The shrine in the Thermopolium of Asellina in Pompeii, copies of which can be found in many modern-day Roman Pagan lararia
I think my highlight of our trip to Naples was exploring the ruins of Pompeii. This is partly because the first textbook we had in Latin class was all about Pompeii, and I’d tried to imagine what it would look like. So to see it in reality was really special for me – and still, it defied all expectations.
Firstly, it is HUGE – it really is a whole town, and you really do feel like you’re walking around a town when you’re there. In fact, there’s many more areas that are off-limits to tourists, but what you can access is plenty enough. And there is a lot of freedom to explore. By ducking under arches and squeezing through little hidden passages, you’ll discover all sorts of remarkable things.
Secondly, it is really, really beautiful. Not only the ruins themselves, which are gorgeous in their own right, but the nature that surrounds and intermingles with them. The atmosphere is very serene and, yes, quite mystical – a far cry from the devastating eruption that made Pompeii so infamous.
Thirdly, it is in a remarkable state of preservation, right down to the graffiti on the walls. Some of the interiors of the houses are still so vividly coloured, it’s very hard to believe they weren’t painted yesterday. It really does feel like travelling back in time.
Fourth, I found the experience very emotional – from the joy of realising what a wonderful place this is, to the feeling of tranquillity in the lovely surroundings, to sadness on seeing the preserved casts of the people who perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Actually, I wasn’t prepared for how that last item would affect me. I’d seen pictures of the Pompeii victims before in textbooks and hadn’t thought much of them, but seeing them in real-life almost made me cry (especially the bodies of the people who had died embracing each other). I didn’t feel respectful taking their photos, so you won’t find them here – you can find plenty though Google, anyway.
One thing I loved was discovering all the little alcoves, many of which were probably lararium or other kinds of shrines. They reminded me of the shrines to Christian figures that proliferate in Naples today – many of them even look very similar in shape. I can’t help but feel that Naples’ modern shrine culture may well be rooted in the Pagan shrines of the Romans who once lived in the area thousands of years ago.
Near one of the lararia I found, there was a little patch of clover growing, so I picked a few and left them as an offering at the lararium. I wanted to pay some kind of tribute to the spirits of the place – the lingering spirits of the Roman deities, and those of the departed souls of the city.
Here’s some of the photos I took to try and capture the profound experience of walking through Pompeii…