Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Political Science in Naples, Italy: Pompeii

On our first weekend in Naples, we decided to visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii. It takes about 45-50 minutes to travel by metro and train to get from Naples to Pompeii. But, it was definitely worth the trip.

The train ride to Pompeii is called “Circumvesuvia,” because it literally goes around Mt. Vesuvius to take us to our destination. This was just one of the amazing views we saw on the way.
Historians claim that during the time of Pompeii, the water (which is a couple of miles away in this picture) used to come up to where the red train station is today. Because of the amount of ash that came from Mt. Vesuvius during the famous AD 79 eruption, the land literally expanded over time.
Once we arrived at the correct station, we were at the gate to Pompeii. The view from the welcome center was spectacular! There are mountains all around this area, and if you look into the distance, you can see small cities built into the hills. It’s breathtaking and worth the train ride alone.

The walk to get to the main entrance of Pompeii is gorgeous. They have preserved a lot of greenery in this area making for a picturesque stroll.

Once inside the gate, we immediately experienced Pompeian culture. This is a picture of the “workout” area for a lot of the gladiators and slaves who lived in the perimeter. Some of the large statues that are found in many of the pictures are actually modern sculptures from an exhibit that was displayed in Pompeii; the sculptors then left their art to the city.

Over some time, historians believe that some of the gladiator housing was transformed into a “backstage” of sorts. A backstage for what, you ask? For the grand amphitheater!

This theater was just one of many found in the entire city of Pompeii. Like many other ancient cultures (and modern ones), the Pompeiians enjoyed their entertainment as a way to relax after a long, hot day of work. The bottom marble steps were, of course, reserved for the elite: leaders, politicians, scholars, etc. The next set of steps were for the middle class. Above that were the lower class seats (close to the top). A small portion of standing room at the very top remained for women, children, and slaves, who were seen as not as important in society. After a strenuous climb to the top, it was clear the acoustics and view were not hindered by seating arrangements. We would have loved to have seen the largest theater in Pompeii, but it was closed for maintenance to prepare for an Elton John concert!

The roads found in Pompeii are very typical of Roman roads during that time. In fact, we found out when we went to Rome (a blog for another time) that Pompeii has the most authentic Roman roads. The reason they are so iconic is because of the pattern they used. It is not necessarily the pattern of the boulders they laid, but the grooves within the rocks. Pompeii was a business hub, and many travelers would come to barter and sell. However, the grooves in the rock, which were made for horse carriages, were designed to be a specific distance apart. So, Pompeiians specifically made their wagon wheels to match this distance. However, any foreigners who came in to do business would have to leave their wagons outside the city and come in by foot. This was a specific way Pompeii businesses controlled who could come in.

Another interesting aspect of the roads in Pompeii is the crosswalks they built for pedestrians. If a person wanted to cross the road, he stepped on large boulders that were built above the street. The reason for this? Sewage. The sides of the streets in Pompeii were also where people dumped any sewage and trash they had, so when it rained, the streets would be flooded with...well, you know. If anyone wanted to cross the street, these boulders were the way to go.

One of the most iconic aspects of Pompeii has to be the body casts of the people caught in the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. They only had three on site: the person pictured here, a baby, and a dog. Most bodies haven’t survived time, but these three were well preserved. Our tour guide explained that it wasn’t the lava that covered the city (much like we would see in a modern disaster movie), but ash and smoke. So these people most likely died from asphyxiation and were then covered in ash, which explains the body casts we find today.

The whole city is very beautiful and surrounded by plenty of vegetation. The picture to the left is a garden area outside of some homes near the largest amphitheater. On some plants we could actually see green grapes growing.
Pompeii is such an incredible city with so much to see and so many stories to hear. This view from the top, however, has to demonstrate the regal nature of this city.

It was a great trip that I would recommend to anybody. And, of course, we represented the Citadel while we were there.


- Emily Harmon

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