Naples: Life, Death & Miracles  © 2002-2017       contact:     Jeff Matthews  
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"Through the eyes of..."

from Italian Journey by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (2)

Pompeii

March 11, 1787...Everyone is surprised at how small and compact Pompeii is. The streets are paved and straight, but they are narrow; the houses are small, with no windows—the only light that comes in is from the entrances and open porticoes. The public buildings, even the bench tomb at the town gate, a nearby temple and villa look rather like architectural models or doll-houses than real buildings. The chambers, passage-ways and arcades are brightly painted. There are rich frescoes on the smooth walls, but most of them have faded by now. The frescoes are surrounded by delightful and tasteful ornamental designs: children, nymphs, wild or tame animals emerging out of luxuriant floral wreaths. The city is now totally destroyed, buried beneath ash and stones, and then looted; yet, it still shows the people's feel for—and love of—art, which even the most fervent lover of art today does not understand or even wish to have.

Pompeii and Vesuvius are separated by some distance; the city cannot have been buried by debris driven by the force of the eruption or by a strong wind. I think that stone and ash must have stayed suspended in the air for a time, like clouds, before falling on the doomed city. To get a better picture of what must have happened, think of a mountain village buried by an avalanche of snow. The buildings were all crushed, and even the spaces between the buildings were filled in by the debris such that nothing remained on the surface except perhaps an occasional wall sticking up. People came along and then planted vineyards and gardens on it. It was probably farmers working their plots of land who discovered the first significant treasures…