Pompeii Italy, Frozen in Antiquity.

by Steven Sklifas
Roman paved street. Pompeii. Campania. Italy.
Basilica and tribunal. Pompeii. Campania. Italy.

Part view of the Basilica with the elegant Hellenistic styled two-level Tribunal in the background at Pompeii Italy. Dating back to the 2nd century BC, the basilica is the oldest public building in the city. It was originally a covered market and then became the seat of the Law Courts at the beginning of the 1st century AD. It was then that the Tribunal was built at the west end of the building. The surrounding portico consisted of 28 fluted Corinthian column reaching 11 metres in height.

Providing a breathtaking Illusion of antiquity, the ancient city of Pompeii is situated near the bay of Naples in the southern Italian region of Campania and is still and forever shadowed by its tormentor, Mount Vesuvius.

According to myth, the Greek hero Herakles bestowed upon Pompeii its name whilst passing through Italy after defeating the three-headed monster giant Geryon.  The name Pompeii derives from the word Pompe/Pompa, the Ancient Greek word for the procession in honour of Herakles’s triumph over the giants as one of his twelve labours.

Pompeii was established on the end of ancient lava flow and sometime around the 8th century BC by the Campanian Oscan, a local italic population. It was only a small site.

The foundation of the Pompeii we know of today is attributed to the ancient Greeks who took full control of the region and transformed Pompeii (and nearby city of Herculaneum) into an important trading centre and port.

The city developed and grew especially under the strong influence of the nearby ancient Greek coastal colonies of Cumae and Neapolis (Naples). The beginnings of the city planning and buildings were established during this period.

Forum Portico. Pompeii. Campania. Italy.

Portico fluted Doric columns at the south end of the Forum, Pompeii, Italy. The Forum was the centre of political, economic and religious life in Pompeii.

The Greek political influence diminished when Pompeii fell under the control of the Etruscans and then the Samnites and in 290 BC the city became a subject ally of Rome. However Greek (Hellenistic) culture continued to be the leading influence especially in art, architecture, religion and way of life.

Pompeii became a Roman colony in 80 BC and by now was the largest trading centre in the southern portion of the coast.

The city was bursting with wealth and was transformed with new public buildings and monuments. Many large villas with mosaic floors, Greek art and garden courtyards were built for its wealthy citizens. The city became a favourite resort of the opulent Romans and model place for families to settle.

It all sounded too good to be true when In AD 62, Mount Vesuvius, now stirring, gave warning of its destructive power when Pompeii was devastated by a major earthquake.

However, warning signs were mostly ignored and Pompeii, now with a booming population of about 20,000 inhabitants choose to rise above the ruins and continued to grow and prosper whilst rebuilding and restoring its damaged buildings and infrastructure.

Arch of Caligula. Pompeii. Campania. Italy.

North view of the Arch of Caligula at the start of the Via Mercurio, Pompeii Italy. In the background is Mount Vesuvius.

The reconstruction of the city was in full swing when the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius occurred in AD 79 (August 24, according to some historians).

 In just over two days Pompeii was buried under volcanic debris (lapilli, ash and red-hot scoria) between 5  to 7 metres deep.

At least 2000 people who choose to stay in Pompeii and see it out were trapped and died. Some others who escaped the city late were killed by poisonous gases whilst trying to reach safe ground.

Pompeii was lost to world for around 1500 years when rediscovered accidentally around 1600. Small scale excavations started around 1748 and then finally in 1860 large-scale scientific and systematic excavations organised by the Italian government were underway. Today, around three fifths of Pompeii have been excavated.

Pompeii is a vast site and even at the peak of the summer tourist season I was able to capture images without any people in the vicinity.  I highly recommended you visit it if you get the chance. Ideally you will set aside a full day for it.

Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

All Images, Text and Content Are Copyright Steven Sklifas


 

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