Getting around a Pompeiian House
Most guide books will give the names of the rooms in Pompeiian houses and other buildings in latin, and they may not necesserily tell you much about what they mean and are used for, so here is a list of vocabulary that you will likely come accross when visiting Pompeii, or any other ancient Roman site for that matter. 'Amphitheatre' – An Arena used for Gladiatorial contests and other such events. Oval in shape
'Apodyterium' – Room in the baths for undressing
'Atrium' – The houses focal point, used for entertaining guests. Contained the Impluvium
'Caldarium' – Hot room in Roman baths
'Cubicula' - Bedrooms
'Domus' – “House”
'Fresco' – Painting painted onto wet plaster thus requiring no binder
'Frigidarium' – Cold room in the Roman baths
'Hypocaust' – Under-floor heating system in Roman baths
'Impluvium' – Basin in the floor of the atrium underneath a hole in the ceiling, for collecting rain-water
'Insula' – “Building” Each insula is the equivalent as a modern day ‘block’ of houses.
'Laconicum' – Dry steam-bath, similar to a modern sauna, found in some Roman bath-houses
'Lararium' – Shrine to the Lares, the Household Gods
'Mosaic' – Picture made up of many small tiles
'Palaestra' – Exercise area
'Peristyle' – open colonnaded area inside a house, usually a garden
'Porto' - "Gate"
'Sudatorium' – Moist steam-bath found in some Roman bath-houses
'Tabernae' – Shops, often built into the house, facing the road
'Tablinum' – Study
'Tepidarium' – Warm room in the Roman Baths
'Thermae' – Bath House
'Triclinium' – Dining Room
'Vestibulum' – Entrance Hall
'Via' - "Way" or "Road"
WCs at Pompeii
Pompeii is a cannot miss site in Italy. It is fascinating. However, one area in which it falls short is the existence of WCs (toilets). Most are located outside of Pompeii proper at the entrances. This entails a long, long walk. However, directly in back of the Forum, there is a restaurant with WCs. Should the need arise, this is the best location although it does not appear on the Pompei maps.
Pompei the town destroyed by the volcamnic action of Mt Vesuvius is an amazing place to explore. We first went here in 1985 on our honeymoon and have always wanted to return as we only had a two hour guided tour and knew there was so much more to see.
For a first visit I would reccommend a guided tour - there is so much to see and they will help you see the most important places. Alternatively you can get a map and/or audioguide at the entrance and do your own thing.
Entrance fee was 10 Euros in 2003.
Over 65's can have free entry but proof of age is needed.
Before you start to explore the ruins here, pause for a while to remember what was once here and how it was destroyed. This was once a large and wealthy city, with a population of around 20,000, and all the necessities of Roman life – temples, markets, theatres, shops, public baths, taverns and of course numerous houses. Despite the earlier warning of an earthquake in 62 AD, its people must have gone about their lives blissfully unaware of the threat that loomed over them. When Vesuvius erupted on the morning of August 24th 79 AD, a great noise was heard, and a mushroom-shaped cloud of gas and volcanic rock rose high in the air, darkening the sky. A shower of burning cinders and rock fragments covered the city. It lasted until the next day, caving in roofs and claiming its first victims. The people tried to take shelter in the houses or hoped to escape by walking on top of the layers of pumice stones constantly being formed, which by this point were more than 2 meters deep. But at dawn on August 25, a violent explosion of toxic gases and burning cinders devastated the city. It infiltrated everything, taking those who were trying to flee by surprise and making every form of defence vain. A shower of very fine ash was deposited everywhere to a depth of more than six meters, enveloping everything and adhering to the forms of the bodies and even the folds of their clothes.
When, two days later, the eruption finally ceased, the entire area had changed, with a blanket of white ash covering everything. The eruption had changed the course of the Sarno River and raised the sea beach, so that Pompeii was now neither on the river nor adjacent to the coast. The whole city was declared off limits, to protect the property of the survivors, and was never rebuilt. In fact the city was largely forgotten until its re-discovery in 1748. The Roman author, Pliny the Younger, witnessed the eruption and wrote a description of it which I found on a website and included on my Herculaneum page. It is largely thanks to him that today we know so much about what happened.
One of the sights for which Pompeii is most famous is this – the bodies of its inhabitants frozen forever in time as they were when caught and killed by the enormous power of the eruption. But not everyone realises that what they are seeing are not some sort of fossil remains, but plaster casts created by archaeologists. This plaster cast method of “preserving” the bodies was invented by Fiorelli, the director of the excavations, back in 1863. It is applied to bodies buried in the last phase of the eruption by the shower of ash. This eventually hardened around their shape and after the natural decomposition of their bodies an empty space was left, like a mould of what had been there.
To create the casts, Plaster of Paris is mixed with water and poured into the cavity. When it is dry, the crust of pumice and hardened ash is chipped carefully away to reveal the shape of the body that once lay there. They are preserved in amazing detail – the expressions on the victims’ faces, the folds of their clothes, their shoes and the contorted positions in which they fell or tried to protect themselves from the onslaught.
You can see these casts in various places, although not, as I had imagined, in the spots where they were discovered. These include the Forum Granary (the site closest to the entrance, although not the best viewing point), the Stabian Baths (when we had our closest view, of a cast displayed in a glass case) and the Garden of the Fugitives (a longer walk from the entrance but worth it as this is a lovely spot and seemed to me to be a more respectful environment in which to display the casts). I’ve covered all of these places in more detail in my Things to Do tips.