Over the cobbled streets, the buildings, the forum, and even vesuvius itself, the first thing most people think of is the dead bodies. Everywhere in Pompeii there are the plaster casts of the bodies of the victims of the eruption.
Created by italian Archeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli, the plaster casts give a horryfying insight into the last seconds of the lives of the Pompeiian Townsfolk. As the ash fell on Pompeii, it covered the still living bodies of the Townsfolk. The people of Pompeii would have then suffocated to death in their Ash coffins. As more and more Ash fell, the weight would have compacted the Ash around the bodies and made it solid. Long after the people had died and rotted, the Ash was left in the exact shape of the people. Upon discovering these cavities in the Ash, Giuseppe Fiorelli injected Plaster into them, and when it had set, set about on the hard task of shipping away the ash, leaving the plaster cast behind. The resulting 'statues' thus show the people of pompeii at the exact moment of their death. Many have their hands over their mouth, and many are seen on the ground, reaching out for some unknown saviour.
They show the unrelenting mercylessness of nature, as you can see men, women, children, and even pets, including a dog, which died still tied up by its lead.
Fondest memory: I will never forget these bodies, as even though the plaster is rough, and the finer detail is gone, you can still see the absaloute horror on some of the faces, and the sorrow on those that had given up, and were waiting to die.
This poor unfortunate victim did not escape the volcanic halocaust. Instead, he was overcome by the noxious fumes, scorched by the tremendous heat then covered with pumice which hardened. This picture shows a "cast" formed by the victim's body.
On our tour of Pompeii, we were asked who we thought these victims were? Someone hazard a guess that they were servants who were directed to stay put to watch over the property of others or those who waited until the last moment to attempt an escape. Both scenarios probably apply.
During your visit of the town of Pompeii you can find many plaster cast of the victim of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
Few words are necessary to explain this method: liquid plaster is poured into the cavity left in the bed of ashes by the gradual decomposition of the victim's body. As the plaster solidifies, it reproduces the body's shape.
I can't descibe how I felt when I saw the casts. Just to imagine how these people suffered on their last moments and to see the positions they took before dying was overwhelming to me, specially the ones who had expression of terror
It is important to mention that they are not the petrified bodies of the Pompeians. When the excavations were taking place, somebody who I don't remember now found voids in the ash layer that contained human remains and realised these were spaces left by the decomposed bodies so, they injected plaster into them to perfectly recreate the forms of the victims.
Favorite thing: Thank you to whomever the person was that had the idea to pour plaster into the ground and then dug up these remarkable figures. They show the terror and the anguish that not only the people went through but also what their pets went through. What is also fascinating is how small people were back then. The pics that I took were near the entrance next to the Pompeii Forum.
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.
Favorite thing: Although its fascinating to see these plaster cast models of the victims and to learn of the technique its also very poignant and sad to see. This victim was sitting, covering their eyes with their hands- maybe blinded by the smoke and noxious gasses that issued from the erruption.
Favorite thing: The body of the victim you can see in this picture are not mummified. They are just an envelope due to the pumice-stone piled up and cementified. After the corruption of the body, the space that it occupied was empty so the archaeologists colarono some cement inside the "hole",and the cement takes the shape of the body that was there before the corruption. I apologize to you all for my explication but is not easy to describe this process in a foreigner language.
Favorite thing: This picture is maybe the most shocked of these that I took, especially if you look at the arms of this man. It seems he was trying to fight versus an invisible enemy; the dust of pumice-stone and the poison gas of the eruption. The 38% of the victims died because of this dust. It burned their lungs and became a sort of cement that obstruct them. Many people died after breathing the gas.
Favorite thing: Basically your visit to Pompei will follow a rectangular route. After entering you will notice three corps on your right. Continuing your visit you will see more corps of the victims of the eruption, but I thing the trio at the entrance is the most expressives. Their features are so spontaneous that you can imagine the panic they felt. To tell you the truth after seeing them I felt a bit shocked, becuase you immediately think about the eruption and you can imagine the confusion of those moments.
Away from all the lewd happenings in Pompeii, there really is some amazing visual history.
Such as seeing the plaster of paris recreations of the victims in the same position as when the ash from the eruption would have ended their lives.
When they excavated the area in and around the city they had found the remains of many people in the last position they were in, choking from the ash. When the bodies were first discovered they poured plaster in the place the body was, which was just an empty cavity now, and they were able to get a perfect cast of the person’s image as well as the expression on their face.
Fondest memory: There are a few casts on display around the site and there are some in the museum in Naples.
Fondest memory: People were not the only victims of this tragic event. Animals and livestock also perished as a result of this volcanic eruption. Here you can see a fossilized body of a pig. Everything that was alive was killed in an instant on that horrible day.
Favorite thing: The petrified bodies of the inhabitants of ancient Pompeii, frozen in time by the lava, attract many visitors. It did feel eerie looking at these people (especially the person in the picture) whose features are very clear. These examples were in the Macalleum, but there may have been others in parts of the ruins which we didn't explore.
Fondest memory: At the side of the forum there was a long store room of the artifacts that have been uncovered from the rubble of Pompei. Also to be seen are plaster casts of victims so you can see their expressions during their attempted futile flight from the tragic disaster befalling them.