News from Pompeii: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Catching up with what’s been happening at Pompeii … first, from ANSA, we read of 10 ‘new’ houses being opened to the public:

From the sumptuous frescoes of the Hunting Lodge (Casa della Caccia) to the exquisite decorations of the House of Apollo (Casa di Apollo) and vivid reliefs of the Trojan War, Pompeii is seducing visitors this summer with 10 newly restored houses, some of which had never been open to the public before. After long controversy regarding the lack of personnel at Pompeii, the ministry of culture has dispatched 30 new keepers for the holiday season, a State exam to select new janitors is in the works, and extended opening hours on Friday mean the public can stroll through the ruins after sundown. Tourists are enjoying the new sites: more than 13,000 visitors flocked to Pompeii on the August 15 national religious holiday, bringing proceeds in excess of 114,000 euros, while 122 people decided to explore the city preserved in lava during night visiting hours.

The 10 new houses include the Thermopolium (Latin for restaurant) of Vetutius Placidus, where people could buy cooked food to go. It boasts shrines to Mercury and Dionysus (the gods of commerce and wine, respectively), a dining hall, and an adjoining mansion with a vestibule, a garden, and a dining room.

The Ancient Hunting Lodge (Casa della Caccia Antica) is another must-see at Pompeii. According to experts, it had just undergone renovation when it was buried under meters of ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. An extensive hunting scene is still visible on one of its garden walls, and its interiors are luxuriously decorated with beautiful paintings and marble-like coverings.

Also noteworthy are the Domus Cornelia and its exquisite sculptures, the House of Apollo adorned with images of the god to which it owes its name, and the House of Achilles with its impressive reliefs of the Trojan war.

… but then we hear of a French tourist being caught trying to take some tiles home as a souvenir (this is the Bad) … from the Local:

A French tourist was arrested on Tuesday after stealing a relic from the ancient ruins of Pompeii. It is the latest in a string of thefts from the site which one tour guide told The Local “is all too easy to steal from”.

The 51-year-old was arrested for theft while trying to escape from the site in southern Italy, Articolo Tre reported.

He had taken pieces of red plaster and fragments from an amphora handle as a “souvenir”.

The latest theft comes just a few months after a tourist from Georgia was caught trying to steal tiles from a mosaic at the site, also to take home as a keepsake.

Giorgio Melani, from Guide Pompei, told The Local that the vast site is easy to steal from because there are few custodians guarding the relics.

But Giuseppe Galano, a tour guide at Visit Pompeii, believes some tourists visit the site specifically to leave with some of its “treasure”.

“I question whether they would do the same thing at home. They know Pompeii is famous and they want a piece of it,” he said, adding that the summer is peak season for theft.

“Especially on the first Sunday of each month when the entrance is free. About 14,000 people passed through the gates last Sunday; how can you control that?”

While the relics from the latest thefts are now back in safe hands, others from Pompeii have made it as far as eBay.

Just last week an Australian auction advertised a mosaic from the site, but the advert was quickly removed after it caught the attention of the Italian police

In January, a brick supposedly taken from the ruins in 1958 was also put up for sale on the online retail site for just $99, or a little over €70. The listing, which included four photos of the brick, soon caught the attention of online surfers and, eventually, the police.

As for the Ugly (in the sense it’s probably something you don’t want to see), here’s the Telegraph coverage of a story that’s been making the rounds over the past week:

Among the most popular attractions in the ancient city of Pompeii are the colourful frescoes which depict the lurid sexual fantasies of those who lived there 2,000 years ago.

Inspired by the images, a French tourist and two Italian women decided to make their personal fantasy a reality. They were caught climbing the walls of the UNESCO World Heritage site late on Tuesday night, heading for the city’s Suburban Baths.

The communal baths were once a lively meeting place for wealthy merchants and political leaders before the city was wiped out in the devastating volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD.

The bath walls were vividly decorated with explicit sex scenes, including group sex, for patrons who were looking to visit the prostitutes nearby.

The trio – a 32-year-old French man from Lyon and his companions – were seeking to bring those images to life when they were caught by custodians in a Pompeii piazza and handed over to police.

One Italian report said they were semi-naked and confessed to police that they were looking for the baths to fulfil their desires.

Pompeii officials said the three had neither damaged nor stolen anything from the historic site and police said they were only charged with trespassing.

But their escapade has provoked plenty of debate in an Italian press more accustomed to writing about tourists stealing souvenirs or etching their names in the walls of the country’s ancient treasures.

“There is fornication and fornication,” said commentator Pietro Treccagrioli from the daily, Il Mattino. “If it is done for art, it deserves applause.”

Experts say six frescoes in the apodyterium or changing room of the Pompeii bath house offer an “erotic catalogue” of the era and many of the villas in Pompeii also display the remnants of erotic images and statues.

Still Yet Another Collapse at Pompeii

From the Guardian:

Italy’s culture minister demanded explanations on Sunday after more collapses this weekend in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii raised concerns about the state of one of the world’s most treasured archaeological sites.

Pompeii, preserved under ash from a volcanic eruption in 79AD and rediscovered in the 18th century, has been hit by a series of collapses in recent months and years which have sparked international outcry over the neglect of the site.

Officials said the wall of a tomb about 1.7 metres high and 3.5 metres long collapsed in the necropolis of Porta Nocera in the early hours of Sunday.

That followed a smaller collapse on Saturday of part of an arch supporting the Temple of Venus.

Heavy rains were cited as the immediate cause.

The Temple of Venus is in an area of the site which was already closed to visitors, while access to the necropolis has been closed following the collapse of the wall.

Culture minister Dario Franceschini, appointed last month in the new government of Matteo Renzi, summoned officials responsible for the site to Rome for an “emergency meeting” on Tuesday.

He said he wanted a report on the reasons for the latest collapses and would verify routine maintenance at Pompeii as well as the progress of an ambitious restoration project launched last year with European Union funds.

Italian media have highlighted the contrast between the management of Pompeii and a successful exhibition about the ancient Roman city at the British Museum in London last year, which attracted record numbers of visitors.

Pompeii, a Unesco world heritage site, was home to about 13,000 people when it was buried under ash, pumice pebbles and dust as it endured the force of an eruption equivalent to 40 atomic bombs.

Two-thirds of the 66-hectare town has since been uncovered. The site attracts more than two million tourists each year, making it one of Italy’s most popular attractions.

All the articles include a photo of the collapsed wall … it doesn’t strike me as a rain-caused collapse. It looks like something that was pushed.

More coverage:

Another ‘Collapse’ at Pompeii

This time, it’s one of those things the fullones did their work in … only source so far seems to be Napoli.com:

Ancora un crollo nell’area archeologica degli scavi di Pompei.
A cedere stavolta è una vasca della fullonica, la tintoria-lavanderia sita sul nord del decumano superiore, la cosiddetta Via di Nola in direzione della porta omonima.
Il fatto risalirebbe a circa dieci giorni fa, quando durante una ricognizione un custode ha segnalato il caso.

RESTAURO RECORD – Al momento la vasca è ricoperta da un telo ma a quanto si apprende il manufatto sarebbe gia stata restaurato dagli operai di una ditta specializzata.
Il crollo della fullonica di via di Nola, sebbene di minore importanza, tuttavia, riaccende l’attenzione circa gli episodi di cedimento delle antiche strutture romane nell’area archeologica degli scavi di Pompei.

… and here’s a photo of the damage;  actually looks like vandalism to me (tourist climbs in to take a photo; does the damage trying to get out … otherwise, how did the bottom block ‘leap’ out of place?):

 

from Napoli.com

Satyr + Goat Arrive at the British Museum

The Telegraph is doing a good job hyping this exhibition … that famous Pan and goat statue is there, and there’s even a photo in the Telegraph if you need a memory refresh:

An erotic statue has caused the British Museum to install a “parental guidance” warning in their new exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The sculpture is of the mythical half-goat, half-man Pan having sex with a nanny goat. The Times reports that the museum is determined to display the object in plain sight, rather than hidden behind a curtain or in a “museum secretum” – a restricted area for those aged over 14 in the Naples Museum.

Paul Roberts, senior curator, said the statue may be unconventional today, but would not have raised eyebrows in Roman Pompeii: “The Romans would see the god goat having sex with a goat, so it wouldn’t have troubled them at all.

Roberts says high-brow Roman owners would have been amused by the statue: “It’s because the owners are cultured that they have the sculpture of Pan and the goat. They also have a sense of humour, because to a Roman that would have been humorous, not offensive.”

He added that phallic symbols were commonplace in Roman homes. Images of the well-endowed fertility god Priapus, sometimes weighing his appendage against a quantity of gold, were often found at the entrance to houses as a symbol of success and good luck.

… which is interesting for other reasons as well: it was less than a year ago that the Telegraph was reporting on a brouhaha over some Leda and the Swan depictions: Classical Tradition Gone Wrong II: Bestial Leda? … I guess now we can open the debate on whether to include Satyrs among humans or animals.

Oschophoria Panel at the BM’s Pompeii and Herculaneum Show?

A few years ago, we were alerted to the installation at the Naples museum of a panel depicting a “Dionysiac Scene” and I note that this panel gets some coverage in the Guardian in regards to the Pompeii and Herculaneum show at the British Museum … some excerpts:

Shimmering as if still lit by the Mediterranean sun, two spectacular Roman marble panels have been reunited at the British Museum for the first time in almost 2,000 years.

Both come from a seaside mansion in Herculaneum, the town overwhelmed by a torrent of boiling mud from Vesuvius, when the wind changed direction 12 hours after Pompeii had already choked to death. They will be seen in the most eagerly awaited archaeological exhibition in decades, on life and death in the Roman towns when it opens at the museum later this month.

The remains of the owner of the palatial villa may still lie on the ancient shoreline, now half a mile inland. In AD79 the sea was the beautiful view that his sumptuously decorated room looked out on, with its fourth wall open to the sea.

[…]

“The last person to see these pieces together like this was the master of the house, in AD79 – it’s an awesome and slightly eerie thought,” said Paul Roberts, curator of the exhibition.

[…]

Treasures are being unpacked in Bloomsbury every day. Last week an entire garden arrived, with fountains, statues, singing birds in flowering bushes, all painted on huge panels of plaster. The giant packing crates fitted through the museum doors with inches to spare. It was one of the most beautiful room interiors found in Pompeii, surely the setting for a happy life – except the exhibition will also display the pathetic casts of the bodies of its last owners, man, woman, tiny children, found huddled together under the stairs.

The first of the marble reliefs, an ecstatic and tipsy celebration of the god Bacchus, was found at Herculaneum in a controversial excavation 30 years ago. The excavation was launched to find more of the House of the Papyri, an extraordinary complex the size of a small village, most of which is still buried under the modern town. When it was discovered in the 18th century almost 2,000 papyrus scrolls, a princely library, were recovered along with wonderful sculptures some of which are coming to the exhibition.

[…]

Roberts suspects there must have been a third panel, on a wall that was swept into the bay below in the eruption that ended the life of the town and ensured its place in history. “Like so much of the town and its people, the third panel must have been crushed to atoms – we’re so astonishingly lucky in what has been left to us to bear witness to what has been lost.”

… so like I said, we mentioned this four years ago (New From Herculaneum – A Depiction of the Oschophoria?) and I suggested it was more specific than just ‘Dionysiac’, but actually was a depiction of the Oschophoria, based on the cross-dressing males in the scene. That suggestion doesn’t seem to have gone down well, but it did make it into the letters column of Archaeology magazine at the time (much edited, with my grumblings about bloggers not being taken seriously edited out). So … what I’d really like to know, if someone happens to go to this exhibition that we all want to, is whether they have bought into the Oschophoria identification yet …