Thankfully by the time I got to Pompeii, most of the tourists were in the ruins already and off the streets and roads. This allowed me time to be selective over which non-advertised camper stop I was going to choose, seen as the advertised one wasn’t where it was supposed to be. It backed on to the Circumvesuvius railway line, but as it was near a station and a basic local service, the trains were neither big nor intrusively loud. I went and checked opening times for the archaeological site and was happy that there was no difference on Sundays so I thought I would take it easy for the rest of Saturday and get the camera out for Sunday afternoon. I considered doing some washing, but actually had an afternoon siesta instead.
With the amount of camp stops we have done since setting out that have been next to churches or on church grounds, we and now me on my own, have got used to bells or clocks chiming, so with the camper stop about 500 yards from the cathedral I wasn’t expecting to be woken by church music. Or singing. Or preaching! Apparently one of those ‘without trappings of buildings’ sects was going for it at 9am on Sunday morning outside the sports ground on the other side of the railway, complete with amplified hymns and preacher. But even this was topped off at the end of the day by the same venue putting on karaoke for kids, including Old Macdonald Had a Farm at 11pm. Hey ho…
The idea that one has in one’s head from history and Dr Who of Pompeii is that of a city wiped out by a volcanic eruption in minutes, no one prepared or having evacuated the city and it being lost for centuries under a pile of ash, not really of a fenced off bit of land in the middle of a huge tourist town. Even the seemingly massive volcanic mountain has dwindled into a hill with a hole by the time you get up close to it. Then the signs around the cashier telling you about how the way that Pompeii was lost is allowing archaeologists to uncover, virtually intact, a genuine Roman city the likes of which have never been seen before, so thanks for your 11 Euros entry fee which is allowing us to continue to remove all the good stuff from where we found it and stick in vaults or behind fences so you can’t actually get to see it.
Walking around the site, literally, first to try and get a feel of the size of the city, you took in signs in front of cordoned off vineyards telling you how they have been replanted using the spaces where the calcified root holes were and using stakes and poles as per Roman guidelines. Ooh. Even on the gates of locked off areas you had ‘PompeiViva’ emblazoned within the steel of them as they try bringing it back to life. To me, this was a contradiction in it’s raison d’etre surely? Wasn’t the point of it being Pompei’s Dead, not Pompei Lives? After nearly 3 hours wandering in what was feeling like any other uncovered Roman ruins, where as they cleared a building, they cleared the contents away to different museums or warehouses, leaving only the shell of the building standing, and the onlookers looking bewildered from beyond a ‘keep out’ barrier. I stopped at the unsurprisingly unempty and uncheap Cafetiere and spent 9 Euros on 2 drinks and a doughnut and sat outside. Only to be rebuffed by an AMERICAN tour guide telling me to sit somewhere else. I didn’t respond, I just gave her daggers in return. Bloody cheek.
Just off the main square were a couple of buildings that were impressively untouched, including one that actually still had wall tiles in place. You usually see mosaic and raised floors in these places, but I have never seen wall tiles before. I kept thinking of the ashen figure of the mother covering the child, but never did find her. It was this sense of sudden death, the helplessness of the situation, the loss of a whole area of people that was missing. There didn’t seem to be any respect for the cataclysmic act of nature that had taken thousands of lives, just a perverse sense of bringing architectural inanimate objects back to life. Even the couple of bodies that they had were held in amongst the clay pots and tables tops in cages off the main square. It was as if they didn’t get it. And Vesuvius, sitting behind with it’s mouth open laughing down at everyone still not getting it.
I walked through more rows of half buildings, read the story of the eruption and how the buildings were affected and how they can tell what happened through the lines of different stuff left on the walls. I went back to the main entrance and sat down and had a cigarette. Perpendicular to the main entrance and walkway was an inconspicuous side shoot, a walk way through the gardens, ‘where you could learn about the green spaces within a Roman city’ (not at the top of peoples to do list I imagine when coming in, I would assume if anyone was given that option first they would ignore it and head straight for the amphitheatre right in front of them) and I thought I would have a wander, it’s not like I had anything else to do today.
The outside gardeny type area also looked as if it housed some tombs and small shops on the outside of the main city walls. Plinths for statues of today’s councillors and leaders lined the road to the gated entrance, through the arch of which you could see the volcano framed within it. In a far corner, another back lane entrance brought you past another vineyard, but this one didn’t have a closed barrier. On the plaque outside it explained that as well as the vineyard, there were also buildings and tables and so it must have been some form of eatery and/or meeting area. This would also explain why there were so many bodies found in this area. As you entered the gate, the wall opposite had a long glass case, about 20 feet in length. Within the case were the ashen outlined bodies of 11 adults and children laid out as they had been found, as they had died. Some of the faces still showing their helpless desperation to stay alive. I wonder how many visitors make it to this obscure corner of the city? I paid my respects and I left feeling something similar I’m sure, to people who leave places like Auschwitz. Stunned. Quiet. Mortal.