My Christmas and New Year season has been largely devoted to reading as much as possible about the antiquated and quite destructed cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, Italy, as also the surrounding areas that included other equally destroyed settlements (Stabiae, Opiontis, Boscoreale with additional architectural remains and explorations found in the neighboring area at Boscocetrasae, Murecine, Somma, Vesuviana, Terzigno and Torre del Greco) which, unfortunately, are often unattended by the public, save but for dedicated archaeology teams and research campaigns.
Reference – (I am using as reference for this post a comprehensive site called “AD79eruption, Destruction and Recovery” [though I have accessed many more], because it is the most extensive and easily navigated with an array of features that few others include) – Maps as follows:
However, one can just access information that exists today about Pompeii and an array of information about the additional locations and archaeological issues will soon become available, if one has time to spend following names, dates, locations and all the referential rest. All of these locations were consumed by the variety of destructive effects in the eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius that began on August 24, 79AD. Most of us contemporaries have heard and read a bit about Pompeii’s dreadful end from that event, but the entirety of the destruction that occurred throughout the Pompeii and adjacent areas by that eruption — with accompanying earthquake years prior to that eruption — was catastrophic.
I am no archaeologist and I recognize that my knowledge is quite limited reading about these locations and the events that destroyed them when compared with those who have devoted their entire academic lives to both explorations and documentation of specific aspects of this locale, especially as to specific Roman villas and other buildings, as also the civilizations that populated each city, town and settlement.
So I don’t attempt here to present anything as to discovery or unique insight, but to, instead, share my experiences discovering the area, generally and specifically. I have always been extremely moved by the discoveries made by archaeology about Pompeii and the surrounding, also affected areas, with particular sentiment attached to the nearby town of Herculaneum, long since perished by several pyroclastic flows from Mount Vesuvius’ eruption, and encased in volcanic mud all these centuries after being mostly broken apart by the earlier monstrous effects of the eruption such as shockwaves, earthquaking and pumice and boulders raining down upon the location. Only a small portion of what is believed to be the larger town of Herculaneum has even been unearthed and one can only imagine what lies beneath the modern infrastructure that sits forty feet or so above the antiquated, buried level that is Herculaneum.
My sentiments about Herculaneum run deep and I continue to be immensely moved, emotionally, by the people who lived and perished there and I lack words to explain just why that is so. Also, as to Pompeii, having now used Google Earth and Google Maps to further explore Pompeii, I am uncannily moved by several locations there and continue to return to them in my thoughts long after leaving books and internet sites about these.
Using Google Maps’ Street View as to Pompeii, my initial visit there was done prior to familiarizing myself with any schematic of the city, nor guide/reference as to structural and street names, and yet I was able to “walk through” to exactly the specific locations that were most familiar to me for reasons I cannot explain. One particular location on that walkthrough matched nearly completely to visuals I had as a young child that I could never place to anything I knew then, or since until recently. So I am mystified by my knowledge as to a ground-level view and familiarity of Pompeii as also Herculaneum, with this one location (the Herculaneum Gate in Pompeii and street area just outside that Gate) being something I’d earlier pictured in my mind’s eye yet never had seen before in reality until just this past few weeks via Google’s walk-through feature.
As a child, I had truly awful recurring nightmares of being consumed by something I could never explain to anyone who asked me later about the dream imagery, something immense, big, extremely hot and all encompassing that literally consumed me atmospherically. From that traumatic event, I would wake crying and would go about trying in vain to explain just what had just occurred in the dream, and this dream recurred several times in my youth, and after each event, which would wake me abruptly, I could never quite explain just what I’d dreamed, yet remembered it visually and sensually quite specifically — at that young age, I lacked the language to explain the ruinous experience.
But just prior to this awful experience, in these dreams, I was carrying something large, flat and round and was beside a young boy who was hauling a small cart that had two round wheels, and we were both standing just beyond some sort of very large “double-T”-shaped stone structure that we had just walked through, and then this terrible event began and I’d wake in an awful fright. The dreams were so vivid and traumatic that I have remembered them throughout my life, while other bad dream experiences have long since passed away, as they should. This one and recurring nightmare, however, from my youth was demonstratively impactful and unusually affecting of my senses such that I can even today recall it visually, clearly.
When first using Google’s Street View in the last few weeks, then, to access the excavated area of Pompeii, without guide or foreknowledge of the Pompeii streets and map, I ‘walked’ directly from what had been the Pompeii waterfront area all the way through the ruins and then directly on to the Herculaneum Gate and there it was, exactly what I’d dreamed about in my youth. I have no explanation about this — since I do not believe in such a thing as ‘reincarnation’ — but I certainly did and have had profound mystical familiarity with Pompeii and especially with Herculaneum and about that, I’ve been musing over this in these recent weeks, especially after finding the existing remains of Pompeii’s Herculaneum Gate a visual match to the image from that memorable, difficult childhood dream. Obviously, in my childhood, Google didn’t exist, I’d never visited Pompeii (nor Italy at large), nor never viewed any images from the ruins there, nor even so much as read about them, yet there was that dream imagery with such profound impact on my mind, memory and emotions.
I can readily imagine more than a few of the lives lost there on August 24, 79AD, as also on the next day of August 25 when Vesuvius continued it’s carnage. Truly, when I return to Pompeii, as also and especially as to Herculaneum, I feel quite present there in such a fashion that reaches beyond the intellectual.
So I am puzzled as much as anyone as to my reactions and emotions about these people and locations long since perished and buried in the earth yet preserved minimally by the destroying flows from Vesuvius that made it possible for me, for us today, to know them. The infrastructure and populations were ruined demonstratively but just of aspect of each remains today because of the effects that destroyed them such that it is possible to even discover these — a blessing in a terrible damnation that also impresses me as highly unusual metaphysically and from a perspective of human civilization.
There are personal affects and grand architecture, along with human skeletal remains in Herculaneum and Pompeii, and plaster casts taken of some who perished in Pompeii where their bodies were originally encased in volcanic ash and since destroyed by time, leaving only their impressions in the hardened ash from whence observant excavators made these casts during explorations of Pompeii.
Along with these impressions left by human beings in Pompeii can also be found horses, donkeys, dogs, a pig, sheep, even a group of mice and tree trunks and roots, all represented in our current time by the plaster casts made by excavators of the voids their perished bodies left in the hardened volcanic ash. There are carbonized pomegranates, loaves of bread found on an equally carbonized wooden board, the remains of an egg and a bouquette of flowers in Herculaneum likely dropped by someone fleeing for their life soon lost and much personal effects among which are great wealth where the humans met their ends, including jewelry, coins, elaborate silver and gold wares, bronze and marble statues, immensely beautiful, elaborate mosaics and frescoes — all of this but a portion of the effects the populations in these areas possessed but a mere fragment of what has been found, and likely also, only a portion of what the fleeing populations were able to grab and run with. Much of these areas were exploited — in the earlier centuries before any academic, professional excavations began — by persons tunneling through underground structures, destroying and scavaging precious, irreplaceable original works of art and antiquities, so we in contempoary times will never know to what extent the Pompeii and Herculaneum (and surrounding) areas owned and enjoyed immensely beautiful luxuries and abundant lives. The area was and is today rich with agricultural abundance, primarily due to vineyards and olive groves and, of course, the nearby sea. Pompeii also had a wool-producing industry from what has been discovered there, as also a large ampitheatre such that the gladiator trade was thriving there, for sport and defense.
Pompeii was encircled by three kilometres of defensive walls pierced by seven gates with watch towers at the weakest points on the northern and eastern flanks. The seven gates, the purple pins on the plan below [note, see map for reference here], were (clockwise): the Marina Gate, the Herculaneum Gate, the Vesuvius Gate, the Nola Gate, the Sarno Gate, the Nocera Gate and the Stabia Gate. Of these, the best preserved are the Marina Gate, the Herculaneum Gate, the Nola Gate and the Stabia Gate. The Vesuvius and Sarno gates both sustained considerable damage during the eruption.
I am now merely musing about a small portion of what I’ve come to know about the Pompeii, Herculaneum and surrounding area as excavated, discovered and studied by others, but this brings me to my title reference as to time: after returning again and again to these areas via the internet recently, I’ve been thinking about time as a construct, something our human civilizations have created to establish and maintain order, to quantify our existence and our relationships and references, to explain how physical matter is reduced by elements on a gradual exposure to adverse effects — how things “age” in other words, including our own bodies, relationships and the objects we use and make along with the natural world — but how it is that time is merely human in measurement in these regards. Without time measured by our hour-glasses, reflections in mirrors, changes in our bodies and in others’, wear and tear in our possessions and more, without time as we humanly define and refer to it by the breakdown of matter, it becomes quite possible to be present at and with different peoples and experiences that cannot be explained except by abandoning the physical sciences for the most part and perceiving, instead, the non-quantitative that surely does exist, though we cannot measure it or see it clocked on our behalf. Time, it seems, really does fold in on itself or back on itself, or both, when we consider it as an observer and not as one who measures distance.
Otherwise, I have no idea how it is that I am so familiar to a point of emotional experiences remembered in this life that reference so many centuries ago as the clocks have measured. Perhaps what I am familiar with isn’t measurable by any tool I am familiar with other than my imagination.
“Winged Victory Carrying a Golden Tripod”
One of many remarkable, beautiful paintings that adorn the excavated walls of the Inn of the Sulpicii, “the remains of a villa about 600m south of Pompeii’s Stabia Gate near the ancient mouth of the River Sarno.” This and the other paintings were rendered on the walls of the dining area in this Villa.