A Pompeii Visit

On a recent trip in the Mediterranean, I was told by a reputable person that the reason there are no large animals in North Africa, and a good chunk of the Middle East, is because the Romans destroyed so many of them for use in their gladiatorial games that many species never recovered. I remember learning about the great architectural and engineering achievements of the Romans but this little known fact left me astonished and even a bit angry.
Our tour of Pompeii threw the behaviour of the Romans into high relief. Our tour guide, a Napoli woman with a PhD in ancient architecture, repeated over and over again that these people were warriors. They imitated the Greeks and admired their philosophical and artistic achievements, which is why there are two extant amphitheatres in this ‘frozen in time’ city, but their passion was for the gladiatorial games.
Pompeii was discovered in 1748 and completely changed our understanding of history. It was the first time that ancient everyday people and their activities could be studied, analysed and appreciated. We suddenly could find out what food people ate in Pompeii, how slaves were treated, how hygiene and bathing were approached and how the political life of the city was played out.
But what was most significant to me was the lack of everyday objects in Pompeii; those things that bring a place to life and make it breathe. Virtually everything that survived that was beautiful or artistic, sculpture, paintings, jewellery, is now in a museum in another part of Italy. The everyday objects such as crockery and cutlery are in a museum near the archaeological site.
Though we were visiting during October, the weather was fine with gorgeous views of Vesuvius beyond the Forum. And this meant the crowds were out in force, with the Chinese tourists, in particular, eager to take pictures of the plaster cast remains of victims of the 79 A.D.eruption.
Everyone on our trip was keen to see the mosaic picture recreation of a canine with the first ever warning from ancient times bearing the inscription ‘Beware of Dog’. Yes, the Romans were very much like you and me.

Bethlehem, Jerusalem and That Wall

Not exactly like the former Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, but perhaps more like the border crossing between North and South Cyprus, I am trying to find something to compare with the militarized zone and containment wall I have just passed through.  Travelling from Jerusalem into Palestinian Bethlehem (which, translated, means bread bakers) to visit the supposed site of Jesus’ birth, I was amazed to see machine gun toting young soldiers at the gate’s entrance.  The wall dividing Jew and Palestinians is about 25 ft. high and surrounded by menacing barbed wire.  Without realising it, the officials and military of Jerusalem provide an opportunity for graffiti artists and citizens to express their disgust and anger at being kept out of this holy city.  Our tour guide did say that though the threat of terrorism is still very high the secret service monitor young hostile dissidents very closely and have been very effective at stopping them before they can carry out violent acts.  I imagine to keep the peace there may be no choice but to have a barbed wired concrete barrier and secret police.  I didn’t like to bring it up, but Jewish terrorists killed a British ambassador and many others before 1948. But as I was travelling with a group of Americans, I wasn’t sure they would appreciate that fact.  All is fair in love and war?

It was fascinating to visit the grotto where Jesus was reputedly born.  The church built to stand over the spot was constructed during the crusades. Unfortunately, it is in quite a state of disrepair with dirty columns and distressed mosaics clashing with the ornate Greek Orthodox golden lanterns and religious iconography that also appeared quite ancient.  The queue to go down into the grotto was long and the experience of descending very slowly down the steps into a narrow passageway was somewhat claustrophobic.  The place of Jesus’ birth is marked by a 14 point cross in honour of the Via Dolorosa and the place where there may have been a manger has several hanging lanterns which doesn’t give it much of a feeling of authenticity.

Still, overall, I found the excursion to be excellent and particularly enjoyed the Bedouin lunch put on by Patra Tours which are contracted by Celebrity Cruises.