The Archaeological Excavations of Pompeii
A walk through a 79 A.D. Roman City
Pompeii, proclaimed by UNESCO a "World Patrimony of Mankind Site", is the only archaeological find in the world, along with the nearby area of Ercolano, that gives the visitor the possibility to explore an entire city from Roman times whose clock has remained stopped at a precise morning (maybe summer, but more likely late autumn) in 79 A.D. The morning, day, and year when Vesuvio, the imposing volcano that is still active and dominates the area, wiped out the city and most of it's inhabitants with it's fury. A volcano and an eruption that we have to thank for giving us the possibility to admire ancient Pompeii today, and, in a certain sense, by destroying it, has preserved it, providing us the possibility to find it again, more or less intact, many centuries later.
The archaeological area of Pompeii owes it's marvellous state of preservation to the characteristics of the eruption which buried the whole surrounding area under a six metre thick layer of ashes, pumice and lapillus.
This shell stratified and created a natural covering which protected everything from the ravages of time, contributing to the safekeeping of the imprints of the bodies of the men, women and children who were swept away and suffocated by the sea of dust that fell on the city. This dust, which later solidified around the bodies, made it possible for their forms to be cast in plaster by archaeologists centuries later. The spectacle of humanity forever 'frozen' at the moment of death in a pose that is conflicting, but all the same very human, is one of the strongest emotional aspects of a visit to Pompeii which is best known for the marvels of the innumerable examples of art, town planning and Imperial-era Roman buildings.
The Roman city was constructed over a much older one that had been founded at the beginning of the 6th century B.C. by two ancient Italic populations, the Osci and the Sannites. There are still many buildings built by these ancient peoples during the 2nd century B.C.( much prior to the founding of Pompeii as a Roman colony after it was conquered by Silla in 80 B.C.) still standing today. The construction and urban development of the present city dates back to the era of the Roman conquest with the construction of the baths, the Forum and the Amphitheatre – which gave it the typical characteristics of an Imperial city. The Large gymnasium and the public buildings situated on the east side of the Forum, dominated by the Temple of Giove, were built around the heart of the imperial city. As was usual they are grouped around one large area that constituted and represented the political, administrative and commercial centre of the city.
Quite different from the Forum and the rational centre of the city,is the theatre neighbourhood, the heart of Pompeian cultural and religious activity,which was built during the 2nd century B.C. Where there is power there is usually also a great demand for pleasure. Most of these activities were located in the outskirts of the city where the remains of the amphitheatre are... ( Fans of rock music may have seen the DVD of the Pink Floyd 'Live at Pompeii' concert held here in 1971). The Large Gymnasium is also situated here. Theatrical productions, musical and artistic events are still held here during the summer season. If you are a fan of Plautus and the great theatre tradition of the Greek/Roman era we guarantee that seeing an ancient comedy or a tragedy in this setting is a rare and wonderful experience. Equally wonderful are the Public baths: those of the Foro and the Stabiane, where you can visit the men's baths that had rooms, each a different temperature (frigidarium, tepidarium and calidarium): more sophisticated than today's modern fitness centres. There is even a house of ill-repute in the neighbourhood ...the prostitutes in Pompeii were different one from the other in that each one had a specialization. A look at the frescoes that adorn the walls of the lupanare which can be visited on request (children are not allowed),will show how little things have changed in 'the oldest profession in the world'. Be sure to visit the magnificently restored mural paintings that decorate the walls of many of the residences. You can follow the 'walk of the villas' with the aid of one of the excellent audioguides that are available in several languages.Ercolano, Oplonti, and the Vesuvian Villas are not far from Pompeii.
Time-table and opening periods
The site is open to the public from 8:30 until 17:00 ( last entrance is at 15:30 ) from 1st November to 31st March.
From 8:30 to 19:30 (last entrance is it 18:00) from 1st April to 31st October. The site is closed to the public on January 1st, May 1st and 25th December.
The information office which is situated at the Porta Marina entrance to the site distributes free plans of the site and furnishes information on itineraries, many of which are organized along themes (e.g. Painting, Roman houses etc.). These are very useful for focalizing and concentrating a visit along aspects of particular interest. The office is open to the public from 1st November to 31st March from 8:30 to 15.30 and from 1st April to 31st October from 8:30 until 17:30. The book shop, also located at Porta Marina, is well furnished with guides, books, and a large inventory of photography books available in many languages. The book store is open every day from 1st October to the end of February from 8:30 until 17:00, from 1st March to 31st September, from 8:30 until 19:00. There is a cloak-room at the Porta Marina and at Piazza Anfiteatro entrances. Luggage, trolleys and cumbersome equipment are not permitted in the site. There is a bar and self-serve restaurant in the site.
Attention! The archaeological site of Pompeii is quite vast and a visit, even superficial, requires more than a few hours. Visitors are cautioned of the closing by a siren and it is recommended that one quickly makes way to the nearest exit which may be quite a ways away. We advise you, in any case, to use the special routes if you wear a pacemaker or suffer from an ailment which does not tolerate excessive force.
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