Naples – Forum of Pompeii and Vesuvius

There in the distance to the left is the summit upon which we were just now standing beside the crater. Monte Somma, the edge of the older crater, is more to the right, several hundred feet lower. After seeing the close proximity of Vesuvius to Pompeii it is easier to understand how the great eruption could bury the old city, in the midst of which we are standing. Much of the awful devastation in 1906 took place on those slopes which we see ahead and at the right.

In order that we may know what part of Pompeii we see before us, we should turn to map No. 7, ” Pompeii.” This map gives an outline plan of the city within the walls, so far as the walls have been determined, and the Street of Tombs leading toward Herculaneum in the lower left-hand portion of the city we find the Forum. The two red lines with the number 56 attached which branch from the lower and south-ern side of the Forum toward the north and west, show our position and the particular section of the city we are looking over.

This Forum was the center of life and interest in the ancient days and is now the most imposing and spacious spot in the city. It was surrounded by a portico of fluted Doric columns of greyish white limestone, twelve feet high and two and one-fourth feet in diameter. Two of these columns seen to the right near us are complete ; only portions of the others remain standing. Upon these Doric columns were placed a second series of the Ionic order, constituting an upper covered passageway, traces of steps leading to which have been found. In front of this portico were pedestals for statues, some of which from their size must have been equestrian. A few of these pedestals bear the names of distinguished residents of Pompeii, among which are Pansa, Scaurus, Sallust and Rufus.

At the opposite end of the Forum are the remains of the Temple of Jupiter which, as you see, stood upon a raised platform of masonry nine and one-half feet high, approached by fifteen steps. Apertures in the floor of the temple admitted light to the underground chambers. In that temple, which was the Capitolium, were three chambers in each of which was a statue, probably the images of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, similar to those which were in the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill at Rome. At the time of the eruption the temple was in ruins, the result of the terrible earthquake of 63 A. D.

On either side of the temple are two triumphal arches of brick, which originally were covered with marble. The arch to the left stands near the front of the temple, the one on the right at its rear. On the north side of these arches are niches which may have served as fountains. To the right of the temple is the Macellum, a market where provisions were sold, the most northerly building at the east side of the Forum. In front of it are pedestals for statues.

The buildings on the south side of the Forum, in other words the buildings that once stood immediately behind our point of view, extending toward the left, were for municipal purposes. They consisted of three structures or chambers, the center being rectangular and those on each side semi-circular. They were built of brick and covered with marble, the center one being the meeting place of the municipal council and the others were probably used for various city magistrates. In front of us on the marble pavement of the Forum may be seen a beautiful, variegated, marble pedestal for an equestrian statue; and to the left an altar whose walls of brick were faced with marble. Some think this was the pedestal for a statue of Agrippina. Please notice that these fluted columns which we see at this end of the Forum are of the pure Greek type. In the time of Pericles, a Greek

fluted column consisted of twenty flutings, but later they degenerated and contained any number according to the size of the columns and the width of the grooves, all of which was determined by the taste of the artist. Moreover the Doric column, like those we see here, stood on the floor or pavement without a base, but I would like to have you observe that the columns on the raised platform of masonry belonging to the Temple of Jupiter at the opposite end of the Forum, as well as those found in many Pompeian houses, stand upon pedestals or bases, and that, when found, their capitals, which are Roman, are inferior in their beauty and execution to those of Greek workmanship.

On the southwest extremity of the Forum, one hundred and twenty-five feet to our left, beyond the limit of our vision, are the remains of the Basilica, whose construction and decoration point to pre-Roman times. Its arcade fronted toward the east facing the Comitium, which we remember stood just to our right. This Basilica was used as an exchange, as well as for law courts. There was a roofed court-yard in the center surrounded by twenty-eight brick columns, which were covered with stucco, while their capitals were of tufa; above these was another row of columns, the building having a second story. At the end of the edifice was an elevated platform of marble, on which was the magistrate’s chair. This building, like the other structures surrounding the Forum area, was greatly damaged by the famous earthquake and had not been restored when the town was buried. On the walls of this building some enterprising Pompeian boys have scribbled, just as Yankee boys do now on public monuments, the name of the building, ” Basilica,” and a hopeful yet rejected lover has written this distich from Ovid’s Art of Love :

“What is so hard as a rock or what can be softer than water? Hard rocks, nevertheless, by water are worn away.”

At the end of the Via Marina (which as we may see on the map is a continuation on the western side of the Forum of Abundance Street, the latter entering the Forum to our right), is the Porta Marina or Water Gate. In the wall of a building near that gate, and high above the street, I remember seeing a kit of mason’s tools in relief, with the inscription, “Diogenes structor” (Diogenes, the builder). It certainly is not a mason’s sign, the inscription could not be read from the street; it is simply a workman’s signature. Evidently Diogenes had built the wall and built it well, and wanted to leave a record of his skill; and there it is after two thousand years.

On the left-hand or western side of the Forum, shown on the map, but hidden from us here, stood the Temple of Apollo, which was damaged by the earth-quake of 63 A. D. and subsequently restored. It was a building of very ancient origin, six hundred years intervening between the earliest and latest buildings found in Pompeii. In front or on the southern side of this building was a court, and the court and temple were surrounded by forty-eight columns which originally were Ionic, but changed by the application of stucco into Corinthian. This alteration has crumbled considerably. For some reason the front of this building was not exactly parallel with the side of the Forum and, in order to overcome this irregularity, eight buttresses were built at intervals, each projecting out farther than the others. As is usual with Roman temples, the structure stood on a platform of masonry, in this instance seven and a half feet high. To the left of the steps leading to the principal en-trance was a sun-dial, and in front of the columns of the portico are busts on pedestals bearing the names of Mercury and Maia. The Mercury still occupies its original position, the Maia is lost. Four statues representing Venus, a hermaphrodite, Apollo and Minerva were also found here, the first about one-half life size ; the two latter are life-size in bronze. They are now in the Museum at Naples. Fourteen marble steps six inches high form an approach to the temple. On the right of the entrance is a pedestal on which stood a statue of Apollo and on the left a conical Omphalos symbol of Apollo. In the structure was a chamber for priests, decorated with frescoes. ” We learn from an inscription in the temple that about the year Io B. C. the city purchased from the residents, whose property adjoined the colonnade of the temple, for the sum of three thousand sesterces, about one hundred and fifty-five dollars, the right to build a wall in front of their windows.”

The open area in the center of the Forum is five hundred and twenty feet long and one hundred and nine feet wide, and was paved with square blocks of marble. Only a few of these blocks remain, as we can see.

When at Pompeii, I stayed for a few days at the Hotel Diomede, which is just outside the buried city, for I found that repeated visits to the ruins were necessary in order to get an accurate picture of its ancient life distinctively and impressively fixed in my mind. I well remember a sunny afternoon in early springtime when I made a farewell visit to this famous spot, which was once the center of Pompeian life. The shadows of these columns fell across the brilliant pavement, and the rich tints of the slanting sunbeams fired the red and yellow walls of the disinterred city until, in the soft balmy atmosphere, they flamed like rubies and gleamed like burnished gold. For a moment it seemed to me as though .the old life came back again and repeopled the Forum – the stately Romans versed in arts and letters, and the merry, giddy set who chattered incessantly of games and combats and fair women. See! yonder goes the praetor followed by the distinguished citizens of the town. They leave the Forum by the first street to our right, the Street of Abundance, along which they go to the Amphi-theater, for famous gladiators are to face each other and a new consignment of wild beasts will fight to death in the arena. On the way they pass by a house in which a woman lies sick, watching from the window the gay and noisy crowd as they hurry on to the scene of brutality and slaughter. Her skeleton is in the Museum at Naples, but what she saw and what she thought that last awful day, who can tell? Yet this we know, that on that day of what appeared to be universal destruction, as to-day in New York or London, there were the sick, the sad, and the toilers, as well as the strong, the merry hearted and the seekers of pleasure; then, as now, there was the life of the street, of the store, of the home. Into it all came the deathly stillness, the weird yellow light. And look ! a huge column of vapor, charged with ashes, shoots far up into the blue air from the summit of Vesuvius yonder, and as they glance toward it the people turn pale as death itself. Then follow the tempest of lightning and the crashing of thunder, a hundred peals rend the blackened air and the very earth quivers and reels as though smitten by the hand of the Almighty.

In this appalling hour, surrounded by scenes of suffering, death and ruin, men thought of their treasures, as they ever do at such a time ; they ran for their gold, their jewels, their precious things, and much, if not nearly all of these, may have been saved. Then they returned for what they could not take at first, and also for treasures of art and furniture, but ere they got them, or when in the very act of hastening off with them, another terrible shower of mud and ashes falls mixed with red hot stones, and as it descends the blackness of night settles and it is agony to breathe – not air, for there is none, but stifling ashes – and, battling for life-giving atmosphere, they suffocate and fall and are buried beneath the blinding storm. And where they fell they lay entombed for eighteen hundred years.

Before we look at more of the actual ruins in Pompeii, it will be advisable for us to examine a model of the ruins which is now in the National Museum at Naples. In no other way can we get so comprehensive an idea of Pompeii in so short a time. The part of the city we shall see in this model is marked out on the map as there explained by the lines connected with the number 57.