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Monthly Archives: July 2013

“Memento Mori” the moseic loved by the Pink Floids

Memento mori

Memento Mori, Pompeii, Artwork-location: Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Archaeological Museum)

The mosaic represents an allegorical and symbolic philosophical theme of the transience of life and death that eliminates disparities in social class and wealth. The summit of the composition is a level with his plumb line, a tool that was used by masons to control the levelling in construction.

The axis of the lead is the death (the skull), under a butterfly (the soul) balanced on a wheel (Fortune).

Under the arms of the level, and opposed in perfect balance, are the symbols of poverty on the right (a stick a beggar and a cape), and wealth to the left (the sceptre a purple cloth and the ribbon).

Popular belief says the phrase “Memento mori” originated in ancient Rome: as a Roman general was parading through the streets during a victory triumph, standing behind him was his slave, tasked with reminding the general that although at his peak today tomorrow he could fall or be brought down. The servant is thought to have conveyed this with the warning “Memento mori” that means  “Remember that you will die”.

This moseic have been also used for the cover of the Pink Floids’ album “Live at Pompeii” recorded in the Amphitheatre of the city in the year 1971.

Book now your guide tour at the Archaeological Museum of Naples!

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This shot of a Roman mosaic appeared at the start of Careful With That Axe, Eugene, in the Pink Floyd’s masterpiece “Live at Pompeii”

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The Skeletons of Herculaneum

Skeleton Found in Herculaneum

 

 

Herculaneum was a prosperous resort town inhabited in summer by well-to-do Romans and their servants, in addition to the year-round resident.

When the Vesuiuv erupted in 79 A.D. they were all there for the season: aristocrats and slaves, young and old.

They fled the volcano’s eruption at the very last minute and were caugh on the beach by the flow of volcanic material.

Since few skeletons had ever been found in the town itself, historians long believed that the population had escaped the desctruction of the city.

It was a great surprise when the skeletons were accindentally found at the beach front of the adjacent chambers in the spring of 1982.

These skeletons are in good to excellent condition because they had remained in an environment of unchanging temperature and humidity, buried under 20 meters of volcanic material for some 1900 years.

The skeletons of Herculaneum are of utmost importance to anthropologist and historians, because they constitute a unique population: Romans of the time generally cremated their dead.

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A boathouse on the ancient seafront of Herculaneum, Italy, which was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius.

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The Amphitheater of Pompeii

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Amphitheater of Pompeii

The term amphitheater has Greek origin and it is indicated for the first time by Vitruvius. It has an elliptical structure consisting in an arena where the games took place, and around it  stands dedicated to the public.

Amphitheater inscription

“Caius Quinctius Valgus son of Caius and Marcus Porcius son of Marcus, as the mayors of fifth year, for expression of honor for the colony, had built at his own expense the building for the shows, and donate it to the citizens of the colony in perpetuity” this inscription on a travertine slab at the entrance of the amphitheater of Pompeii, testifies the year of construction (about 80 BC) and indicates the amphitheater as the oldest building for shows come to us in good condition.

The building was constructed in the recently urbanized south-east of the city, placing it against the city walls whose embankment was holding the southern and eastern stands. The northern and western walls of the structure were held, however, by buttresses with blind arches, with the exception of the two major corridors leading to the arena that were often occupied by street vendors, as well as results from some inscriptions. In Pompeii, the amphitheater was defined spectacula, and it was a meeting place, recreation and often political or commercial negotiations. The building could accommodate up to 20.000 spectators. The stands (caveae), built later, were divided into three sectors, and were made of volcanic stone. The ima cavea (front row) for aristocrat citizens, the media and the summa for all the others, had higher independent tunnels of access (crypta) built to ensure an ordained influx of the public. The amphitheater was equipped with a velarium, a huge canape probably in linen, used to repair the spectators from the sun. A series of articulated beams inserted into rings of stone supported the velarium, whose presence was very appreciated, and reported in the written advertised the shows with the words “et vela erunt“.

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The entire structure of the amphitheatre was shown in a famous fresco, now at the Naples Archaeological Museum, documenting the fight between the Pompeians and Nucerians happened in 59 d. C, narrated by Tacitus in the Annals (XIV, 17 et seq.). The fight, which caused numerous deaths and injuries, is easily derived from discord between citizens born after the deduction of certain territories to the detriment of Pompeii. The gravity of this event caused the intervention of the then Emperor Nero, who imposed the closure of the amphitheatre for ten years, and punished the responsible with exile, but the punishment was cancelled after the earthquake of 62 AD when the structure, as an inscription tells us, was restored at the expense of Cuspius Caius Pansa.

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Fresco that testifies the fight between Pompeii and Nocera in 59 B. C.

The amphitheatre of Pompeii held above all to the fights between gladiators. The term gladiator comes from the short sword said gladium that the fighters used. The battles took place between pairs of gladiators (paria) equipped with different weapons, or between two teams (familiae) of gladiators. Among the major categories of gladiators were the traex, the retiarius, the secutor, the controretiarius, the Murmillo and the samnes; they were slaves and criminals who were trying, in this way, to redeem themselves. The training took place in gyms and specific schools through the hardest workouts, the fatigue and the risk from typhus were rewarded by the admiration of the crowd, especially the women’s one, as documented by a lot of graffiti in their honour.

In 1972, with no audience present, Pink Floyd recorded a live concert at the ancient Roman amphitheather in Pompeii.

The Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto, situated at Anacapri, was known locally as “Grotta Gràdola”, the name being taken from the neighbouring ancient landing place of “Gràdola” and “Gradelle”, popular because of its narrow access, and because of the legends about monsters and witches that dwelt in it.

The revelation of the “Blue Grotto” was thanks to two German tourists who visited Capri in 1826: Augustus Kopisch, a writer, and Ernst Fries, a painter; their chief merit was that of bestowing a new name: “Grotta Azzurra”.

The cave sank during a geological age 15-20 metres below the present sea level and thus blocked every opening through which light might enter directly, except the narrow breach of access with the result that both the cavity of the grotto and the sea basin that is enclosed in it acquired two different and magical colours, for, on one side the sunlight penetrating from below through a veil of sea water springs out and is reflected onto the sides and the vault of the grotto colored with azure; and on the other side, this light being reflected by the white sandy bottom of the grotto renders the water strangely opalescent so that any object that is bathed in it drips and vibrates with a silvery light.

The Blue Grotto

The Romans not only knew the Blue Grotto (in italian “Grotta Azzurra”), but had made it the object of particular investigations, though the type of their researches was obscure. At that time the conditions of the grotto were the same as they are today in the days of Augustus and Tiberius. And a careful study of the remains of Roman works inside the grotto and of the ancient structures on the outside, may assist us to understand what the “Blue Grotto” meant to the Romans.

Along the end wall facing the breach of access the Grotta presents a cavity; this cavity is accessible by a small landing step covered by Roman concrete work; while a square opening in the shape of a window which is accessible from a step evidently cut by human hands is opened in the wall of the rock just opposite the entrance.

The rocky landing step and the square opening seem to be made on purpose to permit people to land and to enjoy comfortably from the land the fascinatingly clear basin of azure. But this square hollows reaches deeper into the mountain becoming an increasingly winding and narrow cuniculus. The slabs of rock heaped at its sides suggest that the Romans opened this tunnel searching for spring water and abandoned it after a fruitless exploration.

Because of its position below the imposing “Villa di Damecuta” it is obvious to suppose that the Grotta was a “nymphaeum” that was accessible from the sea, and perhaps also from the land by a more secret road that has now crumbled.

the Blue Grotto

Tourist at the blue Grotto

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