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Pompeii  by Brian Macdonald

Pompeii Area Hotels  /  Pompeii Photo Gallery

Pompeii happens to be one of my favourite places and the following describes a visit not so long ago.

Here is an ancient town where the streets and the walls of the buildings are just as they were nearly two thousand years ago. You can even see the graffiti left from the last election written in large red letters on the walls together with the advertisements for the various shops and businesses.
The streets, or at least those that have been excavated so far, stretch out in all directions as they always have done. Two main roads heading north and south and another two heading east to west, all with spectacular view of either the destructive Vesuvius or the placid snow-covered Appenines. The roads are made of stone and twelve inches or so below the level of the pavements so as to allow surface water to drain away. Every now and again there are pedestrian crossings made of stepping stones at the same level as the pavements so as to save people from getting their feet wet in the rains. And it seems that the Romans invented the cats eyes (for they used the same term) for every fifty yards or so one slab of the kerb was made in white polished marble which glinted in the moonlight at night.

Along these roads and streets can be found the public fountains and these, or so we were told, still work thanks to the skill of the Roman hydraulic engineers. Sadly, these days the water runs through the system for a couple of hours only for the visitors who come to see the ruins by night. One of the drinking fountains we saw is worn down on either side of the spout from the people grasping the edge to lean over and drink from the spurting water coming from a grinning face not unlike the one in which some of us placed our hands just yesterday in Rome. 

View over Pompeii toward Mount Vesuvius
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Along the sides of the pavements could be seen the lead pipes carrying water to various parts of the city. From these pipes can also be seen the smaller spurs carrying water straight into some of the houses and shops. Those lead pipes over the years would cause untold damage to the people drinking the water thus poisoned. Along the roads can also still be seen the runnels and ruts made over the centuries by Roman cart and chariot wheels slowly wearing down the stone. Since the Romans had standard wheel gauges, these ruts are fairly uniform and stand out sharply like embedded railway lines. That the Romans had one way streets and also pedestrian precincts can also be seen as one walks around this miraculous place. Large tombstone-like slabs stopped wheeled vehicles from entering one sacred square and the direction of the ruts made by carts indicated the Roman version of the one way street.
Street, Pompeii, Campania, Italy
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As one walks around, one can still see the walls of the centrally-heated villas and houses that ran along the streets and inside the remains of the brightly coloured wall decorations the Romans were fond of. People, birds, fruit and food, mythological scenes and the general way of Roman life are celebrated in these pictures and paintings, some of them still spectacular in their execution. The mosaic floors are still there to be admired. At the entrance of one house is the famous mosaic of the chained, snarling dog with the inscription underneath, CAVE CANUM, Beware of the Dog.

The statuary still exists though almost all of it has now been removed to museums in Naples and replaced with copies to guard against theft (in one villa we heard that 23 small statues were stolen some years ago never to be seen again). These graced the public places and the courtyards of the private villas in which the pools and fountains are still occasionally put back into use. There is a sort of open-air shed, fenced in and covered with corrugated iron that houses some of the amphora and pots rescued from the ruins. In here also are some of the statuary and pedimenta and columns from fallen temples and other buildings and the bricks and tiles from more modest buildings. It is a builders’ yard full of ancient building material.

Here also are some of the casts made by the bodies of some of those who died from asphyxiation when the volcano erupted. Stark, sad and shocking mementos of that tragic day. One body lies stretched out, another curled up like a child, another with hands clasped over the face as if to shield it against the hot falling ashes. All were buried as the ash and cinders fell in remorselessly over the town. Over time, the bodies rotted and later archaeologists, noticing holes in the excavations, filled these holes with plaster of Paris to reveal the sad outlines of those poor people.

In this shed was a life size statue of Olivia, the Mother of Hercules. Made of a grey marble and now missing the coloured eyes that would have been inserted in the sockets, this wraithlike statue now gathers dust which is gathering thickly over its head and shoulders and the folds of its toga.

But Pompeii was a living place and, in a sense, it still lives for is it not true that people are still treading the roads and pavements laid down over two thousand years ago? Pompeii was a bustling and vibrant place, full of business folk and traders all needing just the same things that we need these days; bread, food, dentists, clothes and even brothels. Here are the bakeries with the ovens and kneading counters still in usable condition together with the machinery to grind the flour. 

Temple of Apollo, Pompeii, Unesco World Heritage Site, Campania, Italy
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Bread and pizza would have come from these ovens piping hot (though the pizza would not have had a tomato base until these were introduced from America). Here the fast food shops dispensed portions of food to be eaten on the street; the forerunner of modern such outlets.

Here also are the taverns dispensing wines. Some of their storage jars remain stacked and though empty as if still in readiness for the next batch of customers. The Roman Empire standardised many things in life and memories of these remain today (in, for example, the size of British house bricks or in our roads) and even the local Weights & Measures Office can be seen along one road. In this small office one could pour a measured liquid into sinks of varying standard sizes to test whether one had been given short measure (you recovered the liquids by placing your bowl underneath the sink and then pulling out the plug). In this place one could also have tested the weight of something you had bought or were suspicious of.
Versuvius Volcano Seen from Pompeii
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In and around the huge area of Pompeii (and there is an even greater area waiting to be uncovered) are the temples in which to worship, the amphitheatre in which to watch the games, the theatre in which to see a play, the court in which to sue one’s neighbour, the forum in which to declaim one’s views on a subject or hear a politician defend a view, the bars in which to be jolly and the baths in which to relax. Who cannot fail to get some appreciation of the atmosphere of this unique place, nestling in a valley in the shadow of the mountains and of the volcano that killed it? Perhaps it isn’t dead, for the streets and buildings are still full of people who come to look at this shadow of an ancient civilisation and a civilisation that seems to have had pretty much all of the things we enjoy these days. Perhaps the invisible shades of the people who lived in this town still jostle in the streets along with the modern visitor. 

Perhaps they still sip their wine in the bars, or enjoy a cool bath in the heat of midsummer or nibble their pizzas as we stroll these seemingly empty streets. Is it possible that the latest candidate for the Senate is not being heckled by a crowd looking for some amusement as we walk through the forum or that the faithful are not at their prayers or sacrificing as we stroll through a temple? And who is to say that the men do not enjoy themselves in the brothel as we pass silently through it and snigger at the paintings on the walls above the cubicles?

It had rained earlier that morning and many of the pools in the villas had water in them. Indeed, in the House of the Faun, a stray dog strolled over while our guide was explaining the place to us and, unconscious of the people around it, lapped from the pool as dogs and cats must have done two thousand years ago. The cart ruts in the stone streets also had water in them and puddles could be seen in some parts of the road.

Just as might have been seen two thousand years ago.

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About the author: Brian MacDonald

Pompeii Photo Gallery:
Vesuvius Volcano from Ruins of Forum Buildings in Roman Town, Pompeii, Campania, Italy
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Ruins of Pompeii, Erupted 79 AD, Italy
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Wall Paintings, Pompeii, Unesco World Heritage Site, Campania, Italy
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High Angle View of Tourists at an Amphitheater, Teatro Grande, Pompeii, Campania, Italy
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Mother and Daughter Crossing Ancient Street, Pompeii, Italy
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Visitors to Casa della Fontana Grande, Pompei, Campania, Italy
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Search for hotels in the Pompeii area, Italy
La Medusa Hotel & Boutique Spa, Castellammare Di Sta (8 kms from Pompeii)

Grand Hotel La Medusa is situated half-way between Naples and Sorrento, in the famous archaeological area of Castellammare di Stabia, in the vicinity of the Thermal Baths and 8 kms from Pompeii. This superb 4 star hotel, surrounded by a strikingly beautiful secular park and boasting breathtaking views of the hillside and the Gulf of Naples, occupies a wonderfully romantic "fin de siecle" villa, expertly restored so as to conserve all the characteristics of the original 18th century building.  The hotel has 50 rooms including a luxurious suite with Jacuzzi shower, sauna and private solarium overlooking the sea. Grand Hotel La Medusa also has a number of luxurious apartments with bedroom, lounge and spacious bathroom equipped with both Jacuzzi shower and sauna.
Hotel Forum, Pompeii
The Hotel Forum is an elegant 4 star hotel strategically located in the historical centre of Pompei, between the entrance to the excavations, which can be easily reached on foot, and the Basilica.  Personally run by the owners, it offers a quiet and relaxing stay. It distinguishes itself for the warm hospitality and the high quality service its staff can offer to either leisure or business tourists.  The hotel also has a large private car park, a breakfast room with a garden, a bar, a TV room, an Internet Point, wireless connection, a solarium and a modern equipped meeting room containing up to 45 people.  Our staff’s attentions and courtesy help to make your stay even more pleasant.
Hotel Palma, Pompeii
Hotel Palma is a recently refurbished property situated in the historic centre of Pompeii, a stone's throw away from the city's most important Sanctuary and close to the entrance of Pompeii's archaeological site.  The hotel, run by a highly professional and experienced team, features a fully air-conditioned environment with elegant interiors and very comfortable and spacious guestrooms.  Facilities include a well-equipped meeting room and Internet point, a cosy bar and TV lounge as well as a delightful citrus garden and splendid sun terrace.  The property features 30 finely decorated and soundproof guestrooms, each featuring private bathroom.  All rooms are equipped with adjustable air conditioning, colour TV, direct dial telephone and Internet connection (on request), mini bar and safety deposit box. 
Pompei Resort, Pompeii
Close to Cathedral of Pompei and Pompeii Amphitheatre, this Pompei hotel is situated in the historical district. Another nearby attraction is Teatro Grande. Dining options at Pompei Resort include a restaurant and a bar/lounge. Room service is available during limited hours. This 4.0-star property offers small meeting rooms and audio-visual equipment. Complimentary high-speed (wired) Internet access is available in public areas. This Pompei property has event space consisting of banquet facilities and conference/meeting rooms. The property has an area shuttle, which is complimentary. Wedding services and tour/ticket assistance are available. Guest parking is complimentary. Additional property amenities include multilingual staff and currency exchange. 
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