Pompeii = Noah’s Swiss Army Knife!

A treasure trove of artifacts from Pompeii.

A treasure trove of artifacts from Pompeii.

When we began planning this trip we each got to pick things or places we wanted to do or go and we have tried to have our itinerary wrap around those things. When Kay found out she could make her own Swiss Army Knife when we were in Switzerland that became the number one thing she wanted to do. Since then we call each other’s “number one thing we want to do”, our “Swiss Army Knife”. So Noah’s Swiss Army Knife was Pompeii and we were finally there. For once our campsite was at the perfect location in relation to what we wanted to do. From the front door of our camper to the entrance of Pompeii was about 300 meters or a 5 minute walk. We spent an entire day there roaming the ruins and trying to understand what we saw.

I remember learning about Pompeii in school. I remember learning about Vesuvius and the people buried and the excavations but somehow it never clicked for me that it was an entire city. I didn’t know just how big Pompeii is, it really is quite large. I think I read there are 44 hectares excavated. We entered through the south gate which used to be the suburbs of Pompeii. Here they had one set of public baths, a terraced entrance, a large city entry gate and then you were in the city. We walked by temples, courtyards, market places and homes. All of them excavated and restored to different levels. Some of the buildings you could barely find the outline of the stone in the ground. Others had the stone outline and interior walls or pillars remaining. Still others have been fully excavated and restored.

Mosaics, statues, and a water feature in a large casa in Pompeii.

Mosaics, statues, and a water feature in a large casa in Pompeii.

One of the public baths had just been reopened after excavations. You entered through a long passageway, pass a courtyard and enter the dressing room. There, people would change out of their clothes and either have their servants tend to them or hang them on one of the shelves bordering the room. There was a beautiful marble bath which reminded me of a modern day jacuzzi – not bubbly but big enough for about 10 people. It was in an alcove made just for it and had a beautiful domed ceiling with a keyhole shaped skylight at the top. After that room there was a room for the cold bath and then another large room for another hot bath. This room had hot air forced through the walls and under the floor to heat the entire room, not unlike our forced hot-air furnaces today. The entire bath area was covered in ornate frescos, marble and statues.  Other than the whole thought of communal bathing they were quite appealing.

We strolled through the forum and basilica area. The basilica of their time was not a church but rather the place of carrying out the work of the government. The public market is now set up to store many of the artifacts they have discovered in Pompeii such as vases, tables, marble decorations, etc… They also showcase several bodies in this area. When Vesuvis erupted it buried thousands of people in a very deep layer of volcanic ash. The ash molded to the body and preserved it. Over time the body decayed and an empty cast was left. In order to preserve the bodies, archaeologists pumped plaster into the molds left after the body had decayed and that is what we see on display today. They are a bit creepy but they really invoke feelings of empathy and sadness for what happened there. We saw casts of dogs as well. We spent time exploring their ancient theater and the coliseum. Both of these are very large structures that seat about 15,000 people. They were used for very different events. The theater for plays, readings, cultural happenings. The coliseum for the gladiator events, killings and brawls.

Beware of Dog!

Beware of Dog!

Quite a few of the homes have been excavated. There seemed to be two very different types of homes; small, simple dwellings and huge, grand casa’s. The small ones had brick ovens and a few rooms. The grand ones had many, many rooms, interior courtyards, kitchens, private baths, and were decorated with mosaics and frescos. I really enjoyed the mosaics. There is one very famous one and very well preserved that is of a dog. They believe it is a “beware of dog” mosaic as it was found in an entryway of a large casa.

For some reason they had a very detailed display of a local brothel. Apparently there were 26 of them in Pompeii and the one they excavated had 6 bedrooms on the ground floor and they believe on the upper floor as well. Each room had a marble platform for a bed. There were also mosaics in the hallway depicting various things you could request, and they also found what they believe to be graffiti on the walls. Throughout Pompeii and the area archaeologists have found quite a bit of erotic mosaics and pictures. They even have an “obscene room” in the archaeological museum that you have to request to be admitted to (I was with the kids so we passed on that.) In all the gift shops in the area they had numerous items (calendars, magnets, pictures) depicting many of the different erotic mosaics discovered in the region. One of the thoughts of the day was that Pompeii and the area was destroyed as punishment for their lifestyle. We followed up our day at Pompeii with a visit to the Archaeological Museum in Naples where several mosaics, statues and remains had been moved. This entire area created a great focus for school for some time. We’ve relearned about volcanoes, archaeology, history, the environment – it’s been great fun! Vesuvius is considered dormant as the last time it erupted was in the 1930’s. Noah paid lots of attention to any sudden noises or movement and came up with an emergency plan for us if it decided to erupt while we were there!

Noah just couldn't believe he was in Pompeii!

Noah just couldn’t believe he was in Pompeii!

In exploring the Naples area we really just found it to be a very dirty, unattractive area. We had a few lovely views of the coastline one day and the Galleria shopping area is a beautiful building but all-in-all, Naples was kinda depressing. We did have pizza in the birthplace of pizza and viewed a protest of some sort. We also saw tons of creches. Naples is known for it’s handmade, elaborate Christmas scenes. And we also saw in the news the local mafia (also born in Naples) had recently been caught trafficking illegal toxic wastes and dumping them in local fields. It really wasn’t a very lovely area at all. But…. we were off to Rome for Christmas!


Posted on December 23, 2013, in adventure, European travel, family travel, Homeschooling, Italy, Pompeii, RV travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Good post and photographs, too. Glad Noah got to enjoy Pompeii. I think the crime syndicate in Naples is the Comorrah. A pretty unsavory bunch of loosely connected families and they do have control over the garbage and dump it anywhere they can get away with it. Merry Christmas and hope you get a good spot in the square.

    • Elizabeth Brooke-Willbanks

      Hi Paul. We took your advise and found an online documentary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and watched that to put the eruption in modern perspective. The entire site is quite amazing. Too bad the surrounding area isn’t. Merry Christmas to you and Paula!

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