An affluent city with interesting smells, erotic art, gossipy bath houses and a fight so raucous the gladiator games were banned for a decade. Where is this scandalous city? It was covered in ash for thousands of years and excavated in the late 1700’s for it’s secrets to be revealed.
Pompeii may be the world’s most preserved ancient city but I’d argue it to be the most interesting. Get all of the dirt we uncovered on our Walks of Italy tour in this Pompeii Exposé.
Still quietly watching and waiting in the background of the ancient ruins of Pompeii is Mt. Vesuvius, the only active volcano in mainland Europe. Vesuvius is now considered to be one of the more dangerous volcanoes on the planet because of the proximity of the dense population surrounding it. The last eruption was in 1944 and much like an unwatched pot boiling on the stove, the longer she sits and stews, the more of a mess it makes when it overflows and because of this threat, Vesuvius is one of the most closely monitored volcanoes.
Residents of Pompeii weren’t as knowledgeable about what was resting in their back yard and they had assumed Vesuvius was just another mountain and on August 24, 79 AD the city of Pompeii was in for a surprise.
How do we know when Vesuvius blew its top? Scientists can explain it better than I can HERE.
Real Housewives of Pompeii
The bath houses during that time period were the place to go to keep up on personal hygiene sure, but they were also the epicenter for social gatherings. The the thermal baths were more like community centers, places to catch up on the goings on in town. For women this was an important place to socialize as in their class system at the time they had basically the same rights as slaves. The bath houses would have been covered in intricate frescoes and the ceilings had wonderful decorations.
For the time period they had a sophisticated system in place. There are still remnants of lead piping throughout the city, showing they had running water in many public places, especially through the bath houses.
These pipe systems would connect to rooms with double walls creating a space for heating floors and temperate controlled baths. The ceilings would have been vaulted for optimum hot air circulation. There are water fountains throughout the town and several still operating in town so bring bring your water bottle.
X rated Artwork
In the public bath house next to the Marina gate you will find some of the famous scandalous artwork of Pompeii. Erotic art was prevalent in the time period, you have to remember that the religion at the time was more like paganism so these images wouldn’t be as offensive as in a more devout period. The images are located in the locker room of the thermal baths and there are several theories as to their purpose. Some suggest they are a menu of sorts while others guess they are funny ways to remember which locker your things were located.
Sexually explicit pieces of artwork were often symbols of prosperity, good fortune and fertility. Phallic plaques and sculptures were often present outside of the front of a home or business and this practice is where the Cornicello, or little Italian horn for good luck is derived.
Be sure to make it to the Naples Archeological Museum to see some of the best preserved mosaics, sculptures and artifacts from Pompeii AND If you are feeling cheeky make sure to check out the Gabinetto Segreto (Secret Cabinet), where all of the naughty artwork is featured. We went to the museum the day after our Pompeii tour and it really enriched the whole experience, I highly recommend it!
The frescoes and mosaics are stunning and amazingly preserved pieces of artwork. Many of the more affluent families had intricate tile work in their homes and gardens. The size of the mosaic indicated how expensive it was, so for instance a large tile work with very small pieces was an sign of wealth. The frescoes would have covered the walls of most homes and even the streets of Pompeii, many are still in amazing condition. It is actually easy to forgot that they are so old when the famous “Pompeian Red” stands out with its vibrant crimson hue.
Researchers have the Little Dutch Boy Seeing Red
Even in the twenty-first century we are still uncovering mysteries of Pompeii. Scientists discovered with an x-ray fluorescence spectrometer (say that 10 times fast) that the beautiful brick color was a dark shade of yellow that had reacted with the gases Vesuvius emitted altering the tones. Read more about the scientific discovery HERE.
Mansions, Shopping and Gladiator Games
Pompeii would have been a destination in its day. There was ample shopping, wine bars for socializing and theaters for catching a play or listening to music. There is an amphitheater where gladiator games were held but because of a deadly brawl that erupted with the local rival, the games had been banned for nearly a decade.
Houses were two story tall and some of the larger estates had gardens and if the owners were very wealthy they had running water and beautiful fountains on the property.
The city would have been full of interesting sights and smells. Garum, or roman fish sauce was a staple of their diet so the smell of fish paste would be wafting in the air near the open markets. The streets would be muddy and often used more like a public trash can so everyone walked on the sidewalks and to cross the street they would walk along the large blocks, an ancient cross walk. Here I am hopping across the street. In addition to these wonderful odors, laundry was cleaned by collecting urine and letting it sit to use it for the ammonia properties. I’m sure there were sections of the market you’d want to avoid on a hot day!
Spend the first part of your trip on your tour and then make sure to leave some time to explore on your own. The archeological site is vast and there is still 1/3 of it that is unearthed. Remember that Pompeii has around 2 million visitors each year so be prepared for a crowd if you are traveling in high season. Work up an appetite post Pompeii even though you have walked most of the day avoid the crowds and head into town and grab food and wine at Add’U Mimi’s, best gnocchi and house wines and their outdoor seating is a great place to relax after your tour.
How to get there:
Don’t fret, using public transportation to get to Pompeii is easy! We were staying in Naples and from there you can take two train options, the regular public train or a tourist train that runs to both Herculaneum and Pompeii, Campania Express. The second option is a day pass and is a good choice if you plan on seeing both ruins in a day.
Take the tour:
Thanks to Walks of Italy for hosting us on their walking tour. We had a wonderful day, our guide was really well informed and since there is so much to learn I highly recommend having a tour guide show you all of the best parts of the site.