The people of Pompeii woke up and went on with their business as usual on August 24, 79 AD. Although the city experienced some tremors for the last few days they were not worried. They did not realize that these tremors were the signs of a disaster coming their way. On that day, mount Vesuvius erupted. It spew ash, pumice, and actual rocks on fire and darkened the sky. It killed more than 10.000 people and destroyed two cities. Historians believe that the eruption was 100.000 times more powerful than an atomic bomb. The amount of destruction can be seen in Pompeii Ruins some of which survived despite the eruption.
House of the Faun
House of the Faun was the largest and one of the wealthiest houses in Pompeii. The owners built it around 2 BC and the eruption covered it with ash in 1 AD. Excavations reveal the luxurious lifestyle of its owners. Lavish and lively mosaics cover its walls telling stories of battles and myths. Its architecture is Roman in its purest sense maybe even more than some buildings in Rome, historians claim.
The house takes its name from the mythological creature with the same name. Faun is half-goat half human and a small statue of it can be found in the house entrance. One of the mosaics depicts a battle of Alexander the Great in detail. The fact that the battle took place 150 years before the house’s construction shows the owners’ fascination with history.
Thermopolium (snack bar) of Pompeii (~79 AD)
Although the excavated part in Pompeii (which amounts to two-thirds of the old urban area) has 89 thermopolia, small cook-shops where hot food was sold, it does not mean that the wealthy owners of large atrium houses used to dine out. The lower classes frequented such places. When passing through Pompeii, one can see many dwellings and shops within the large houses, which overlook the street and often consist of a single room. Craftsmen and merchants lived and worked here, often living with their families on the upper floors. These homes rarely have a kitchen. Therefore one would dine out, in one of the many thermopolia that offered hot food.
This is the first thermopolium found with a perfectly intact lararium (household shrine) on the wall, with the original colours
Temple of Apollo
The Temple or the Sanctuary of Apollo was the most important religious site of Pompeii. Romans built it as a celebration of Greco-Roman culture near Mount Vesuvius. The followers of Apollo were in many numbers in the beginning. Although the number decreased gradually, the temple stood tall and the people of Pompeii respected it.
The Pompeians conducted many rituals and sacrifices in the temple. Moreover, considering that it is not far from the mountain, it is noteworthy how the temple survived the eruption. Inside the temple there were statues of Apollo and his sister Diana to which people brought gifts and asked for favors. The original statues are in a museum in Naples and their copies are currently on display in Pompeii.
House of the Tragic Poet
The House of the Tragic Poet is one of the peculiar Pompeii ruins currently on show. While the size of the house is not impressive, the inside of the house is quite marvelous. A mosaic in its atrium depicting theatre players getting ready gives the house its name. Although no one is sure of the identity of the owners, it is thought that they all died during the eruption.
Another peculiar aspect of the house is that at its entrance there is a mosaic that reads “Beware of the dog.” This sign may be one of the first beware of the dog signs ever. Moreover, the house is full of frescos and mosaics that are in excellent condition. Stories from mythology, scenes from battles, and daily life greet the visitors. The house is arguably one of the most stylish Pompeii ruins.
Amphitheatre of Pompeii
Right after colonizing Pompeii, the Romans built an amphitheater. Contrary to other amphitheaters in the Roman world, they used stone instead of wood. While the lower entrance belonged to the high-class citizens, the other seats belonged to the commoners. The amphitheater was mainly home to exciting and gory gladiator fights.
The amphitheater supported up to 12.000 spectators but this caused some problems. After a fight between spectators from Pompeii and Nuceria, the emperor closed the amphitheater for 10 years. While the emperor opened it again after an earthquake hit Pompeii, the amphitheater was buried under ash during the eruption.
Villa of the Mysteries
True to its name, the Villa of the Mysteries is a mysterious Pompeii ruin. At its entrance, a name of a freed slave and the statue of Livia, the wife of Emperor Augustus indicate that the villa might have belonged to one of these two. Although historians are not really able to decide who owned the house or what purpose, frescos and mosaics inside the villa offer some insights.
Various frescos on the walls depicting initiation ceremonies tell that this villa belonged to members of a mysterious cult. The frescos show men and women being accepted into the cult in secret. Moreover, the paintings of Dionysus and Maenads in the villa also tell that the mysterious cult was dedicated to the Greek deity, known as Bacchus by Romans.
The Garden of the Fugitives
Maybe the most harrowing and disturbing Pompeii ruins are the actual people who turned to stones due to the fire and ash of the eruption. The place where the 13 bodies are is called the Garden of the Fugitives. Archeologists say that these people were trying to escape the eruption but did not make it. Originally the bodies were in separate groups but are displayed together.
A closer examination of the casts reveals more tragedies. Out of the 13 bodies, 5 or 6 were children including a baby whose bone analysis show that it was only a year old. The body of a woman, possibly a mother, is holding her children’s hands indicating that they were trying to run together. Another body is that of a merchant who is raising his body. This is probably because he did not die when the ash first reached him and he tried to raise himself and run.