Simanaitis Says

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THIS DUAL DATING, almost a century or nearly two millennia, has logic: Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. and my primary source for this event is my New Guide to Pompeii published in 1925. Here are tidbits gleaned from this guidebook, together with my usual Internet sleuthing. 

New Guide to Pompeii with a Frontispiece, 140 Figures and a New Map, by Wilhelm Engelmann, self-published, 1925.

As I’ve said before about old guidebooks, what was worth seeing back then and still extant is all the more worth seeing today. Speaking of which, I note that Pompeii reopened post-Covid-19 on May 26, 2020; see for details. New rules include a single point of entry, reduced capacity, social distancing, and mandatory masks.

The Vesuvius Eruption. None of these requirements would have helped back in 79 A.D. Engelmann writes, “A ‘Paradiso’ two millenniums ago, it was turned into an Inferno within a few hours by the eruption of Vesuvius on November 23rd in the year 79.”

The cloud represents the general distribution of ash and cinders. Image by MapMaster from Wikipedia.

Wikipedia notes that “Pliny the Younger provided a first-hand account of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius from his position across the Bay of Naples at Misenum but written 25 years after the event. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, with whom he had a close relationship, died while attempting to rescue stranded victims.”

Pompeii, Pre-Cataclysm. Engelmann describes four great periods for what was a thriving commercial city. The oldest was around 420 B.C., from which part of a Dorian temple remains. Building materials included Sarno limestone. 

Part of the Dorian temple. This and other images from The New Guide to Pompeii.

During the fifth and fourth century B.C.,  new streets were laid out, with walls and gates to the city. One building remaining is the Casa del Chirurgo, House of the Surgeon.

Exterior of the Casa del Chirurgo.

“The Tuff-period (B.C. 200–80)” Engelmann described, is “so called after the grey tuff-stone used by preference for public and private buildings.” The Temple of Apollo dates from this period.

Temple of Apollo.

The fourth noteworthy era was what Engelmann called the “Roman time of decaying art (B.C. 80 to A.D. 79).” Building materials for temples were marble and travertine (a white limestone sinter used as a substitute for marble). This, Engelmann noted, was “Flourising-time of Hellenistic wall-painting, ornamented with figures, most of them taken from Greek mythology.” 

Latter-day Illustrations. Englemann’s guide includes illustrations of pre-eruption structures, including a typical Pompeian house. The guide also has a “fancied reconstruction” of Casa di Diana in Ostia, nearer to Rome than Naples, but included for architectural contrast.

Typically, a Pompeian dwelling had a large central room, the atrium, surrounded by smaller rooms. The atrium generally had a opening in the roof, through which smoke from the fireplace went out.   

Above, a model of a Pompeian house. Below, an imagined reconstruction by J. Gismondi of the Casa di Diana on Ostia.

The Casa di Diana, Engelmann suggested, “gives the impression of a large modern house with flats to let. It has neither atrium nor peristylium [an open courtyard], but only a hall or court in the centre….” 

The Temple of Juppiter. Engelmann chose the alternative spelling of Jupiter, the king of the gods. This god of the sky and thunder was also known as Iovis, Jove, whence the expression “By Jove!” 

“The temple of Juppiter,” Engelmann wrote, “was built probably soon after the year 80 B.C.” It was the largest of all Pompeian temples. 

Above, the Temple of Juppiter. Below, imagined as the Templvm Iovis Optimi Maxim, prior to 62 A.D.

The Quake of 62. According to Wikipedia, on February 5, 62, Pompeii suffered considerable damage from an earthquake. It’s believed the quake would have registered between 5 and 6 on the Richter scale. Engelmann set the earthquake in 63 A.D. and cited that the Temple of Jupiter “was not yet rebuilt” when Vesuvius erupted less than two decades later.

A New (i.e., 1925) Plan of Pompeii by Wilheim Engelmann.

Our virtual tour today involved areas nos. 1 (Casa del Chirurgo), 7 (Temple of Apollo), and 8 (Temple of Jupiter, Dorian Temple).

Buon viaggio! ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020  

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