Imagine heading off to visit your friends in Murwillumbah, and when you get to where you thought the road leads into the town, you can’t find it. What have I been smoking?
you wonder. Then you recall what it was like on your last visit. There was a main road leading to the town, a busy commercial center, a pub that you wanted to own, and streets leading up the hill. You’re ready to sit on your friend’s verandah overlooking the valley, thirsty for a coldie, and looking forward to his old fashioned wood burning barbeque. But today you can’t any of it. Did you take the wrong road? Then you notice that the ground is now covered with ash and pumice; the landscape has changed; the land is higher than before. You ask a passing traveler. Then you hear that Mt Warning erupted and blew hot lava and ash all over your friend’s town; it’s gone.
Seventy-nine years after the birth of Christ, the volcano Mt Vesuvius erupted and dumped volcanic ash and pumice to a depth of four to six meters on the town of Pompeii, killing its 11,000 inhabitants.
After the eruption there was probably silence.
If people of those days were anything like their present counterparts, the silence would have been welcome. No doubt there would have been revenue officials in Rome asking why monthly returns from the southern city were missing, and others would have wondered why there was no communication from Pompeii colleagues, friends and relatives.
Nothing happened in the area for over 1,500 years. From about 1748, when James Cook was just a boy, uncoordinated and opportunistic excavations were made and artefacts removed, or destroyed.
The French controlled the Naples region from 1806 to 1815 and during their rule, more systematic and industrious excavation enterprise was undertaken often employing as many as 1,500 men.
From the time the French left to today, there have been various archeologists in charge of the 66 hectare site. Each has successively applied a more systematic approach using technological advances of the day. Discovery of what lies beneath a pile of volcanic rubble has not always the best of government funding.
Today I was able to walk along some of old Pompeii’s main streets and see the foundations of all sorts of buildings, from humble dwellings and tiny shops, to grand houses, temples
and theatres. A few buildings are nearly intact with walls, roofs, and some internal decoration. Much decorative material such as wall hangings were removed early in the excavation process; fortunately a considerable number are available for viewing and preservation in museums in Naples. Most of the buildings are without a roof and large sections of wall are missing. Over the last year and a bit I have seen a few big ruins, like Troy, Aphrodite and Effes in Turkey. Pompeii’s ruins tell their story better than those others I mention.
One thing that did disappoint me was the Amphitheater. Pompeii’s Amphitheater may be one of the best big stadiums on the planet. It can seat 20,000 spectators. Imagine that two millennium ago. And it not bad for a city with 11,000 residents. I wanted to see it. History has it that there was a big brawl there in about 59AD, some twenty years before Vesuvius hot rocked it. The brawl between residents of Pompeii and visitors from Nocera was a bloodbath, so the Senate of Rome declared the stadium closed for ten years. I was not allowed in. They were working on the building, for renovations perhaps. What renovations
to a building that’s 2,000 years old? Maybe they fearing another fight?
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