When Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, the town of Pompeii, near modern-day Naples, was complely buried in 20 ft (6 m) of pumice and ash.
It was rediscovered in the 16th century, but serious excavation only began in 1748. This amazing find revealed an entire town petrified in time. Houses, temples, works of art, and everyday objects have been unearthed, all in a remarkably good state of presentation, providing a unique insight into everyday life at the height of the Roman Empire.
VILLA OF THE MYSTERIES
This large villa outside Pompeii’s city walls, on Via dei Sepolcri, was built in the early 2nd century BC. Initially designed as an urban dwelling, it was later extended into an elegant country house. The villa is famous for its interior decoration and contains a senes of well- preserved fresco cycles. The most famous is in the salon and features 29 brightly colored, life-size figures against a red background. They are believed to represent a bride’s initiation into the Dionysian mysteries, or a postulant’s initiation into the Orphic mysteries. Some scholars say this subject was depicted because the owner was a priestess of the Dionysian cult, which was widespread in southern Italy at the time.
VIA DELL ‘ABBONDANZA AND VIA STABIANA
Once the liveliest, busiest street in Pompeii, Via dell’Abbondanza was lined with private homes and shops selling a wide range of goods. Felt and tanned hide were sold at the shop of Verecundus, and farther along, there is also a well-preserved laundry. Among the inns (thermoplia), the most famous belonged to Asellina, whose obliging foreign waitresses are depicted in graffiti on the wall. The inn still has a record of the proceeds of that fateful day in AD 79: 683 sesterces. The Via Stabiana was a major road, used by carriages traveling between Pompeii and the port and coastal districts. On the west side stood the Stabian Baths.
LIFE IN POMPEII
In the 1st century AD, Pompeii was a prosperous place. Once Etruscan, and later Greek, it was by AD 79 a thriving Roman commercial center, with baths, amphitheaters, temples, and luxurious villas for the wealthy. The House of Julia Felix occupies an entire block, divided into the owner’s quarters and rented dwellings and shops. The house also had baths, which were open to the public. On the highest spot in Pompeii was the rectangular, paved Forum, once the market place. This was the center of public life and the focus for the most important civic fundions, both secular and religious. The Amphitheater (80 BC) was used for gladiatorial combat and is the oldest of its kind in the world.
House of the Faun
The famous villa of the wealthy patrician Casii is named after this bronze statuette. The mosaic Battle of Alexander, now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, also originated here.
Sacrarium of the Lares
Close to the Temple of Vespasian, this is building housed the statues of Pompeii’s guardian deities, the Lares Publici.
Pompeii ‘s marketplace was fronted by a portico with two moneychangers’ kiosks.
House of the Vettii
This partly reconstructed patrician villa of the wealthy merchants AulusVettius Conviva and Aulus Vettius Restitutus contains wonderful frescoes.
This “Beware of the Dog” mosaic is from the threshold of a house in Pompeii.
Amphitheater and Sports Ground
Situated in the southeastern corner of the town, Pompeii’s amphitheater dates to 70 BC. It survived the eruption of Vesuvius almost intact, making it the world’s oldest surviving Roman amphitheater.
This was one of the original and most important roads through Pompeii. Many houses, shops, and inns lined the route.
Bakery of Modesto
Thirty-three bakeries have so far been found in Pompeii. The carbonized remains of loaves of bread were found in this one, revealing that the oven was in use at the time of the eruption.
THE ART OF POMPEI
Villas and public areas such as theaters were richly decorated with lively wall frescoes, mosaics, and statues, some of which miraculously survived the eruption. Designs and themes were strongly influenced by late-Classical and Hellenistic art, and clients often commissioned close copies of Greek originals.
c. 8th century BC: Building of Pompeii on an important crossroad by a people from central Italy.
August AD 79: Vesuvius erupts and Pompeii and Stabiae are showered with debris and completely buried for centuries.
1594: Workers digging a trench in the area known as Civita discover traces of the ancient town.
1860: Giuseppe Fiorelli becomes director of excavations; the town is gradually uncovered by archeologists.
1997: The Archeological Area of Pompeii is added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list.