maandag 5 maart 2012

Italy, Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata

When Vesuvius erupted on 24 August AD 79, it engulfed the two flourishing Roman towns of Pompei and Herculaneum, as well as the many wealthy villas in the area. These have been progressively excavated and made accessible to the public since the mid-18th century. The vast expanse of the commercial town of Pompei contrasts with the smaller but better-preserved remains of the holiday resort of Herculaneum, while the superb wall paintings of the Villa Oplontis at Torre Annunziata give a vivid impression of the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthier citizens of the Early Roman Empire.



The impressive remains of the towns of Pompei and Herculaneum and their associated villas, buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world.
Pompei was an Opician foundation of the 6th century BC, and Dionysus of Halicarnassus maintained that Herculaneum (Ercolano) was founded by Hercules. Both underwent changes of overlord in the centuries that followed: Oscans, Samnites, Greeks, Etruscans, and finally Romans in 89 BC, following the Social War. Pompei was elevated to the status of Colonia Cornelia Venera Pompeiana in 89 BC, whereas Herculaneum was accorded the lower rank of municipium. The lives of both towns came to an abrupt and catastrophic end on 24 August, AD 79. The area had been shaken by an earthquake shortly before and reconstruction work was still in progress when Vesuvius erupted with tremendous violence. Pompei was buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash and stone and Herculaneum disappeared under a pyroclastic flow of volcanic mud.
Since the discovery of the two buried towns in the 18th century, much more of Pompei has been revealed by excavation than of Herculaneum. The main forum is flanked by the foundations of a number of imposing public buildings, such as the Capitolium (temple dedicated to the divine triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva), the Basilica (courthouse), and one of the sets of public baths. Close by is the older triangular forum, where the two theatres are located. The larger of these is of Greek origin, remodelled to suit Roman taste. Among other notable public buildings are the well-preserved Stabian Baths, begun in the 2nd century BC. However, Pompei is renowned for its series of domestic buildings, ranged along well paved streets. The earliest is the atrium house, entirely inward-looking with a courtyard at its centre: the House of the Surgeon is a good example of this type. Under Hellenistic influences this type of house was enlarged and decorated with columns and arcades and equipped with large rooms for social functions. In its most extreme form, this type of Roman house, known from towns all over the Empire, developed into a veritable palace, richly decorated and with many rooms, of which the Houses of the Faun and of the Chaste Lovers are outstanding examples. Perhaps the most exceptional of all the houses in Pompei is the Villa dei Misteri (the House of the Mysteries). This enormous establishment just outside the walls, which developed from a modest town house built in the 3rd century BC, takes its name from the remarkable wall paintings in the triclinium, which depict the initiation rites ('mysteries') of the cult of Dionysus. A special characteristic of Pompei is the wealth of graffiti on its walls. An election was imminent at the time of the eruption, and there are many slogans to be found scrawled on walls, as well as others of a more personal, often scurrilous, nature.
Much less of Herculaneum, built on a promontory overlooking the Bay of Naples, has been uncovered, not least because of the depth to which it was buried. However, the nature of its volcanic covering is such that the ancient buildings are much better preserved than those of Pompei. Organic materials such as wood survive in situ and the upper floors of many buildings are intact. Several impressive public buildings are well preserved, including a spacious palaestra entered through a monumental gateway, two sets of public baths, one of which (Urban Baths) is monumental in scale and vividly decorated, the College of the Priests of Augustus, and a theatre of standard form. The houses are also remarkable for their extent and decoration, especially the House of the Bicentenary. Those fronting on the sea, such as the House of the Deer, have large courtyards and rich decoration. The town is also noteworthy for the completeness of its shops, still containing fittings such as enormous wine jars. Recent excavations in the harbour area have revealed vaulted warehouses which contained the remains of unfortunate citizens who had sought refuge there, only to suffer death by asphyxiation. Of great importance in both towns are the artistic styles represented by their sculptures, their mosaics and, above all, their wall paintings.



Historical Description

Pompei was an Opician foundation of the 6th century BC, and Dionysus of Halicarnassus maintained that Herculaneum (Ercolano) was founded by Hercules on his way back to Greece from Spain. Both underwent several changes of overlord in the centuries that followed - Oscans, Samnites, Greeks, Etruscans, and finally Romans in 89 BC, following the Social War. By this time both were thoroughly Hellenized, as a result of their contacts with Greek colonies such as nearby Cumae. Pompei was elevated to the status of Colonia Cornelia Venera Pompeiana in 89 BC, whilst Herculaneum was accorded the lower rank of municipium.
Excavations have revealed the development of Pompei in particular. The original settlement, to the south-west of the Roman town, was fortified by the Samnites in the 4th century BC; these defaces were reinforced after the Roman occupation with a new wall and an interior earthen rampart. The early town had a main street (cardo) crossed by two decumani. There was a major period of urbanization in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, when tufa replaced limestone as the main building material. At this time a triangular colonnaded forum was constructed around the ancient Doric temple in the southern part of the town, along with a theatre. Later a second forum, this time rectangular and elongated, was added with temples to the official divinities around it.
After Pompei became part of the Roman territory, it was further endowed with fine public buildings in stone, such as the large amphitheatre, the forum baths, and the odeon (small theatre) alongside the theatre. There was an episode of modernization at the end of the 1st century BC, with the construction of an aqueduct to bring the waters of the Samo River to the town, where they were distributed by means of a sophisticated supply system to houses, baths, and public fountains. High sidewalks were built along the streets, with stepping stones to facilitate crossing.
Herculaneum was a much smaller town (320m by 370m within its walls) on the coast. The latest layout, on the standard classical "Hippodamian" grid, dates from the end of the 1st century BC. The wide main street (decumanus maximus) also served as the forum, and was lined with public buildings, such as a basilica, a shrine to Hercules, a theatre, and public baths. The houses in the centre of the town were spacious, with panoramic views on the sea, which at that time came up right up to the town. There was a sacred area, with shrines and baths, outside the walls, and the surroundings contained many fine villas, such as the magnificent Villa of the Papyri.
The roles of the two towns were very different. Pompei was a commercial town, benefiting from river trade along the Samo between the interior and the coast and from that along the coastal road between Cumae and southern Campania. It was also the centre of an important wine-producing district, the other main source of its prosperity. Herculaneum, on the other hand, was a holiday resort for rich Romans from the region, with its fine views of and easy access to the sea.
The lives of both towns came to an abrupt and catastrophic end on 24 August in AD 79. The area had been shaken by an earthquake shortly before and reconstruction work was still in progress when Vesuvius erupted with tremendous violence. Pompei was buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash and stone and Herculaneum disappeared under a pyroclastic flow of many metres of volcanic mud.


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