Vesuvius devastated Pompeii and Herculaneum (8th century BCE) in the eruption of 79 CE. Pompeii’s 11,000 residents suffered the most. Even so most escaped, salvaging some of their belongings as pumice blanketed the town for the first 18 hours. By the end of the first day it was covered with three meters of ash, pumice and other materials. The next morning the 20 mile/33km column of ash collapsed, sending 250C/400F air and pyroclastic material through the town at high speeds, killing everyone who remained.

Amazingly we have eye witness reports. Pliny the Younger wrote two letters in response  to an inquiry from the historian Tacitus. Tacticus had asked about the death of Pliny the Elder, commander of the fleet at Misenum. Pliny the Elder went to help people and to get a closer view of the eruption, and ordered the fleet to assist in evacuations.

The forum in Herculaneum, Vesuvius in the background
Vesuvius looms over Pompeii, both ancient and modern.

Vesuvius has erupted many times since: 172, 203, 222, possibly in 303, 379, 472, 512, 536, 685, 787, around 860, around 900, 968, 991, 999, 1006, 1037, 1049, around 1073, 1139, 1150, and there may have been eruptions in 1270, 1347, and 1500, 1631, six times in the 18th century, eight times in the 19th century , 1906, 1929 and 1944, the last one. None have been of the scale of that of 79, one of the most powerful of all known volcanic eruptions. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted in the last 100 years. It is the most densely populated volcanic zone in the world, with 3 million in the area and 600,000 in the danger zone. It is one of a number of volcanoes in the zone. See Vesuvius on Wikipedia

Excavations began in the 16th century, well before modern methods allowed for better preservation of the discoveries and extraction of information. Of course with more modern methods we have learned more about the times.

The artwork and its state of preservation are impressive, whether in the form of frescoes, statues or mosaics andhave had tremendous influence. “Artists, architects, potters, and even furniture makers drew much inspiration from Pompeii… The stucco work popularized in England by the 18th-century architects James and Robert Adam used the same motifs. In France, the in Louis XVI style incorporated Pompeian motifs, and the apartment of Louis’s queen, Marie Antoinette, at Fontainebleau was decorated in this style, which became popular throughout Europe. Jacques-Louis David and his student Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres drew inspiration for their paintings from the excavations. Indeed, the Neoclassic style stimulated by the discoveries at Pompeii completely replaced the Rococo and became the artistic style of the French Revolution and of the Napoleonic period.” See Britannica

male etc wall paint

child statue
The metal rim and the metal hub are orginal, and there were spoke stubs

Achaeologists found bakeries with grinding stones and kneading machines. They found some ovens still with loaves of bread inside. Bread at that time contained bits of stone from the grinding process. This caused teeth to wear excessively. One fast food joint, called thermopolia, where hungry ancients grabbed quick meals. See the Smithsonian. From sewage pipes we’ve learned what was in the diet. See NBC News report The pipes are in such good shape that they could still be used.

The House of the Vettii is the largeset house in Pompeii. It reopened to the public after 20 years in 2015. Once again visitors can enjoy the stunning beauty of its art and admire the skills of the artists.

House of the Vettii
fresco in House of the Vettii
house of vetti
fresco in House of the Vettii, Wiki photo

The House of Mysteries (2nd century BCE) is newly open to the public.  There are exquisite frecoes in room 5 showing the initiation of a bride into a mystery cult. These are now the most famous of the frescoes in Pompeii.

House of Mystery, photos by Peg
House of Mystery, , photos by Peg
Freco from the House of Mysteries, Pompeii
House of Mystery, photos by Peg


Herculaneum was buried on the second day of the eruption of Vesuvius in the year 79 CE. Most of its inhabitants escaped death by leaving on the first day, as of its 4000 residents only some 350 skeletons have been recovered and few are likely to remain. In addition, because it was spared much of the damage caused by falling stone and then covered to a depth of 20 meters from six flows, we have much more of the perishable material: lintels, furniture, doors, carts and even papyrus writings survived the volcano’s wrath. Most of these are in the The National Archaeological Museum of Naples As a result of this preservation we learned a great deal about the daily life of its residents. For more information see What Was Normal Life Like In Pompeii Before Its Destruction? | Pompeii with Mary Beard

Herculaneum was named after Hercules. The town was home to wealthy residents seeking a summer beach venue. It dates from the 7thc BCE, when it was founded by the Oscans. The Etruscans took over until the the rise Greeks took over, and then came the Romans.

Herculaneum-  view fom above
View from the top of the ash that covered Herculaneum. Quite the heap!
Herculaneum, two figures
Superbly preserved fresco in Herculaneum
male etc wall paint
Another great fresco in Herculaneum
Herculaneum statute
Proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus

skeletons in Herculaneum
Remains at what was then the beach

The Villa of the Papyri is the luxurious dwelling on the seashore. It may have belonged to consul Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, Julius Caesar’s father-in-law. The library that survived nearly intact, and has been digitized.

Herculaneum, one of 1800 paprus books found, Tesoro_letterario_di_Ercolano_p27
One of the papyrus from the library.

Rome at night

Coloseo from Vittorio

These are from the top of Vittorio Emanuele monument in the heart of ancient Rome.  The monument is from the late 1800’s, commemorating the unification of Italy, but it is in the heart of things, with the Roman forums to its rear and sides, the historic center where you find the Pantheon, with St Peter’s Basilica in the background–  although with my excellent Canon telephoto lens you can get quite close.  Photos below the video.

Teatro Marcello from Vittorio Emanuele
Teatro Marcello from Vittorio Emanuele

St Peter's at night from Vittorio
St Peter’s at night from Vittorio

St Peter's at night from Vittorio
St Peter’s at night from Vittorio

Roman era frescoes at Tor di Argentina
Roman era frescoes at Tor di Argentina

Pantheon from Vittorio
Pantheon from Vittorio

Forum from Vittorio
Forum from Vittorio

Coloseo from Vittorio
Coloseo from Vittorio

Cats at Tor di Argentina
Cats at Tor di Argentina

Campodolgio from Vittorio - this is where the current Roman senate meets
Campodolgio from Vittorio – this is where the current Roman senate meets

St Agnes at the Track – Piazza Navona, with pen and ink drawings of Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi

Four Rivers Fountain, horse

Chiesa Sant’Agnese is a small domed church designed by Boromini, a contemporary of Bernini and a rival who never made it to his competitor’s stature.  In my book he had nothing to be ashamed of, he just had a competitor that was outstanding and well connected.  The work he was assigned was smaller in scale but he did a magnificent job of making the interiors zoom in space.  

Chiesa Sant’Agnese is often termed “St. Agnes in Agony’ but this gives an incorrect translation of ‘Agone.”  Agone means ‘games’ and also refers to the stadium built by Diocletian starting in 80 AD, with a circle track.  So perhaps we should say “St Agnes at the Track,”  as irreverent as that may seem.

The church sits on what we now call Piazza Navona, originally called “Circus Agonalis” (circus is a circle, just like Circo Massimo, Circus Maximus).  Apparently the name Agonoalis morphed into Navona.  Aside from the track shape of the plaza and the buildings facing it, the main feature of the plaza is Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers).  

Read more

Seated boxer and other drawings from Rome

The Seated Boxer, at Museo Nazionale Romano.

The Seated Boxer, at Museo Nazionale Romano.
The Seated Boxer, at Museo Nazionale Romano.Famous bronze statue.

Trajans Column from Vittorio Emanuelle
Trajan’s Column from Vittorio Emanuelle, sketch in ink, while waiting for the concert

Teenage girl
Teenage girl , graphite

View From castle San Angelo
View From castle San Angelo, pen, brush and ink, seated along the Tevere


Church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
Statue at the church called Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

Teen girl at cafe
Teen girl at cafe, pen, brush ink


Rome Struggles, Rome Beckons

View From Castle San Angelo

Rome Struggles, Rome Beckons

We landed in Rome’s Ciampino airport.  We are barely on the ground and already Rome’s disarray hit us.  

The last time we landed here there was only one bus to Termini, Rome’s central transit point.  We presumed that was still the case when we bought our tickets from the vendor in Valencia’s airport, thinking what a good idea it was to sell tickets ahead of time.  But then we walked out the front door, saw the bus platforms and four bus lines” names, but the name printed on our ticket was not there.  I asked several staff and passengers to find which line was ours. We stood in that line for 15 minutes (at least we were shielded from the hot sun).   The confusion was not over, however. as we were told to get in another line, whose placard was for another company. Indeed our bus appeared but as we waited we wondered if we had been mislead.  Then there was getting on the bus.  Italians do not stand in line, they crowd around the door, outflanking you. Eesh-  I was already exhausted.  And the struggle goes on and on.  Why?  Because Rome is chaotic like a turbulent fluid.    

Traffic moves like a raging river one moment and a logjam in the next, herking and jerking until the wee hours.  Yet like the fluid that finds its level, people get to where they are going, eventually, competing with each other and the buses and trams.  The latter are what the drivers avoid using, but once in their cars they spend lots of  time trying not to hit them and the other cars and the jillion darting scooters.   Everything would work better if most everyone used mass transit, or the recently added bike lanes which they might do if there were enough buses, subways and bike lanes,  but there aren’t since people spend money on cars instead.  

The enormous trash bins are another sign of chaos.  They are emptied daily yet each day overflow in an unsightly mess.  Rome city government is getting advice on how to solve their trash mess from Palermo, of all places- that’s how bad it is.  Even the upscale neighborhoods of the city have these problems, such as on Viale Giulio Cesare, which runs past the windows of our summer abode.  Down a bit from our place tourists by the millions line up for St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museum.  The back streets are lined with upscale stores, wine bars, restaurants and made to measure shops.  But trash mars the area.  The platforms upon which the containers nicely sit hold four dumpsters, one for household trash and three for recycling.  They need perhaps two more but there’s no room on the platform and cars take up the room otherwise available.  

Rome’s other issues contribute to the strain.  Refugees, street people, tax avoidance, pollution, street trash.  The list is seemingly without end-  this is not an easy place to run, so no wonder there’s so much dysfunction.   And yet people come, because Rome eternally beckons.  Where else would you find an Eternal City,  a city of such high art?  There are countless richly decorated and appointed churches, public buildings and monuments, private palaces such as the Pamphili Palace, still occupied by the family but mostly a museum.  There are Egyptian columns and Roman era ones such as Trajan’s which tells the story of the conquest of Dacia, modern day Romania.  And there is ancient Rome. Every shovel full brings up a history lesson, it seems.  This is why Metro Line C is not yet done after so many years, delaying one of the remedies for the chaos.  There is plenty of cultural modernity to bring you in and keep you here.  Wanted in Rome publishes huge lists of things to do-  concerts, expositions, talks, walks, plays and of course opera.  The Italians invented this high soap.  Good grief, are they melodramatic or what?  http://www.wantedinrome.com/whatson/.  


Summer brings the Music Fest, starting June 21.  Nighttime is filled with outdoor concerts and plays and acrobats and who knows what else, all free, and all the ones I have seen have been very good.  My favorite venue is atop Castel San Angelo.  Order a glass of wine and enjoy the music and the view of St Peter’s!!  And of course any time of day or night have a cappuccino.  Maybe you’ll find a delightful something to draw.

Then there’s the odd public service we ran across.  At Ottaviano metro, where you exit the subway for the Vatican, there is a free water spot.  Rome has had public drinking fountains, these little green creatures called ‘nasoni, for eons.’  They run constantly.  But this fountain is different, like the old milk dispensing machines, standing some 2 meters/7′ tall.  You put your bottle under the spout, press the button showing the size bottle you have and presto!  You can get fizzy water as well, yet it is totally free!   What?  

Only in Rome would you get free carbonated water.  How do they manage this and yet not be able to adequately handle the trash and sweep the streets?  Or perhaps more importantly, why bother with this at all? Perhaps it has something to do with the trash.  Millions of plastic bottles filled with water fill landfills and float in the Tevere that winds through the city.  Can we help if we give away the sparkling water?  I’d say so.  

The government is trying.  You can see that with this strange giveaway, with the trash platforms, another metro line.  But you see the challenges everywhere you go, the trash strewn streets, the refugees, the homeless, the African street vendors.

June 2016

Pula, Croatia, and its Fabulous Roman Amphitheatre

August 22, 2014

Our visit to Pula, Croatia

Croatia is just to our south, and we’d never been there.  It has a certain allure because it is Western European but somehow not, as it was part of Yugoslavia during the post war period.  It became more Slavic during that period and the traditional folk dance music you hear in the video (link below) reflects that origin.

Pula like Trieste is on the Adriatic.  Most noted for the Roman Amphitheater, it also has a temple and other bits from the Roman era.  It is an attractive town with 20 km of rocky beach the locals love.

To get there by land you cross Slovenia, so it’s 3 countries in two hours on the fast bus, but four hours through even more of the Croatian countryside on the way back.  Slovenia is in the EU but Croatia is not, so there’s no border check leaving Italy but in and out of the other two countries there is.  With my shiny new Italian passport we had no problems, although Peg was stamped in and the border guard suggested she get a ‘permesso di sojourno,” (residence permit) which as my wife and with an officially registered marriage certificate, should be no problem at all.

It’s a lovely town with architecture from the 13th, 19th and 20th century. There are pedestian zones, lots of cafes and eateries, summer sunshine and today a very pleasant temperature, in the low 20’s.  People walk about in shorts and lightweight shirts.  You hear what I assume is Croatian, lots of Italian and perhaps as much English; people who deal with tourists spoke it reasonably well.

It’s about a ten minute walk to the Amphitheater from the bus station.  The amphitheater is enormous, probably not as big as the Coliseo in Rome, but it is much more intact.  Only the seating area is largely gone, maybe a few hundred left out of the original 25,000.  It must have been spectacular when filled, and the fabric roof in place.

The main pedestrian zone is one of the more attractive ones we’ve seen but not all that different from others.   We had lunch in the area.  The service was very attentive, and the food quite good, for a bit less than Trieste, even, although we’d heard Croatia has become quite expensive.

It is still an active port and ship building continues.  There are large bays for ship repair as well as large yellow cranes for unloading and loading cargo vessels.

A Bit of History

Human remains (Homo erectus)  in the area date to 1.5 million years.  Pottery dates to 6000 BCE.  Inhabitation in Pula proper dates to the 10 century BCE.  Greek pottery and statuary remains attest to that people”s presence.

Starting around the 1st century BCE a Venetic or Illyrian tribe  lived here.  Under Julius Caesar the town became an important port, with a population  then of around 30,000.  However it sided with Cassius against Augustus, and the town was destroyed.  It was soon rebuilt and with it came the amphitheater (finished in 68 CE) which you will see in the slide show video.

The Venetians took over the city in the 1200’s and the Hapsburgs arrived in 1997.  After WWI the whole peninsula became part of Italy.  Mussolini persecuted the Slavic residents and many fled.  The Germans took over in WWII after Italy collapsed, and Pula was bombed heavily by the Allies after the u-boat installation.  Pula joined Yugoslavia in 1947.  Most of the Italians fled in 1946-47 in the run up.   To this day, Croatia is predominantly Roman Catholic.



See my art at http://garyartista.wix.com/gary-kirkpatrick-art