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Pompeii – the best-documented catastrophe in Antiquity Essay

Pompeii is possibly the best-documented catastrophe in Antiquity. Because of it, we know now how the Pompeians lived because they left behind an extensive legacy of art, including monuments, sculptures and paintings. Pompeii lay on a plateau of ancient lava near the Bay of Naples in western Italy in a region called Campania, less than 1. 6 kilometers from the foot of Mount Vesuvius. With the coast to the west and the Apennine Mountains to the East, Campania is a fertile plain, traversed by two major rivers and rich soil. However, in the early days, it was not a remarkable city.

Scholars have not been able to identify Pompeiis original inhabitants. The first people to settle in this region were probably prehistoric hunters and fishers. By at least the eight century B. C. , a group of Italic people known as the Oscans occupied the region; they most likely established Pompeii, although the exact date of its origin is unknown. The root of the word Pompeii would appear to be the Oscan word for the number five, pompe, which suggests that either the community consisted of five hamlets or, perhaps, was settled by a family group (gens Pompeia)(Kraus 7).

In the course of the eight century B. C. , Greek and Etruscan colonization stimulated the development of Pompeii as a city around the area of the Forum. A point for important trade routes, it became a place for trading towards the inland. Up until the middle of the 5th century B. C. , the city was dominated politically by the Etruscans. In the course of the 6th century B. C. , the influence of Greek culture is also documented by terracottas, ceramics and architecture. A group of warriors from Samnium, called Samnite, invaded the region in the 400s B. C. Pompeii remained a relatively unimportant illage until the 200s B. C. , when the town entered a prosperous period of building and expansion.

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The Romans defeated the Samnites, and Pompeii became part of the emerging Roman state. Pompeii joined the Italic revolt against Rome, the Social War of 91-87 B. C. , and was crushed by Sulla. Although the city was not destroyed, it lost its autonomy, becoming a colony called Colonia Veernia Cornelia P, in honor of its conqueror L. Cornelius Sulla. By 79 AD, Latin had replaced Oscan as the principal language, and the laws and culture of Imperial Rome were implanted. The romanization had began.

Pompeii grew from a modest farming town to an important and sophisticated industrial and trading center. In 62 A. D. , the first disaster, a terrible earthquake hit the city. As the city was being rebuilt the second disaster struck. In the summer of A. D. 79, Vesuvius suddenly erupted with violence. Hot ashes, lava and stones poured into Pompeii. The eruption caught Pompeians by surprise: They heard the crash of falling roofs: an instant more and the mountain-cloud seemed to roll towards them, dark and rapid, like a torrent; at the same time, it cast forth from its bosom a showe of ashes mixed with vast ragments of burning stone! over the crushing vines- over the desolate streets- over the amphitheater itself- far and wide- with many a mighty splash in the agitated sea- fell that awful shower. , (Bulwer-Lytton 1). The remains of about 2,000 victims out of a population of 20,000 have been found in excavations. Some of them were trapped and killed in their homes. Others died as they fled.

Archaeologists have found the shells (molds) of the bodies preserved in the hardened ash. By pouring plaster into the shells, they can make copies of the victims, even to the xpressions of agony on their faces. Pompeii was not forgotten. Peasants in the area searched for hidden treasure and they made tunnels. In the 1500s workers digging a tunnel to change the course of the Sarno river discovered parts of a temple and the forum, but no one paid much attention. In 1748, a farmer discovered a wall and the authorities in Italy began a series of excavations. After 1860, Giuseppe Fiorelli served as director of the excavations. He directed the first uncovering of the whole city block by block. The Italian government has provided funding money for this project.

After many years of work, we can now walk in Pompeii as Pompeians did. After standing in line for quite a while and paying for a ticket, the tourist experiences what are about to live are quite unique. When walking in Pompeii, you can close your eyes and feel the magic of the city, because it seems like the time has not gone by. Visitors can see the buildings as they stood 2,000 years ago. They can walk in and out of houses and up and down narrow streets, see the Temple of Jupiter, which was an ancient ruin at the time of the eruption, or sit in a tepidarium (part of a Roman public ath). Tourists can also visit the Antiquarium and see the casts of some of the bodies, houseware, the remains of food such as carbonized loaves of bread, eggs and other things that also date back to ancient Rome. The center of public life is called the Forum, and it played a fundamental role in the political, religious and economic life of the city.

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It had the Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Vespasian, the Sanctuary of the Lares Publici, Macellum, a Basilica, public buildings, etc. In Pompeii, there are two theaters, gladiators barracks, an amphitheater, private and ublic baths, temples, gates, houses and villas, and even a bakery. Pompeii attracted many wealthy Romans. They built great villas near the Mediterranean shore, where they could enjoy the mild, sunny climate. It is in the houses where wall paintings are founded, and, believe it or, not Pompeii owes its fame to the mural art preserved because they were hermetically sealed by hardened lava and slime from all destructive atmospheric influences(Kraus 156).

Because of that, the houses of Pompeii have given us a treasure of mural paintings, the most complete record of the hanging fashions in interior decoration in the entire ancient world. The quantity of the paintings, tells us about both the prosperity and the taste of the times. In the early years of exploration, excavators were interested exclusively in the mural paintings, especially those about Greek heroes and famous myths. They were cut out of the walls and transferred to the Naples Archeological Museum. Later, archeologists stopped this practice and serious attention was given to the mural designs as a whole. At the end of the 19 century, August Mau, a German art historian, divided the paintings into four so-called pompeian styles.

The technique used in these walls differed considerably from that used in Renaissance frescoes. Before the artist could begin his work, the rough wall had to be covered with three coats of fine lime mortar, followed by other three coats of a mortar using powdered marble. When the wall surface was ready, it was polished with mable dust and the colors laid on at the same time. By doing that, the walls were protected against future cracking and had a brilliant surface like that on marble itself. The mirror-like glaze over the surface involved not only polishing with marble dust, but also going over the surface with smaller ollers. The whole process, it is clear, was so elaborate and expensive that it was of necessity confined to the paintings in the best rooms of the house, the others being much more simply decorated. ( Kraus 156) The First Style (or incrustation). It has also been called the masonry style because the decorator tried to imitate, using stucco relief, the appearance of expensive and costly marble panels. It appeared about 200 B. C. , when it became fashionable to paint the inner walls of private houses as well as public and religious buildings.

This decorative mode as of Greek derivation, directly inspired by the isodomic masonry technique, and used polychrome stucco to reproduce the projecting elements such as the dado, the middle zone in large panels, the upper zone in smaller panels, the cornices, and sometimes the pilasters which articulate the walls vertically. The lively color contrast are no more than a translation into the pictorial idiom of the Hellenistic innovation of employing various types and colors of marble, in the realization of the single elements. ( Giuntoli 6). They give an illusion of actual marble panels. Roman paintings were true frescoes, the colors were pplied while the plaster was still damp, but the brilliance of the surfaces was achieved by painstaking preparation of the wall. The plaster was combined with marble dust if the patron could afford it. Obviously incrustation was a process of decoration often beyond the reach of any but the most powerful and wealthiest.

A good example of the First Style is The North wall of the tablinum, House of Sallust. (pic. 1). , of unknown artist, this painted wall in Pompeii is about 12 x 8. Despite some later alterations and additions, the nucleus of this house, the rooms around the atrium(The ourt of a roman house that is near the entrance and open to the sky), stayed as it was until the end of the Tufa period. The decoration of the tablinum has a band along the base of the wall (a dado), which is mounted by painted and stuccoed imitations of large stone blocks (orthostates). These blocks are outlined and give a good idea of the colorfulness typical of this style(red, yellow, orange and green). In this style there is no figuration or ornamental motifs.

The wall is divided into three horizontal zones and the top area was a painted cornice. There is no hidden symbolism or religious meaning in this particular ainting. It is probably been done at the late phase of the style, the individual field were once again enclosed in a real three-dimensional framework of stucco rather than relying only on illusionistic painting. ( Kraus 165) The Second Style, also called architectural, became popular in the years when Sullas military colony was established, around 80 B. C. The decoration on the walls proposed perspective views with architectural elements illusionistically articulated on different planes with foreshortenings and complex perspetive effects which culminated in breaking through the wall towards an imaginary open space.

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The immediate models were the illusionistic stage sets of the Hellenistic-Roman theater and the new baroque fashions of 2nd-1st cent. B. C. architecture. (Giuntoli 6). Some scholars have argued that this style also has precedents in Greece, but most believe that is roman invention. The aim of this style painters was not to create the appearance of elegant marble walls, but rather to dissolve the confining walls of a room and replace them with the illusion of a three dimensional world constructed in the artists imagination. It seems he is inviting us into his world.

In the cubiculum 16, in the Villa of the Mysteries, we can see how this style is characterized by painted columns breaking through the picture plane, architectural vistas teasing the eye with perspective recessions (Pompeii 1). It seems that the aim of the artist is to make the room look larger, and also appears deeper than it really is. He uses bright colors to achieved these effects. There is an optical effect stronger than the one of the First Style. The Third Style, or ornamental, was a reaction to the illusionism of Style II, together with the preference for a more classic typical art of the Augustan period.

Painters o longer wanted to replace the walls with three-dimensional worlds of their own creation. Instead they decorated the homes of rich Romans with delicate linear fantasies, The walls are once more simple flat surfaces which mark the boundaries of an enclosed space are subdivided horizontally and vertically into monochrome areas articulated by slender architectural and decorative elements. The focal point is a painting in the center, generally of mythological, religious or idyllic subject, set inside an aedicule flanked by panels with small scenes suspended in the center which depict miniature figures and landscapes. Giuntoli 7). In the North wall of the red cubiculum, from the Villa of Boscotrecase, in the Museo Nazionale, Naples, we have one of the best examples of the 3rd Style.

The villa was owned by Agrippa Postumus and was decorated about 11 B. C. We can see here, a landscape, in the middle of the red wall, representing a sacred precint dominated by the statue of a seated goddess. It measures only 15 by 179, and it was appropriate to this hall of 198 by 29, one of the largest in Pompeii. It does not fill the whole wall as in the Third Style, now is only a picture in every central wall.

It is almost square and has smaller dimensions. The artist wanted to give us the impression of a picture hanging on the wall. The colors have changed from lively reds, greens and oranges to broken tones, combining soft browns, a green somewhat on the blue side and an unusual violet. Now, we begin to see a contour around the figures. The Fourth Style, became popular in the period of Claudius and Nero, when the earthquake struck in A. D. 72 and the Vesuvius erupted in 79 A. D. Returns once again to the architectural illusionism. It is inspired by the Second and Third styles. It was originated in Rome.

The colors are more decided and tend to contrasting lively color effects, the decorative element multiply and crowd together, alternating with illusionistic architectural views and pictures of mythological subjects often painted in the impressionistic technique. A particular type is that of suspended carpets with small pictures and figures in the center, inspired by the Hellenistic fashion of hanging decorative tapestries on the walls. ( Giuntoli 7). In the Large hall, House of Fabius Rufus, we have one of the best examples of the 4th Style. The house is situated on the southwest edge of the city and it has a plendid view of the sea, it is the largest room of the house.

On a black-ground enlived by animals, vases, musical instruments and others, we can see the three-dimensional effects, enhanced, for example by the woman on the balcony on the left. Apollo, Bachus and Venus appear in the main picture, in the upper zone above them is Leda with her swan, and small personifications of muses stand alone in the sides. The decoration stands out because of the blackground. From personal experience, I can say that after touring Pompeii, I was glad that such a catastrophe preserved the city. If you enjoy art, it is a must see.

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