Imagine that is AD79 and you are up to your knees in piss. Then all of a sudden there’s a big bang and a pyroclastic surge comes hurtling down from yon nearby smokey mountain. Before you know it, both you and a wealthy Roman’s wee-wee are frozen in time for evermore.
So at least you did get to be immortalised as a plaster cast, even though you were squatting in piddle, but think on this; there have been some very talented blokes in the past that did some very notable things. For instance they might have designed the sexiest togas in Rome or won the Chariot Derby by fifteen lengths. Sadly their names and achievements have been buried by the sands of time.
However, because you worked as Chief Widdle-Stomper in the Fullery of Stephanus in downtown Pompeii, at the precise moment that the local volcano went ‘pop’, then you gained everlasting fame. A fullery is where they tread cloth in urine to cleanse it of grease and oil. The downside is you always smell of piss, without being over seventy.
Pompeii is big. This is a large town that got buried not long after the world went from BC to AD. It is so big that I suggest you don’t take your kids with you, unless you’ve got a million and one ways up your sleeve to make the Romans anywhere near as interesting as a Sony Playstation.
In the summer heat of Southern Italy this is a tall order. If you do have to drag your children around with you then take plenty of sun-screen, water, and Valium.
I took my boys to Pompeii and within ten minutes they were tugging at my sleeve to enquire as to ‘can we go now?’ I found the only thing that maintained their interest was the promise of seeing Pompeii’s brothel at the end of the day.
They were boys of the age where girls are starting to become more interesting than annoying. So it was a prize which held some fascination for small minds and bodies that were being transformed by the spotty and hormonal joys of puberty.
I’d always wanted to see Pompeii, and it doesn’t disappoint. Take what you thought it would be like, and then times it by ten. It is a truly unique place….well, apart from Herculaneum which is just down the road.
The only downside is the way the Neapolitan authorities manage the place. I’ll give you a list of ‘must-see’ houses and features in Pompeii. However, don’t be surprised if half of them are locked up and you can’t go in. This is because they can’t afford to pay enough staff to watch over it all. Either that or the prospect of working right next door to a great big volcano, that has already misbehaved itself once in a big way, makes recruitment a bit of a problem.
However, with two children hanging off your arm, it is probably a blessing in disguise to have less to see.
If you are also saddled with small uninterested people, and want to get the most out of what will sadly be a shorter time than you’d hoped, then get a map from the ticket booth and at least see the following places. The numbers in brackets refer to the numbers you’ll find on the map, although the boys decided they were entertainment scores out of a thousand:
Go see The Forum and Temples (3, 5, 4, 6, 14, 12) then down the Via of Tombs to The Villa of The Mysteries (30), then walk left round the city wall entering back in at the Porta del Vesuvio, then The House of Octavius Quartio (nice garden) (58), The House of Venus in a Shell (small Venus or big shell?) (59), The Amphitheatre (pretend to be Russell Crowe) (60), The Brothel (37) and finally The Forum Baths (no swimming allowed, no water anyway) (15).
That will probably take you four hours. Go round again if the kids have wound you up so much that you really want to get your own back on the little scrotes.
I added the Forum Baths at the end as the Brothel was a bit of an anticlimax. The brothel is quite strictly managed as there is always a queue. You are deftly guided in and out in about two minutes, and no doubt the same was true in AD79.
See more of my Italian joys at Johnny on Italy