Wednesday, 21 September 2011


Pompeii is probably the most famous archaeological site in the world and we have been promised an exhausting day seeing all of the most important places open to the public plus a few bits which are not open to the casual visitor. And so, roughly in the order of our long day:


Public Buildings you should visit
1 = Temple of Apollo
2 = The Forum
3 = Temple of Jupiter
4 = Macellum
5 = Building of Eumachia
6 = Basilica
7 = Forum Baths;
8 = Stabian Baths
9 = Triangular Forum & Doric Temple
10 = Large Theatre
11 = Small Theatre (Odeon)
12 = Gladiators Barracks (Quadriportico)
13 = Amphitheatre
14 = Palaestra
15 = Nuceria Gate Cemetery
16 = Herculaneum Gate Cemetery
17 = Temple of Isis
18 = Castellum Aquae

Private Buildings you should visit
19 = The Villa of the Mysteries
20 = House of Pansa
21 = A Bakery
22 = House of Vetti
23 = House of Faun
24 = House of the Ancient Hunt
25 = Brothel
26 = Fullery of Stephanus
27 = Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus
28 = House of Loreius Tiburtinus
29 = House of Venus in the Sea Shell

We enter at 10 am by the Amphitheatre Gate (bottom right of the site map) which is really the back entrance. This is deliberate because the majority of visitors go in the frontEmpty Pompeii

entrance and therefore we will be away from the crowds for a few hours.

Amphitheatre view of Vesuvius

Immediately to the left of the Amphitheatre is the view of Vesuvius which must have been visible to city inhabitants back in AD79 when the eruption took place – thankfully currently free of volcanic smoke and ash. The shape of the volcano has changed over the past 2000 years because of many eruptions but it makes quite an impressive view.

Amphitheatre Exterior Vaulting

The construction shows how adept the Romans were at making arched structures

Amphitheatre Sloped Entrance

and also here shows evidence of repair (the inner arch) following the earthquake of AD 62.

Amphitheatre Entrance Dedication

Fixed onto the wall just before you go into the arena is a copy of an inscription tablet which records

C(aius) Quinctius C(ai) f(ilius) Valgus / M(arcus) Porcius M(arci) f(ilius) duovir(i) / quinq(uennales) coloniai honoris / caussa spectacula de sua / peq(unia) fac(iunda) coer(averunt) et coloneis / locum in perpetuom deder(unt)

It states that Quinctius Valgus and Marcus Porcius, who were duovirs or magistrates of Pompeii, had the amphitheatre erected at their own expense.

Amphitheatre Inside

The amphitheatre seats about 20,000 and differed to others because it has no underground area – it was built into an excavated hollow in the hillside.

Amphitheatre Tunnel

There are however numerous tunnels and rooms underneath the sides of the amphitheatre.

Amphitheatre Exist showing rail post holes

One of the exit ramps shows post holes which supported a rail to keep people (left) separate from wheeled traffic (right).

Amphitheatre Dedication

There is also an inscription stone at another entrance recording in Latin:


C(aius) Cuspius C(ai) f(ilius) Pansa pater d(uum) v(ir) i(ure) d(icundo) IIII quinq(uennalis) praef(ectus) i(ure) d(icundo) ex d(ecreto) d(ecurionum) lege Petron(i)

and this records the names of people (father and son, Cuspius and Pansa) who paid for the restoration of the amphitheatre following the earthquake.

Via dell' Abbondanza Pumice Height

Unfortunately Pompeii has become notorious over the past few years for poor maintenance despite the fact that 2 million people visit it each year and pay around €20million in entrance fees.

Here the via dell’ Abbondanza (one of the two main streets) shows evidence of the collapse of buildings and

Colapsing Buildings

walls but also evidence of the pumice depth following the eruption - up to the top of the brickwork (a couple of pictures above) which is about 4 metres (more or less in other places around the site).

The street is so named because there is a roadside fountain on the street with the tap coming out of the mouth

Street Tap Goddess Abundance

of the Goddess Abundantia (the Roman Goddess of Abundance and Prosperity).

As an aside, the pumice layer is clearly evident

Eruption Layer

in some of the earth banks around the outside of the town (here a horizontal line about 1/3rd of the way up the picture)

Elsewhere, the streets are in good condition

Main Street

Empty Road

and you get a very good feel for how the town must have been before the eruption.

End of Road

If the road had a “dead end” , a somewhat unambiguous method was adopted to ensure that you did not drive your cart any further.

The road contains stepping stones at various places along its length – these exist because there was no main sewer system and all rain water / animal waste was washed down the street by the rain. Wagon wheel ruts clearly show between the stones and apparently the width between the wheels of a standard Roman wagon (as measured by the ruts) is exactly the same as standard railway gauge of 4ft 8 1/2 inches (or 1.4m approx).

Road Stepping Stones

It is said that Julius Caesar set this width under Roman law so that vehicles could traverse Roman villages and towns without getting caught in stone ruts of differing widths. Over the centuries this became the traditional standard. Click on the link above to read one theory as to how Roman Wagon Wheel width has influenced the size of moon rockets!

Some of the back streets look just like back streets in

Back Street

some middle eastern towns today. Unsurprisingly, Pompeii

Crowded Street

can get crowded – we were there on a quiet day apparently.

The town benefited from a pressurized water system. Water entered the town from an aqueduct and went into a large

Water Three Routes

chamber at the highest part of the town where it was split into three flows to different parts of the town by a chamber which contained stones which divided the flow. It then went down hill to water tanks on the tops of towers

Water Tower

from which it flowed through lead pipes into houses and

Water Lead Pipes 2

Water pipes 1

fountains etc. The problems of lead poisoning were known but the Romans had no alternative to offer.

Electoral Signs  

Pompeii contains numerous examples of posters and signs. The above requests support for a candidate in the local elections.

Street Sign

There were few street signs in ancient Pompeii, here the pictorial sign is of two slaves carrying an amphora possibly indicating something wine related in the area, the sign beneath is modern.

Cave Canem

Let “sleeping dogs lie” or “Cave Canem”? – there are a number of stray dogs living in the town.

Shops, mainly bars (aka Caupona) are along the main


street. This counter is covered in marble and behind it you can see some of the amphora which were buried in the counter to store food for serving.

Caupona Barman

A rather shifty looking barman was seeking custom at one

Caupona Art thermopolium of Lucious Vetutius Placidus

caupona.Some original wall decorations remain in few of the cauponas.

Flour Mills and Oven

Bread making was an issue in the town. In general, bakers were not allowed to bake bread in the town because of the fire risk from the ovens but there were a few licensed premises. The oven is on the right of the picture above plus

Flour mills

a couple of mills where corn was ground. The mill was divided into two parts. The bottom half was cone shaped. The top half of the mill rotated by means of an attached wooden frame.


Corn was poured into the top of the mill and either a blindfolded donkey or a slave(s) would turn the top half of the mill around. By turning the top half of the mill the corn was ground into flour and was collected in a trough at the bottom of the mill. Mill making was a skilled art because of the hardness of the millstone and the need to get a good fit between the two parts.

Off the via dell’ Abbondanza is the house of Octavius 4th and the original door has been reconstructed by pumping Plaster of Paris into the cavity left within the pumice as the wooden door decayed.

Octavius 4th House door Door Hinge

One of the original lead door hinges remains.

Octavious 4th House Grotto

This house was a cool house because of the way water flowed through the garden. To one side is a grotto and either side of it are two rather nice frescoes showing mythological scenes:

Octavius 4th Narcissus Octavius 4th Pyramus Thisbe


Pyramus and Thisbe

One of the side rooms has a fourth style fresco. An explanation of the four different style can be found here.           

Octavious Quatro Fresco

Politicians the world over have ways of getting around minor rules which get in the way. One of these (from a Roman perspective) is that freedmen (those previously slaves) were not allowed to be elected to certain public offices. However their sons were allowed to occupy an office because they were full Roman citizens.

Temple of Isis

Over the doorway leading into the Temple of Isis is an inscription:

Temple of Isis Inscription


which translates as:

Numerius Popidius Celsinus, son of Numerius, restored the Temple of Isis from the ground up, after it had been totally destroyed by an earthquake. The Town Council, co-opted him into their assembly when he was only six years old, (and) without charge, in consideration of his generosity.

So although the wealthy father cannot be a member of the Town Council, his six year old son can and he gets chosen (but no doubt his father was there to advise him and attend the late night meetings on his behalf!)

Vesuivius in the background

The forum is big and impressive but little remains of the original structure. You can easily imagine what Pompeians thought when they stood there and watched Vesuvius in the distance working up to the eruption. On one side is a statue of Euachia the Priestess who had an interesting history – follow the link to read it. It is not very often that women get their own alcove for a statue.

Eumachia the Priestess

Further evidence of the lack of care the authorities are taking over the remains found around the site exists in the

Amphora in store

alcoves around the forum. Amphora are stacked in a cage,

Ded dog in store

some of the casts of bodies found on site are in rather old

Body in store

Body 1  

Boy in store

glass cases, others are not – the above is a very famous cast of a boy trying to shield himself from the ash.

Walls with artillery holes

Some of the original walls exist around the site. This section at the Vesuvian Gate shows damage to the walls from the ballista of Sulla who besieged the city in 89BC.

Walls Slave Marks

These pictures (above and below) show some of the

Slave Marks close up

marks made on the wall stones when they were carved / cut by slaves in the nearby quarry.

Tomb 3

Outside but immediately adjacent to the walls is a street of tombs

Tomb 2

which usually were built before death, presumably so the intended occupant could ensure they were sufficiently grand.

The Villa of the Mysteries is a large villa outside of the city but close to where the shore was in AD79.

Villa Mysteries Robber Hole

It is very famous because of its size and what it tells us about Roman life and also for what we are left puzzled about. The walls have a number of holes in them caused by the robbers who dug down into the site in order to find valuables after the eruption.

Villa Mysteries Door

Hence the villa was empty when it was fully excavated. One of the original doors was reconstructed by filling the hole left behind in the ash with plaster of paris.

Villa Mysteries Painting 1

The main attraction on the site is one room where the walls are covered with the most beautiful frescoes.

Villa Mysteries Painting 2

No-one knows exactly what the frescoes show – hence the mystery. One interpretation (and better pictures because we were not allowed to take flash photos) can be found here – it makes interesting reading.

We saw a lot more but there is a limit as to what you can cover in a blog. A very good site about Pompeii can be found here.


  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful and informative website!

    Barbara Laff,

    1. A thank-you for your praise, we had a great time at Pompeii, next year we are going to Ephesus to learn yet more about the Romans