Approaching Pompeii the Fortifications

In order to contextualise the wall-paintings within larger social and geographic frameworks we need to move back to a point beyond the walls, ramparts and towers that protected the citizens and their property. Only by doing this can we observe the way in which the simultaneously repelling and enclosing fortifications were juxtaposed by domestically located wall-paintings depicting virtual worlds beyond the house and city (fig.1). [For more on the fortifications see Chiaramonte Treré, C. “Nuovi contributi sulle fortificazioni di Pompei” in Quaderni di ACME, 1984; Chiaramonte Treré, C., “The Walls and Gates” in The World of Pompeii, 2008; Richardson Jr., L., “The Fortifications” in Pompeii: An Architectural History, 1982; on the theme of apotropaic elements added to city gates see Jacobs, I., Gates in Late Antiquity in the Eastern Mediterranean (2009, pdf)]

The city’s fortified exterior was replicated by the inward facing interiors and largely windowless exteriors of the majority of houses in Pompeii. Wall-paintings provided the means by which the inhabitants could psychologically escape these various enclosing and protecting layers. Paradoxically, the paintings achieved this by depicting yet more architectural facades, through or over which the viewer was invariably shown distant vistas, mythological scenes or yet more depictions of architecture (fig.2). Only very occasionally did the paintings include any identifiable local features or representations of local events. A rare and therefore much quoted example being a depiction of the bloody riot that took place in Pompeii’s Amphitheatre around 59AD, between the Pompeians and the Nucerians (fig.3). Even Mount Vesuvius, the most impressive local feature, rarely appears and when it does it is mythologised as a grape covered fertility symbol, alongside an equally grape-laden depiction of Bacchus (fig.4). Other local features such as the fortifications are nowhere to be seen, despite the dominant spectacle that it presented to all those approaching the city.


Approaching the Wall-Paintings
Fortifications Pompeii 1>
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