I hadn’t been back for many years for a visit to the excavation of Pompei and I was intrigued by the latest restorations, so I contacted a guide with whom I usually work, and arranged a two-hour tour that could meet the needs of the adults and children in our group.
Last December, my husband, a lover of mountain running (also known in technical jargon as “trail running”), decided to take part in a race on the paths of the Amalfi Coast between Furore and Positano. What better occasion for a nice trip with the family than to combine competitive advantage with exploration?
The next day, after the trekking on the path of the gods , I fixed a nice fish dinner at one of the most famous restaurants in Minori, the Locanda del Pescatore. But let’s go step by step and start our day in Pompeii with ‘Roman style’ lunch.
“Roman style” lunch
We left very early for Pompeii, where we had the guided tour booked for 2.30 pm. On our arrival, around 12.00 p.m. we entrusted the cars to the care of the parking attendant at the restaurant Caupona – in Latin, caupona means “tavern” – which is located in the immediate vicinity of the Archaeological Park. It is a modern reconstruction of a Roman tavern, with decorations, dishes, menus and clothing adapted in a historical key.
In ancient Pompeii there were as many as 89 taverns (!), the most famous of which was that of Lucio Vetuzio Placido in dell’Abbondanza street: when it is said that the Romans were Gaudients, you can tell from this impressive number that they were REAL Gaudients!
But leaping forward into the future and back to us, we ate in terracotta plates, used amphorae to pour wine and drank in enamelled goblets, wearing matron and patroness clothes. Could it have been otherwise?
Obviously, we had the possibility to taste the typical dishes of the cuisine of ancient Rome, recipes prepared following the indications of original texts such as the “De Re Conquinaria”, very famous recipe book of the gastronome cook Marco Gavio Apicio who lived in Pompeii at the time of Emperor Tiberius. And, as good modern patricians, we have certainly not renounced to accompany the dishes that were served to us with the real wine of the ancients based on ginger and honey spices.
Though tempted by the somewhat extreme experience of the garum, we have nevertheless opted to immerse ourselves in the flavours of the Campania tradition, which have not disappointed our palates.
Il Garum di Pompei
The garum is a liquid sauce produced from the dripping of fish innards and salted fish that the ancient Romans used as a condiment. The news about this sauce is very fragmentary. Some say it was similar to anchovy paste, others to the liquid of the salted anchovy brine that in the Amalfi Coast and in particular in Cetara can be tasted even today with the name of “colatura”.
What to visit in Pompeii
We met Giovanni, our guide at the ticket office entrance. The Archaeological Park of Pompeii is huge, the route we decided to follow was on the Regio I, VII and VIII from the entrance to the Theatres quadriporticus or gladiators barracks with the annexed Small Theatre – Odeion, to the insulas and villas on dell’Abbondanza street, to the square of the Hole, passing through the alley of the Lupanare.
Pompeii, as one of the most important seaside towns in the Mediterranean and already a Greek colony, was considered a multi-ethnic centre where many languages were spoken. For this reason the signs and road signs that indicate the destinations or activities carried out, did not contain writing but drawings, we could consider them the ancient version of our modern icons! There were graphic signs for the taverns, bakeries, laundries and also for the lupanari, that district that we could consider as the Pigalle red light of Pompeii. The young ladies, in fact, used to attract customers with a call very similar to howling, hence the name Lupanare (from ‘lupus’, wolf in Latin).
I leave to you any further declination still used today in Italian to indicate a person dedicated to the lust…
Among the numerous rooms we visited, we were able to admire the splendid pictorial decorations of the Domus of Menandro, which, thanks to their excellent state of preservation, still allow us to perceive the magnificence and elegance of the time.
Everything in Pompeii tells of an extremely evolved civilisation, in some ways very similar to that of today.
The inscriptions of the clientes are still visible on the walls along Dell’Abbondanza street, as the citizens who decided to support an important man who dedicated himself to politics, to get one or the other of the candidates to some office to vote.
The streets of Pompeii
One of the things that impressed me most about Pompeii is the streets. Perfectly paved, with gutters, sewerage system, tracks for driving carts, pedestrian crossings! The latter, represented by raised stone slabs orthogonal to the road, were used to avoid getting dirty shoes and clothes with the manure thrown in the street and are the ancestors of today’s pedestrian crossings.
We finished our visit in the Forum where, to the right of the Temple of Jupiter, it is possible to observe part of the immense heritage of material extracted from the excavations: from amphorae for wine, oil and grain, to furnishings, including the statuettes of the lares , the house gods, and some of the casts of the victims of the eruption, found at the end of the 19th century and extracted from the ground using the chalk casting technique. Among these, although questionable in my opinion, since we are not talking about statues, but about human beings, even the body of a child just a few years old.
Unfortunately the short winter day did not allow us to discover other spaces, but Pompeii offers an extensive archaeological park with numerous sites and exhibitions.
On the official website of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, you can find 4 itineraries with routes of up to 7 hours of visit.
At the end of the visit we enjoyed the sunset over Pompeii and bought some souvenirs at the many stalls that animate the entrance.
The eruption of Vesuvius on Herculaneum and Pompeii
On August 24th 79 A.D. Vesuvius gave rise to what is considered one of the greatest eruptions in Roman history, burying the cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii under several metres of ashes and incandescent debris. In Roman times Vesuvius was not considered an active volcano and, thanks to the fertility of its slopes, there were numerous settlements around it. Many were the signs of an imminent eruption. Pompeii, like other neighbouring cities, had in fact been hit by a strong earthquake in 62 B.C., which at the time was not connected to the underground activity of the volcano.
Pliny the Elder, a Roman historian, wrote that he saw a very high cloud of smoke mixed with ash and lapilli form in the sky. Before the flaming rain fell on Pompeii, most of the inhabitants were able to escape by sea and by land, a few hundred remained hidden in their homes, unaware of what would happen.
The rain of ash lasted for days and completely buried the area of Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Numerous attempts have been made in different periods to bring the ruins to light, but the difficulties of the excavations have meant that for centuries the grave robbers have been collecting undisturbed treasures. But it was only in 1738 under the Bourbons that the actual excavations began and Pompeii became a sort of “open-air museum”. A century later, with the unification of Italy, the direction of the site was entrusted to Giuseppe Fiorelli, who was the first to divide the city into districts or ‘regiones’, and the first to discover that pouring liquid chalk into the voids in the ground left by the bodies worn out by the incandescent ashes made casts of the victims.