeii.
Today there was a perfect blue sky. The temperature of 13 degrees made it perfect for walking around – not too hot like last time. And as it was off season there were very few people. It was so quiet and peaceful, and framed by the steep shapely mountains of the Bay of Naples mountains, with Vesuvius dominating the landscape it looked absolutely gorgeous.
The one weird thing missing was the dogs. We saw large numbers of thin Pompeii dogs, but now they were all gone apart from one puppy on a lead. Who would’ve thought you could bring pet dogs with you to Pompeii? Well, you can. But I don’t like to think about how they got rid of the original Pompeiin dogs.
We started with the Forum and the surrounding important buildings of civic life – numerous temples, the law courts, and the market surrounding a large rectangular public square. Dad was fascinated by the building structures, the renovations post the 62AD earthquake, and the lack of doors and windows. We then saw several of the houses, including Gary and my favourite the House of the Faun.
At 3000 square meters these was large even by Aussie standards. We saw the House of Apollo which was owned by a tradesman so we found that especially interesting. But an extremely wealthy and successful tradesman I have to say.
All the houses have a similar layout, with an atrium centred on an impluvium, bedrooms leading off that, a garden further back with a walk way (a peristyle) and public rooms. Very comfortable and delightful to live in, I should think. These are of the course the very wealthy, and it was not so clear how or where the ordinary people lived.
The more you walk around Pompeii the more you can imagine it coming to life. We spent time in the Stabbiane bathhouse. This has an exercise yard in the centre, a beautiful changing room with lockers and leading off that the cold bath (circular and with a starry sky above), the warm bath and the hot bath. There was also an open air pool to one side. Apparently these were open to the public and with a minimal charge. Only the wealthiest had their own baths so most came here in the afternoon. I suppose it is a bit like the modern gym, though much less expensive and much more social. They certainly knew how to live!
Not far from the bathhouse was the prostitutes’ house. This was one of 25 in Pompeii, and the best organised. Five stone bedrooms downstairs and the same upstairs, and a toilet out back (all mod cons), the walls are decorated with friezes that may have been a sort of menu. Fascinating, and very popular even today.
For Dad the most impressive site was the grand theatre. We entered at the top and there it was sweeping below us, huge and remarkably complete – the stage with its brick built backdrop (once covered in marble) and multiple entrances and foyer beyond, and enough rows of seats to seat 5000 people.
One thing I found more disturbing this time was the lack of decorative and household items. The whole place has been stripped by the archaeologists – frescoes, floors, mosaics, furniture household items – everything has been removed to the museum at Naples. Such a shame as the place is much more barren and naked than it should be. Perhaps the archaeologists think that was the right thing to do, but I should think future archaeologists would have a fit.
We returned by train to an enormous Gin and Tonic before retiring for a couple of hours before dinner. We were walking around Pompeii from about 10.30am-4pm, and it is very hard on the bones as you spend all day clambering over stones. I can feel myself stiffening as I write.