Pompei Brought To Life

5 Jun

It wasn’t a promising start. Having arranged with the tour company to meet our private guide, Loretta, in the bar of the Pompei Train Station at midday we were there ten minutes early, entry tickets in hand, excited to be finally seeing the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pompei, a city preserved in a moment in time, 79AD.

Midday came and went – no guide. At ten past twelve we were about to phone the number we had been sent with our online booking when another guide took pity on us and asked the bar owner to call which he did. Thankfully Loretta answered. She had been waiting outside talking to a friend, expecting us to walk out of the station when the midday train arrived.

Hhhhmmmm……smile and press on.

The reason there are so few tourists in Naples, even with two cruise ships in port, is because they’re all at Pompei. By now the ticket line was 25 metres long. Thank heavens we got ours earlier. Entering by the Marina Gate, where merchants arrived by river with their cargo and hauled it uphill, Loretta began weaving her tales of Pompei.

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Raised in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius, 30-something semi-retired soprano and mother of two young sons, Loretta, is a talking machine and natural story teller when she isn’t strangling herself with her scarf.

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This is a shopfront thst sold oil, wine and espressos (I made up that last one).

The facts of Pompei’s demise are well established from eye witness accounts, if not the exact date. On 24 August or 25 November 79AD, depending on which archaelogist you agree with, Mount Vesuvius erupted shooting rocks 24 kilometres into the air. A blast of hot gases instantaneously killed all 20,000 citizens who had remained despite warning explosions some days prior. The subsequent ash cloud entombed the city in three to six metres of ash.

The painstaking process of uncovering the buildings, bodies and artifacts began in 1738 and continued in fits and starts until today. Ash covering the dead cemented around them so that when the bodies finally decayed the hardened ash took their form. Casts of a few of those found were filled with plaster and later resin to recreate the forms of those who died.

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We spent almost three hours strolling the original stone streets with their cross street stepping stones designed to keep pedestrians of the filth. Peeking into the houses, public baths and brothels of a once thriving town, Loretta brought the town alive for us with her vivid, humorous vignettes of daily life and interpretations of ancient grafitti.

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Several times Loretta halted her monologue mid-stream to tell school groups to stop playing soccer or tourists not to touch the marble. There are no staff inside the grounds and seemingly no attempt to prevent the degradation of the art, mozaics or buildings.

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The high point of the tour for me came in the largest of the two amphitheatres. Loretta explained that in Pompei’s time (as in Elizabethan England) only men were allowed to perform in the theatre, playing both male and female roles. To test the much lauded acoustics and to stake a claim on that stage for women I asked Loretta to sing something. After a moment’s hesitation and my badgering she launched into the chorus of the Neapolitan classic ‘O Sole Mio’ (My Sunshine) with gusto and, as you can hear from my recording taken many rows away, the acoustics and her voice are excellent.

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‘Ma n’atu sole cchiù bello, oi ne’,
’o sole mio sta nfronte a te!
’o sole, ’o sole mio, sta nfronte a te,
sta nfronte a te!’

Interestingly, in 1915 Charles Harrison recorded the first English version of the song.

‘But another sun that’s brighter still,
It’s my own sun that’s upon your face!
The sun, my own sun, it’s upon your face!
It’s upon your face!’

I grew up singing the Elvis version, ‘It’s Now or Never’ which tells a very different story.

We saw only a fraction of Pompei on this visit, enough to realise the Roman world of the first century AD was a man’s world, one where even the most well to do women couldn’t vote or hold public office, slaves were routinely forced into prostitution, and paedophilia was rampant.

In Italy today men of high office still hold ‘bunga bunga’ parties involving underage girls but at least Italian women have the same rights under the law and must receive equal pay.

Surprisingly in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum Italy ranked a surprisingly low 80th of 135 countries. 2012 Gender Equality Index Report

Too soon our time in Italy was at an end. We were due in Wales for Stu to participate in a weekend offroad motorcycling course in preparation for our travels in Peru next year.

Grazie mille Loretta e arrivaderci Italia!

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2 Responses to “Pompei Brought To Life”

  1. Michelle Noble June 5, 2013 at 6:32 am #

    Hi there globe trotters. Pompeii is on my bucket list and must get around to it. Thanks for bringing it alive on your blog.
    Alpe d’Huez is heaving at present with over 20000 dutch people, 3000 of them today start their multiple ascents of the beast, tomorrow 5000 attempt 6 times up the alpe in one day, and the rest are supporters and volunteers! It’s mad – last night in our village the umpah umpah band were practising in a nearby garden. Check out links to Alpe d’HuZes to get a favour- yes I have spelled that correctly. Zes in dutch means 6 and it brings luck.
    Last year the charity raised over 30 million euros for cancer research…..
    Love to both, Michelle and Bryan.xx

    • Sharon Tickle June 5, 2013 at 9:44 am #

      Holy cow! I looked at last year’s event Michelle. 32 million is a huge sum for cancer, fantaastic. The Dutch do know how to go all out, more power to the orange people!

      Now in Paris looking forward to our return to Roland Garros tomorrow. Weather gods are grinning!

      Keep working on your bucket list.

      Love,

      S&Sxx

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