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Rome 2005

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Spent a week in Rome at an archaeological seminar, studying the Classical and prehistoric traditions of research within archaeology. The other participants were mostly from Scandinavia, plus the odd Swiss, Greek, Italian and Maltese. I had the great blessing of being the only person allowed to speak my native language for the duration, but I made up for it by chattering in French on a few occasions.

At the end of an intensive week of lectures, papers and discussion (plus one or two carafes of Italian vino…) we spent a day in Pompeii. The inauspicious start (alarms at 5.30am, taxis at 6, train at 6.45am…) proved a decoy: the sun shone and we spent a glorious day exploring this mind-blowing archaeological site.

The notion of time travel is often associated with Pompeii: a town that stopped on an August afternoon in 79 AD with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, not to be reawakened until the first excavations in the 18th century. The entire span and plan of the town is known and about 2/3 has been uncovered. Far distant from the piles of stones that comprise many archaeological sites (at least for the uninitiated!), at this one, you can walk along streets, peer into houses, sit in theatres and run around exercise grounds (palaestrae).

The Pompeiians knew about the good things in life: as well as private houses, the town features numerous sets of baths, multiple theatres, tavernas and brothels. Private houses featured suites of rooms set around courtyards, gardens with fountains and statues, and everywhere mosaic floors and frescoed walls.

It was a source of great amusement to discover the house of Caecilius, beloved pater familias of all those who studied the Cambridge Latin course at school! The plaster casts of bodies of Pompeiians who failed to escape the fatal eruption are another unforgettable site. Early scholars of the site noticed hollows in the ash and had the idea of pouring in plaster to discover the shape: casts of curled-up or writhing bodies emerged.

Locations Visited: Naples

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