Watch Pink Floyd Play Live in the Ruins of Pompeii (1972)

Tourism and historical research aside, most ruins aren't particularly useful, least of all for their original purposes. Yet Pink Floyd fans know of one instance when a ruin made a comeback, if a brief and specialized one, that could make you forget all about the ash and pumice that buried it nearly 2000 years before. In October 1971, the band set up their gear in the middle of the Amphitheatre of Pompeii and blasted three songs out into the antiquity surrounding them: "Echoes," "A Saucerful of Secrets," and "One of These Days." They played not to a live audience, but to an array of studio-quality recording equipment designed to faithfully capture every layer of their sound for theatrical reproduction. You can see and hear all the then-highest-of-the-high-tech musical equipment used to produce then-thoroughly modern rock music in this nearly alien-looking geometric setting of time-worn stone and encroaching grass in Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, now free to watch on Vimeo.

Pink Floyd's chosen venue, the oldest standing Roman ampitheatre of them all, suits their project sonically as well as aesthetically. Had the band invited an audience, the old place probably could, with a touch of restoration, have handled it with aplomb. An article from CSO Security and Risk cites its bathroom design and placement, its queue separation, its anxiety-reducing openness, its simple stairway scheme, its lack of corners and bottleneck points, and the wide road leading to it as qualities from which today's stadium designers can still learn. Just last May, the surviving members of Pink Floyd happened to get back together on stage; should they launch a reunion tour, they might consider starting at the ampitheatre they introduced to so many young fans before history teachers could.

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

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