20 April 2023
Pompeii is the best known southern Italian city buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Herculaneum is another nearby city being excavated from beneath the lava. See my blog about the differences between the two.
Visiting Pompeii is sure to be on the itinerary of anyone interested in history and early Roman culture when visiting Italy. It certainly seemed like most of the tourists in the area were trooping around the site on the day we visited. Like many such attractions, Pompeii is being visited to death. Those responsible have, however, made admirable efforts to control the numbers, cater for the hordes and provide adequate facilities. But there is no escaping them in the narrow streets and passageways into the prime villas. Apparently mid-late April is also school holidays and the season for school groups to visit.
Despite all this, one cannot fail to be impressed by the scale of the city, the extent that it has been uncovered and partially restored. Those Romans knew a thing or two about how to live well. Our guide described their food and much of it would be featured on modern menus. Then there is the famous street of taverns and brothels. Admittedly, Pompeii was a port and entertained many a sailor returning from distant shores seeking ways to spend their wages. But the Roman townsfolk apparently enjoyed their orgies and celebrated life and their gods through frequent indulgences of all sorts.
Pompeii – don’t miss it.
The Colisseum in black and white
12 April 2023
Visiting the Colosseum is a step back in time. It is both awe-inspiring and horrifying in equal measure. The largest amphitheatre in the Roman world, it took only 10 years to build due to the use of mostly Jewish slaves (estimated 60-100,000 of them) and the large blocks of travertine stone held together with iron clamps. The building is almost 2000 years old and has a bloody history.
Able to seat 50-80,000 people, spectators were arranged in order of their social standing with the lowest status people right at the top. Each of the 80 arches were numbered so people were able to be guided to their seats.
Some estimates suggest that up to 400,000 gladiators, slaves, convicts, prisoners, and entertainers died in the Colosseum over the 350 or so years during which it was used for human bloodsports and spectacles. Many animals also perished and it is believed that the Colosseum was responsible for the eradication of some species from nearby regions.
The Colosseum hosted the well known gladiator battles. There were also hunts, executions (some by wild beasts, the famous damnatio ad bestias) and even staged naval battles for which the Colosseum was flooded.
Since its use for blood sports, the Colosseum has also been used as a cemetery, a place of worship, for housing, workshops for artisans and merchants, the home of a religious order, a fortified castle, and most recently as a tourist attraction. More than 4 million tourists visit the site each year. What a way to be transported back to Roman times.
Trastevere & Along the Tiber River, Rome
13 April 2023
The Tiber River separates the gritty, hip neighbourhood of Trastevere from the central sights of the Forum and Colosseum in Rome. Full of narrow streets, crowded with apartment blocks painted in terracotta colours and dripping with vines, there is plenty of appeal. Now it is also full of graffiti. It is everywhere and provides a constant reminder of the changing uses of these spaces.
Restaurants abound and along with Churches are probably the dominant non-residential use. The Tiber River is fast flowing here, providing a space for promenading beneath the many substantial trees that line the streets along the river. Then there is the incessant traffic complete with its usual chaos, horns, police directing cars, scooters and everyone jumping into any small space that appears. Pedestrians too.
So much life is on display in Rome’s neighbourhoods. However, I’ve heard that many Roman locals have moved out because there are just too many tourists!