My Trip To Europe. Day 19. Wednesday, October 22. Pompeii and Herculaneum.

A volcano preserves the past.

The Coin of the Day is of Titus.

Coin of the Day:  As of Titus, 79-81 CE

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Obverse: Head of Titus
Reverse: Acquitas

An As is 1/4 of a sestertius, and hence 1/16th of a denarius.

Titus came to the throne and was almost immediately hit with bad luck in the form of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, 79 CE.  This was a big disaster for the area known then (and today) as Campania.  Titus actually paid for at least some of the disaster relief out of his own pocket.

Only a thousand people’s bodies have been found during the excavation.  (Actually we didn’t find the bodies, we found the voids left after they decomposed.)  Which means the vast majority of the 20-25 thousand people in Pompeii managed to escape.

Given that I will be visiting two cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum, that were destroyed by the eruption, this is the perfect coin for today.


After walking back to the railway station in the morning, I joined a bus that took me to the port of Naples.  That is where the Pompeii tour actually took off from.

For some reason the bus drove in a circle twice, picked someone else up, and we were on our way.  That gave me plenty of opportnities to photograph this, which (they didn’t tell us) was the castle of the (former) Kings of Naples.  Anyway, I may have had plenty of opportunities, but none of them led to a really good photo.  The one with the least glass glare is the one shown, but of course the emergency exit sticker is obnoxiously obvious.



Vesuvius (the troublemaker of the day) was shrouded in clouds in the early part of the day, but Pompeii was fairly bright, if overcast.

The Quadriportico or gladiatorial training area.  In the background is the large theater, which seems to have been very well preserved–judging from pictures I’ve seen; it wasn’t on the tour.

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But next was the small theater or odeon.

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We then hit the streets.


This is the interior of a corner snack bar, basically:  places where you could stop in and get a bite to eat.  Apparently, most people in Pompeii did this because there was no facility for cooking in their apartments.  The upper classes with an actual house had kitchens of their own (and slaves to work in them).


The famous temple of Iside

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Another street.  If you look closely you can see some wheel ruts,  At the far end, you can see three stepping stones.  Wagon wheels could get through that, but people had a place to step if the street was filled with water.


A bath complex

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Here is plainly seen the raised floor.  Hot air was forced through the space below the floor to heat the water in the baths.



This is the famous bordello, the address given here is of course a modern assignment.  Pompeii was divided into regions, then insulae or blocks, as it was excavated.  (The streets have also been given Italian names, since no one knows the original Latin names, e.g., Via della Abondanza.)


The bordello was decorated with artwork that is distinctly R-rated.  Most people today think those pictures constituted a menu of acts a customer could purchase.  I won’t show those, but I can show you one of the chambers.  Presumably, this was well padded back in the day.

22-024By the way this was by far the most crowded part of Pompeii during the tour.  I wonder if it was this popular when it was open?

The forum

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One thing I didn’t get to see was this mosaic of Alexander the Great.  It was originally found in the House of the Faun and is now in the Naples museum.  It is supposed to be based on a portrait made of Alexander while he was still alive, so it’s quite possibly second-hand info on his appearance.  (Of course, he appears on about a zillion ancient coins, too.)


Here’s the troublemaker.

22-030Vesuvius erupted in August of 79 CE, burying Pompeii in ash, and Herculaneum in pyroclastic crud.  I understand that the entire top of the mountain was blown off in that event.  Because it was buried by ash, Pompeii can be excavated with a trowel.  Herculaneum needs a jackhammer.  We’re pretty sure we’ve dug up most of Pompeii.  No one knows how far Herculaneum extends, and we never will, because the surface surrounding what we have dug up is all built up today, and no one is going to buy up all that land just to dig up a Roman town.


Herculaneum is much better preserved than Pompeii–a fact I didn’t realize until I saw it.  What is uncovered is what used to be the waterfront and nearby neighborhoods; you can see here the cliff on the left, the cutaway of what Vesuvius dumped on Herculaneum, then an open area, then the city itself.  Herculaneum, apparently, was much more upper class than Pompeii.22-031

This structure used to be a dry dock for boats.22-032

And this one too.22-033

Here’s a not all that atypical interior showing the wall decoration, not in too shabby condition for being at least 1935 years old.22-034

It was not uncommon to put a picture in the middle of the wall, resembling (to us) a painting of a framed painting.22-035

We later went to a place I know the name for:  the Casa dello Scheletro.  (I generally try to photograph signs, etc., to give me an idea later what I am photographing, but I forget more often than I’d like.)

22-036Blue was a very expensive pigment back then; it came from lapis lazuli.  The only source of it known back then was in Afghanistan (possibly by way of Egypt, since our guide was adamant that lapis lazuli came from Egypt), so you can imagine how many middlemen compounded the price by the time it got to Italy.

A not atypical floor.22-037

More wall art, quite faded in this case.22-038

And here’s another snack bar.22-039

And a bath.

22-040The ceiling is better preserved here.

22-041And this mosaic.  Apparently the floor collapsed at some point; I don’t recall if it was before, during, or after the eruption.

Now off to another private residence.

22-042 22-043In this one the roof didn’t last, so the excavators have put a new one on to preserve the artwork from the elements.

And another


And yet another (or maybe, a different part of the same house?)

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Another one I got the name of:  Casa di nettuno e anfitrite

22-047The little pool in the middle of the fore-court of the house is to catch rain.  Overhead is a roof with a square opening in the top, it lets in light and rainwater.




Here’s a bakery.  The grain is milled with these devices, called querns.  On the right is one half of the unit, the lower stone.  On the left is most of an upper stone, still sitting on a lower stone.  Put wooden posts through the square holes, and walk around and around in circles, pouring grain into the top (that would be slaves or animals supplying the motive power).  When the top stone wears out, flip it over and use the other side.  Pretty practical.  (Water power was sometimes harnessed for this, even in ancient Rome.)22-049

I managed to get this picture looking into the top of the thing.  You can see a gap between the bottom and top stones, into which the grain slipped to be ground.22-050

And now we are in very well preserved house.  Here’s an example of what I was talking about earlier, the roof that covered everything but the very center of an atrium (and again with a recent add-on skylight).22-051

And more shots of interior decoration:

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Finally, one last look at the troublemaker, Mt. Vesuvius.  It last had a major eruption in 1944.


Sometime while we were in Herculaneum, the wind gusted, hard, kicking up a minor sandstorm.

And this, I believe, is when the heatwave that had been dogging me for the last ten days (possibly longer since Greece was also unseasonably warm) broke at last.  Whew!  I had spent most of my time in Sicily looking forward to Iceland; which if you think of it is not the frame of mind you want to be on a vacation.

On to Rome

Back to the railway station, and another high speed train, to Rome.

Here’s the screen I was talking about earlier, giving a speed reading.  Again, if the train ever got to 300, it did so after the switch to advertising in the repetitive cycle.  But unless I messed up the calculation, this is 185 miles per hour.


So now I am in Rome.  Again, a hotel close to the railway station, the better to move on to the next destination, on Friday.  But first, there’s much to see here as well.

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