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Culture Bite: Pompeii and Herculaneum


The stunning bay of Positano!

This June I went to Positano with my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin.
It was a glorious holiday with stunning weather, a sweet little hotel on the beach and some delicious food and drink!

But enough bragging! I’ll get to my point;
Whilst we were there, we went to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum. Needless to say, it was awe-inspiring and staggering to see the scale of such a catastrophe and the level of preservation is incredible, especially in Herculaneum, where the pyroclastic flow carbonised and preserved a huge number of artefacts.

pompNot to mention the frescoes that have survived, in both Herculaneum and Pompeii!

I’ve always loved the classical periods – Ancient Greece is my passion, but the Romans were pretty interesting too – and to be able to walk in the footsteps of those people from thousands of years ago and see how they worked, played and lived their lives was incredible for me.

Anyway, the point is, as were were being shown around the city, we quickly foundlife out that a vast number of the artefacts that would normally be there were actually in an exhibit somewhere else…London! We’d come all the way to Italy and half of the most interesting and striking artefacts were back in London!

So, today I met my Aunt for lunch and we decided to pop in to the Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibit at the British Museum. She’s a member so we got to skip the queues and go straight in! Lucky us, acting all VIP!

The exhibit is extraordinary. It is laid out in the plan of The House of the Tragic Poet, one of the most magnificently preserved villas in Pompeii, which we walked around whilst we were there. You are taken from room to room and the artefacts within are all related to the area of the home;

  • Vestibule – Sort of the entrance hall, and it was hilarious to see signs that were erected between neighbouring houses to resolve ‘boundary’ issues – some things never change!
  • Atrium – This room was spectacularly decorated in Pompeii and the frescoes on the walls were still incredibly vivid and striking. You can see carbonised stools, tables, chests – which are all beautifully carved and ornate – as well as gorgeous mosaics where the detail is incredible and the preservation near immaculate.
  • Cubicula – The bedroom. Here there is a wonderful selection of make up and beauty products! Carved mirrors, ornate and stunning jewellery and tiny perfdoggume bottles, tweezers, make-up pots and dishes and cleaning products; I was rather jealous of the Roman womens’ collection!
  • Culina – The kitchen. Here there are even the carbonised remains of food – you can really see the walnuts, figs, pomegranates and almonds and it turns out they really liked to eat doormouse, so much so that they had special terracotta ‘jars’ in which to fatten up the mice!

Obviously this doesn’t even scratch the surface, but these were some of the things that stood out to me, and of course the plaster casts of the voids left by the people that were trapped and killed by the ash were very poignant and moving to see.

Then of course there is the proliferance of the phallus…

I find that, often, learning about different cultures and different times can really affect and inform my view of my own life. It can make you stop and think…look at the similarities between ourselves and the Romans over 2000 years ago, and we’re still making the same mistakes…but it can also fill you with joy for the human race! The celebration of love and life in Pompeii and Herculaneum was adundant, and we should try to bring that to our lives now! Learn about our past, go to exhibitions and let our human history inform your human future!

Me and the cus amongst some ruins...

Me and the cus amongst some ruins…

Reading Bite: Philippa Gregory

I am currently reading The White Queen, and I will say now, I’m loving it. the white queen

But then, I didn’t expect NOT to love it.

When the BBC aired their 10-part adaptation The White Queen, I was hooked. I had never read any of her books before – not even during the The Other Boleyn Girl hype, and so I thought, why not take a look?

I’ve always loved the Wars of the Roses/Tudor period in history, so I was thrilled when I found she had written so many books about the time.

So I began…

Rather obsessively I suppose, I decided to aim for chronological order…in a manner.

My first purchase, and my first read was The Constant Princess. This was my introduction to Gregory and it well and truly got me hooked!

the-constant-princessThe story is written from the point of view of Katherine of Aragon, from her early childhood through her initial marriage to Henry V111’s brother and up until the beginning of Henry’s affair with Anne Boleyn.

I was hooked from the first few pages. It often takes me a while to really get into a book (you know: can’t put it down, must know what happens next kid of hooked!) but not with this one. The style of writing is easy and the story engaging, and there is so much information about the period, that you feel like you’re learning as well!

Next came The Other Boleyn Girl. Now, if you’ve seen the movie, don’t think that means you know what the book is about. I had seen the film years ago and I was stunned at how different it is from the book. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the only thing they have in common is the name. This book was brilliant, in my opinion, and whether or not it is all factually correct is neither here nor there as far as I’m concened. It even got to the point that, although I knew that Anne and George Boleyn were executed (we’ve all been in primary school History?) as I was reading, I was really hoping and believeing that they might succeed and that they might escape their fate! Foolish, I know…

82004-Tea_and_a_good_book_CPxRILxAnnieMI read a bouple of others from the Tudor Court series, but I won’t mention them. Next I bought The Red Queen. Margaret Beaufort’s lifelong devotion to God, bizzare view of the world and maniacal ambition was gripping. I never warmed to the character, in fact I was rooting for her downfall, but still I could not put the book down!

Although we all know the stories: they’re our British history, and we know how everything ends, it is the journey that Gregory captures and what makes the books so engaging and interesting. Her factual accuracy has been widely questioned, but to me, that’s irrelevant. I want to read a good book with a good story. That’s all.

If you are at all interested in history…or scandal…or even witchcraft, romance or simple drama, then give Philippa Gregory’s books a try. I don’t think you’ll regret it.