I last visited Pompeii in 1978 when Mike Law and I inter-railed round Europe. It was August and very hot, and yet bizarrely we decided to climb Vesuvius first – a feat which became increasingly ridiculous until at the top we were scrambling on all fours up near-vertical hot shale. If we stopped to take a breather we slowly slid down backwards. On finally reaching the peak we were met by a cheerful Italian bus conductor who asked us for 1000 lire (or whatever) for the ticket. However, he did show us an egg he’d boiled on escaping steam.
This time it was hard not to be constantly reminded of the victims of the catastrophic recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
We arrived reasonably early so it was pretty quiet but gradually filled up with guided tour groups – mostly from Italian schools but several parties of Chinese tourists. We met one such at the Lupinare brothel – an appalling sight. Five or six box rooms just big enough for a single bed on which a slave girl would wait for her next customer. And the next…
We came across several huge pizza ovens, 4 metres across, outside which are massive flour mills made from pumice stone. And many food shops / dhabas, public baths, a swimming pool, a theatre, and the amphitheatre where thousands would enjoy the spectacle of fights to the death by way of Saturday afternoon entertainment. Inevitably Life of Brian kept coming back to me: “We’re not the Judean People’s Front! We’re the People’s Front of Judea!” (Also the site of the 1972 Pink Floyd concert Live at Pompeii).
Hard also not to think of Monty Python looking at the frescoes of Greek Gods in the Archaeology Museum.
Venus and Mars as lovers.
Also in the Archaeology Museum is a room dedicated to the phallus, with some startlingly original ideas. These are oil lamps, for example:
Imagine finding one of those in your Christmas stocking.
“Hi there. My name’s Steve and I’m your server for the evening”.
There’s also a great exhibition on Byzantium. Naples was part of the Byzantine Empire for 600 years – the Byzantine / Eastern Roman Empire kept going for 1000 years after the Fall of Rome and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in 476.
(The excellent Empire podcast with William Dalrymple has moved on from the British in India to the Ottomans taking over in Byzantium recently),
Among the thousands of exhibits in the museum is this 2nd century Goddess Artemis from Ephesus – the goddess of nature and mistress of the beasts. She is covered with many symbols, most obviously the bulls’ scrota, a symbol of her power, the bulls having been sacrificed.
We went to Ephesus in 1986 with Henry and visited Mary’s cave-like house where she is supposed to have ended up. No shops back then – it must have changed a fair bit.
Perhaps the earliest objects in the museum are these stone tools, 130,000 – 250,000 y ears old. More and more when looking at old objects in glass cases in museums I see them as their maker did, or the person that used them, as if they are still living in the here and now. Mind boggling to think that you and I are related to last person to use them all that time ago.
These are the grave goods found in a necropolis from 600 BC along with the remains of a young girl 6 – 8 years old. 120 objects in all, including jewellery, a pair of shoes and her bridal assemblage – all the things she would have needed throughout her life, had she lived.
On the topic of phallic symbols, the horn is a symbol of virility, power and good luck and can be seen, for example, outside a triperia – a tripe shop. Raw tripe is eaten as a tasty snack, like a packet of crisps.
Similarly, you can find thousands of ‘cornicelli’ (red hot chilli peppers), real or fake, small or large – again a horny symbol of virility, fertility and good luck (also in India).