Take a High Def, Guided Tour of Pompeii

“If you want to under­stand ancient Rome, its archi­tec­ture, its his­to­ry, the sprawl of the Roman Empire, you’ve got to go Rome.” So says archae­ol­o­gist Dar­ius Arya in the video above, mak­ing a fair, if obvi­ous, point. “But you also have to go to the Vesu­vian cities”: that is, the set­tle­ments locat­ed near the vol­cano Mount Vesu­vius on the Gulf of Naples. “You have to go to Her­cu­la­neum. You must go to Pom­peii. Not just because they’re famous, but because of the lev­el of preser­va­tion.” This preser­va­tion was a side effect of the explo­sion of Vesu­vius in 79 AD, which destroyed all life in Her­cu­la­neum and Pom­peii, but also kept the basic struc­tures of both cities intact; vis­it­ing either one today allows us to “get immersed in the world of the Romans.”

It is in Pom­peii that the video’s cre­ator Manuel Bra­vo (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his expla­na­tions of the Great Pyra­mids of Giza and Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi’s dome in Flo­rence) immers­es not just him­self but also us in that world.

He does so with high-res­o­lu­tion trav­el footage, but also with his expla­na­tions of the city’s archi­tec­ture and urban plan­ning, break­ing down the details of every­thing from its grand Forum (“antic­i­pat­ing mod­ern prac­tice by almost 2,000 years” as a “pedes­tri­an-only precinct”) to its com­plex­es of baths, to its ther­mopo­lia (“essen­tial­ly ancient fast-food restau­rants”). Even more reveal­ing are its hum­bler fea­tures, such as the step­ping-stones across streets that allowed cit­i­zens to avoid “the rain­wa­ter, sewage, and ani­mal waste that would accu­mu­late there.”

“Almost every build­ing in Pom­peii has inte­ri­or wall paint­ings, from pri­vate res­i­dences to pub­lic spaces such as baths and mar­kets,” says Bra­vo, and these omnipresent works of art “offer valu­able insights into the every­day life and cul­tur­al val­ues of ancient Roman soci­ety.” (And indeed, they’re still offer­ing new ones: just last month, a redis­cov­ered Pom­pei­ian fres­co showed the world an ancient pre­cur­sor to piz­za.) They also evi­dence the sur­pris­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty of trompe-l’œil, where artists cre­ate the illu­sion of walls con­struct­ed from sol­id mar­ble, or even lush out­door spaces. Even the already-grand Domus Romana, the form of hous­ing of choice for afflu­ent Pom­pei­ians, incor­po­rat­ed paint­ings to look grander still. Even once you make it, as the ancients clear­ly knew, you’ve still got to fake it.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Pom­peii Rebuilt: A Tour of the Ancient City Before It Was Entombed by Mount Vesu­vius

A Drone’s Eye View of the Ruins of Pom­peii

Behold 3D Recre­ations of Pompeii’s Lav­ish Homes — As They Exist­ed Before the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius

Watch the Destruc­tion of Pom­peii by Mount Vesu­vius, Re-Cre­at­ed with Com­put­er Ani­ma­tion (79 AD)

The Last Morn­ing in Pom­peii & The Night Pom­peii Died: A New Video Series Explores the End of the Doomed Roman City

A New­ly Dis­cov­ered Fres­co in Pom­peii Reveals a Pre­cur­sor to Piz­za

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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