Friday, December 3, 2010

Deluge in Pompeii

Pompeii Amphitheater
December 3, 2010

By now you've probably heard that it won't stop raining in the Campania region. Newspaper articles also report that the ruins of Pompeii are collapsing. The deluge has persisted for at least three or four weeks. In the last few days my neighbor has even started building an ark. (Little does she know that each night I haul a few buckets of pitch away from the site, so that when the time comes, she'll have no seal for the bottom of her sinking vessel.) During the day, I decided to visit Pompeii to see the real story of the collapsing destruction for myself.

Rest assured, Pompeii remains as it has always been -- in ruins.

I took a map from the Information Office and set off to see the damage. The all-important Forum remains in tact. So do the newly renovated Forum Baths and the famous House of the Faun and Villa of the Mysteries. Walking along the main artery of Via dell'Abbondanza, the street remains in excellent sloped condition and today's rain flowing down toward the Stabia Gate shows how Pompeii inhabitants would have welcomed this deluge because it meant that all the trash during ancient times, from animal feces to human body parts, would have been washed out of the city.

The brothel remains unaffected, the damage reported in the
Christian Science Monitor said to be the 'little brothel,' which is not on the tourist map, is never part of any tour, and thus far has never been open to the public.

The 'house of gladiators' is cordoned off and, indeed, rubble appears:

View from Via dell'Abbondanza

Second View from other side of Via dell'Abbondanza

Interestingly, this house has never been open to the public and has never showed up on the map of tourist attractions. Although I had heard of the house, in all my visits to Pompeii I had never been able to find it. Only thanks to the collapse do I now know exactly where the gladiators prepared for combat. 

Across the street and a little further down, the House of Venus -- with its vibrantly colored fresco of naked Venus -- still looks fantanstic. During WWII, bombs fell on Pompeii and the House of Venus was obliterated, but archeologists received money in 1952 to reconstruct the villa piece by piece.

Perhaps the recent newspaper reports are all about politics. The EU wants a reason to embarrass right-wing faux-mafia troublemaker Berlusconi (for which I give my wholehearted support). But I also fear a touch of ignorance or at least unreasonable expectations on the part of UNESCO. Archeologists (especially for tourists sake and often under pressure from those who fund them) have always taken artistic license when studying artifacts and rebuilding ruins. They often liberally add modern day plaster or add wooden beams, they restore color to frescoes, and sometimes surmise from a few pebbles what an entire villa may have looked like. Their creations are highly breakable, yet sustain the weight of 3 million visitors per year. Pompeii is Disneyland by another name.

And what's wrong with that?

I would like to thank archeologists for their painstaking work and their layered methodologies. Because, in the end, walking through ruins such as Pompeii is not so much about accuracy as it is about erecting shadows of a lost history that smacks down my modern day hubris.  After a visit, I must ask myself:  do we really do things better? 

Living among these ruins certainly has a strong impact on the culture of Naples. I've noticed time and again that Neapolitans strongly believe 'the old ways are better', whether it be the old ways of making wine, making vintage gloves, or hearkening back to a coffee roaster's decades-long history in order to sell his product.

For most of my visit to Pompeii, the rain came in sheets. Tonight, I again plan to hide more of my neighbor's buckets of pitch inside my apartment. I'm also scratching obscene graffiti along my walls. Sorry Cheryl, but I want my fifteen minutes of fame, even if it will be in 2,500 years from now when archeologists find an ark covered in mud silt, apartment houses with crude water heaters, an unstable electrical network that probably meant regular power outages, and grossly large piles of ossified trash that never washed away from the streets. Also, they'll find a whole room stacked with buckets of pitch and obscene graffiti that was responsible for the drowning of an entire community, and it must certainly have been-- as archeologists will surmise -- over a nasty lover's quarrel.

The Self-Guided Tours: I recently re-wrote my posts on
Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the National Archeological Museum, creating them into self-guided tours for anyone who prefers venturing through the life of ancients at their own pace. Hope you may enjoy it.


LindyLouMac said...

Thankyou for your local insight into this disaster with out media influence, it was interesting to see your photos. As for the rain same here it is the wettest autumn we have known since moving here in 2004!

Gil said...

We went there with my father's 82 year old cousin Zio Nino. His tour started where most people end up. I remember him saying that this is so we can see things that tourists will never see. Our daughter was with us and she was the translator between parents and Zio Nino. Zio and I kept her real busy with me asking questions an her translating both ways. Someone posted on FB that Italy has over 60% of the World's art treasures that everyone wants to see but not support.

Four collapses since these rains started -SAD!