The second end of Pompeii

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text Peppe Iannicelli

Sad destiny belongs to Pompeii, one of the most important archeological sites of the world. Collapses, neglect and robberies are destroying an inestimable and unique heritage. The retaining walls and those of the houses have been melting like snow in the sun for years. But I could never believe they took the liberty to steal a fresco. A piece of a painted wall, miraculously arrived to our days from the dawn of time, was taken away by a vandal clearly helped by someone in the archeological site. This person has then resold it probably to a perverse estimator of antiquities who is going to enjoy it by himself in spite of millions of people who could have shared the same emotion. It is a painful wound, that is meaningless to me. But why didn’t the rich buyer, who for sure is aware of the criminal origin of the precious artefact, use his money to finance new archeological researches? In return we would have placed commemorative stones and busts for an eternal memory. He would have remembered as the benefactor of mankind and he could have admired the fresco every time he wanted to. The navigation of life took me to Pompeii many times. The first time happened when I was in elementary school when the tour quickly turned into a picnic in the shadow of secular pines. I would often go there when I was a teenager and a young boyfriend. I would attend classic shows and kisses were even more captivating and sweet under the summer moon. Then the years of news reports, travel and vacation shows, visits of the government full of useless promises started. I started to take my children there telling them, quoting Pliny, the tragedy of those people swept away from history; my kids looked worried at the Vesuvius wondering why people kept building houses in spite of such devastation. I would like to take my grandchildren and my great grandchildren, but who knows if I will make in time if destruction continues at this rate. Poor Pompeii! You emerged from the ashes after centuries of oblivion. Maybe it would have been better staying underground and waiting for an age more capable of understanding and defending your greatness. What in Roman times was the “Campania Felix”, it is now the Land of Fires.
Shame! Shame! Shame! We need to respond to such disaster and not close our eyes, even though dream is becoming the only way to imagine the Lost City. Time stopped forever. In A.D.79 the devastating eruption of Vesuvius buried the rich Roman town and its inhabitants submerging them under a mortal layer of ashes, lapillus and mud. A tragic destiny, described in Pliny the Younger’s chronicles. Nature’s fury raged horribly, but preserved intact, at least until the contemporary disrepair, one of the richest cities of its time. For many days the sky had been darkened by a cloud of smoke coming out of the volcano; hundreds of people died asphyxiated, caught by the eruption while they were asleep, they were eating or listening to music. After the agonizing shouts of the victims, it was complete silence. Pompeii was no more. Streets and people, houses and structures were underground and there stayed for centuries. That was until 1748 when Carlos III of Boubon started the excavation to bring it to light. In the world nothing like that had happened before; not even after. For this reason the archeological site of Pompeii is unique. When we visit it, we immediately realize we are not in front of simple ruins because they are so important. Walking down Street of Abundance, the real “main street” of ancient Pompeii, we find still intact the workshops of sellers of wine, meat and fruit. We are stunned by the noise of carts and horses. We can listen to the hectic negotiations between the Roman matrons and the astute merchants coming from every corner of the Empire, we can see the workshops where they shaped gold and every precious material.
201406-11-1mPompeii is not a dead city. It is an ancient city that lives again in our days to let us realize how wonderful living in these houses and in these villas was. Pompeii was devoted to the sublime delights of life: art, love, gladiator games, good wine. The most rich and powerful Romans challenged each other in building magnificent houses and villas like the ones come back to light. “Villa dei Misteri” with frescoes celebrating rituals in Eleusi coloured in the mysterious and captivating Pompeian red, the House of the Chaste Lovers decorated with golden foils, the House of the Faun with the famous statue adorning the Impluvium, the House of the Tragic Poet with theatrical plays drawn on its floor, the House of the Vettii that makes tourists blush because of the Priapus with erect penis painted on the door to bring to its residents fortune and prosperity. We can meet Pompeii’s inhabitants in the Antiquarium not so far from the Forum, centre of business, political and religious life. We can see their gypsum casts that researchers have taken from underground cavities created by the corpses. It is precious material for research, but also a striking close encounter with men and women, even a dog, from two thousand years ago. Pompeii was a cosmopolitan and welcoming city; that is demonstrated by the temples of Jupiter Meilichios, Fortuna Augusta and Isis in honour of the different beliefs of its inhabitants. The prosperity flowed as rivers just like the wine of which Pompeii was one of the main production centers of the Empire. The fertile soil of the land below Vesuvius donated generously the Falerno and the Falanghina which were drunk in the most important villas, thermal baths and lupanars of Pompeii, and also of Rome. The merchants of Pompeii were very skilled and that makes clear why the second most important street, after the Street of Abundance, was dedicated to Mercury, god of commerce. They wanted to have fun; they liked to have thermal treatments, they enjoyed the battles of gladiators who trained in the gymnasium (Palestra Sannitica) and performed in the arena of the big Amphitheatre, they applauded musicians, dancers and actors in the big Theatre and in the small Theatre where even nowadays shows and cultural events take place. It was Goethe (“there has never been a catastrophe in history that gave so many joys to the future generations”) and the travelers of the Grand Tour who let Europe know about the beauty of Pompeii. The Prince Ludwig of Bavaria asked for its house to be built as a Pompeian villa. The painter Pablo Picasso found so much inspiration for his works while walking down the decumanus roads. Even the founder of the psychoanalysis Sigmud Freud got intuitions from his visit. It is here where Giacomo Leopardi’s “La ginestra” (“The broom”) takes places.

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