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Pompeii, Italy

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Pompeii, the city that was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79AD and immortalised by Bulwer Lytton in The Last Days of Pompeii, is truly worth a two-day visit in itself during a trip to Italy.

The first thing that strikes the visitor as they walk through the front door is the sheer size of the place. This was no village or hamlet, but a living, breathing and thriving community with trade routes to Africa, Greece and other corners of the known world. The inhabitants of Pompeii were renowned for their easy attitude and great dedication to the arts and commerce.

The city has buildings which were common to many Roman settlements - amphitheatre, gladiator training ground, forums and markets. But the city is most famous for the frescos that have remained intact. These frescos adorn the walls of many houses and public establishments and give key clues to life in Pompeii with its festivals and routines. There, red paint that has been discovered in Pompeii that has never been replicated. Below is a list of a few musts:

  • The House of Vetti is the name given to the building of two merchant brothers. We know their names because of the rings that were found with their identity inscribed on the inside of each band. The house is spectacular for several reasons.

    • The first is the atrium which used to collect rain which would water the garden and drip into the heating system. It is perfectly intact at the entrance of the house.

    • The second is the garden. The ash from Vesuvius fell so quickly and settled so rapidly that the flowers in the garden left an impression in the ash. When this was filled in and then examined, botanists were able to determine which flowers were planted. The present garden is an exact replica of the one the Vettis had almost 2,000 years ago.

    • The piping that is used to water the garden is a testament to the extent of the Roman Empire. The lead used in its construction was plundered from England at the beginning of the Roman occupation.

    • The final feature of note in the house is the painting on the wall on the left as you walk in the house. The picture is a symbol of wealth and shows a Roman god weighing his exceptionally large penis. Always good for a giggle and also the cause of many a bumped head.

  • The Garden of the Fugitives is one of the most haunting aspects of this great city. As mentioned previously the ash fell and settled so quickly that people were literally 'frozen' in time. When Pompeii was being excavated and they realised that these pockets of air were in fact cavities created by rotten corpses, historians decided to use these holes as moulds. The garden of the fugitives contains around 17 casts of people who were trying to flee the devastation. There are women, arms stretched forward to stop the gas. Others have their mouths open, protecting their children but the ash was too quick. It is terrifying to see the anguish of the victims in their last seconds of life.

  • The Brothel is remarkable because it shows how frescos were actually used. Above each room is a mini-fresco which depicts the particular speciality of the lady inside. According to the diagrams, every sexual combination was possible. The prostitutes never had a comfortable bed, they were made of stone.

The café in Pompeii is well worth the money spent as the food is fresh, tasty and reasonably cheap. You will notice that there are a lot of stray dogs around. Don't approach them or feed them as they will trail behind you for the rest of the day.

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