Pompeii is a place that many people only read about in textbooks and don’t truly understand. It was a tragedy, certainly, but it also lead to many discoveries that aided the world in understanding the realities of life during the Roman Empire. Through SASL and our proximity to the site of the ruins, we, as archaeology students, had the unique opportunity to visit this historic site with our knowledgeable professor and tour guide for the day, Ilaria Tartiglia (below).
The ruins of Pompeii are one the many things in Italy that can only be explained by the ambiguous term ”indescribable.” Upon catching sight of the ancient city, all of the students gasped and raised their cameras, in full tourist mode. Professoressa Tariglia explained that the walls of the city used to border the coastline of Italy, and we were standing by the ancient port where the Pompeiians would dock their ships. After the eruption of 79 A.D., the coastline was altered by several miles due to the volcanic debris left by Vesuvius, making the decimated Pompeii an inland city.
After a walk around the city walls, which were discovered by the archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli, we entered the city through the gladiator’s practice area. It is hard to imagine today the hundreds of slaves that practiced fighting one another in order to prepare for potentially deadly battles for the amusement of the people. Professoressa Tartiglia, however, pointed out the ways in which people have not changed very much throughout the ages; in Pompeii there were a lot of graffiti with statements like “I love this gladiator, he is very handsome,” or “I want to be a gladiator when I grow up.”
Next we came upon the two smaller amphitheaters. The smallest amphitheater was used for singing performances, while the larger was used mainly for drama performances. In the larger amphitheater, the group came together to test the acoustics of the stage by singing a rousing rendition of the song “Pompeii” by the band Bastille.
After the amphitheaters, we walked up the road, encountering an enormous house, several ancient “speed bumps” in the form of huge stepping-stones, and several of the Thermopolium of ancient Pompeii, which were the equivalent of a fast food restaurant of the time. The houses in Pompeii had a very specific structure with a public portion near the front and a garden in the middle, around which the family of the house slept.
We finished off the afternoon with a trip to the Roman baths, where all of the citizens could go to socialize and bathe, and the brothel, a legal and important part of ancient Pompeiian society, before ending in the Forum, where school, government, and trading all took place.
The trip was fascinating and educational, and gave the students a more tangible look at society during the Roman Empire.
Follow more of Caroline’s experiences on her personal student blog: