‘The importance of the Vesuvian sites lies in their not having suffered the corruption of modern repairs, in the sense of a city like Rome itself, constantly adapted and recycled through time, and ransacked by barbarians (let alone papal families)’….but ‘the combination of heavy restoration and inadequate documentation means that what we are left with is not the remains of an ancient city, but an interpretation of those remains’29

The March 2011 visit to Roman archaeological sites containing cipollino marble was to the area of southern Italy, Campania, around Vesuvius. The area has a long and varied history, the earliest known evidence being the discovery of Neanderthal skulls from c. 50,000 BC, the Middle Paleolithic Age. ‘During the whole Neolithic period from c. 5000 BC, agricultural settlers, principally from the Levant, and Anatolia, slowly replaced the nomadic hunter-gatherers, the original inhabitants of southern Italy. During the Bronze Age (post 1700 BC) the Greeks made their first appearance in southern Italy. Definite trading links were formed, both with the Myceneans from mainland Greece and with Minoan Crete’. However ‘the first great formative period of southern Italian history began soon after 800 BC and early Greek colonies were established in a steady stream, both on the mainland and in Sicily’. The Greek colonies did not always enjoy a peaceful existence, having to contend with squabbles among themselves and with native Italian groups. With the arrival of the Romans in the 4th century BC they were under considerable pressure and by 270 BC the whole area came under the control of Rome.30

After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD the area came under the control of a wide selection of nationalities, French, German, Spanish, French again (Bourbon and Napoleonic) Sicilian, until its final union in the name of Italy, one hundred and fifty years ago in 2011, at the time of our visit. In Naples, at this time, there were signs on the public buildings marking the anniversary of the union.

The two Roman cities in the area, Pompeii and Herculaneum, were the main objective of the visit, but there was also cipollino in some of the other towns nearby. The Vesuvian sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are strikingly different from those previously seen. They appear very urban, with their paved streets lined with the remains of rows of houses, baths and bars, compared for example with the greenness of Ostia Antica and the widely spread buildings of Leptis Magna and Sabratha in western Libya. The greenery lies usually behind the entrances to the more important houses, often unfortunately closed to the public. ‘The best bits are all closed’, complained one American visitor walking down the Via dell’ Abondanza in Pompeii. The towns bear the scars of the disaster of the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79 when ‘Pompeii was blanketed in volcanic ash and Herculaneum in ‘the fine, hot dust of pyroclastic surges and flows’. Thus writes Professor Wallace-Hadrill in his book on Herculaneum published in May 2011. He continues, ‘It used to be normal to speak of Herculaneum as having been buried in an avalanche of mud. This theory was supported by Charles Waldstein writing in 1908 but Professor Mckenny Hughes rightly identifies the material (which was formed after the eruption) as tuff or tufo formed by consolidated ash (rejecting the idea of a lava flow) casting strong doubt on the presence of water. Later volcanology was to prove him right, but the Waldstein interpretation of a mud flow persisted, and even today, the word fango is used to describe the deep wall of tufo that covers the site.’ 31

Pompeii was said to have been discovered in 1592 and Herculaneum in 1709, but it is now recognised that tunnelling started with the Romans. ‘The implicit answer in the standard version (as to why they were not excavated earlier) is that the cities were lost and had to be rediscovered by chance under an enlightened regime. But the truth is that the cities were never completely lost. Even in antiquity their position was clearly marked on the fourth–century AD map known as the Peutinger table’.32

As well as being very impressive archaeological sites, they are fascinating and touching memorials to the pattern of Roman life at the time, and to the disaster and suffering following the volcanic eruption.

The city of Pompeii lies in the Gulf of Naples, some 20 kilometres from the town of Naples and of easy access by the circumvesuviano railway, which stops very near the entrance to the excavation site. ‘Pompeii has now reached the peak of its popularity. Millions of tourists of every nationality visit it, placing it among the second or third most frequented cities of Italy’.33 Presumably for this reason entry into many of the more vulnerable areas is prohibited to the public.

Pompeii probably began life as an Oscan village but by the 6th century BC was already a flourishing commercial centre and one of the chief ports on the coast of Campania. It later passed through an Etruscan period and then, in the 5th century BC came under Samnite domination. After the Samnite wars it became a socium of Rome, retaining some autonomy, but eventually, although resisting the Romans together with the other towns of Campania for some time, was forced to surrender in 89 BC and became a Roman colony with the name of Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum. During the Augustan period many buildings were added, including the amphitheatre, the palaestra and an aqueduct which provided water for street fountains, public baths and a large number of private houses and businesses.34 ‘In AD 63 the town was devastated by an earthquake, an unwelcome token of the renewed activity of Mount Vesuvius. Heedless of this warning, however, the town continued to flourish, and even increased its wealth and influence. The final catastrophe took place on 24 August, AD 79.35 Pompeii was covered with a layer of fragments of pumice stone, mostly very minute, and afterwards by a similar layer of ashes’. All those who remained in the city died, about two thousand of the 20,000 inhabitants, either from the falling volcanic debris, the collapse of the buildings, asphyxiation or purely from the heat.36

Pliny, who was in command of the fleet at Misenum at the time, perished after putting to sea and reaching Pompeii, where he was overcome by the falling ash and the accompanying vapour. “Pliny’s nephew describes what happened in Pompeii. ‘My uncle was stationed at Misenum in command of the fleet. On 24 August, in the early afternoon, my mother drew his attention to a cloud of unusual size and appearance.’ The elder Pliny set out to sea and ordered the ship to make straight for the danger zone.

‘Ashes were already falling, hotter and thicker, as the ship drew near, followed by bits of pumice and blackened stones, charred and cracked by the flames. Then suddenly they were in shallow water and the shore was blocked by debris from the mountain’. They landed at a Friend’s villa at Stabiae, four miles south of Pompeii and could not get off again because of a ‘contrary wind’ and ‘wild and dangerous waves’. Although Vesuvius was ‘shooting out broad sheets of fire and leaping flames’ Pliny retired to sleep. By this time the courtyard giving access to his room was full of ashes mixed with pumice stones. The buildings were shaking with violent shocks, and seemed to be swaying to and fro. He (Pliny) stood leaning on two slaves and then suddenly collapsed, I imagine because the dark smoke fumes choked his breathing”. 37

The ruins of Pompeii are situated at coordinates 40º45’00”N 14º29’10”E near the modern town of Pompei. It stands on a spur formed by a lava flow to the north of the mouth of the Sarno river (known in ancient times as the Sarnus). Today it is some distance inland, but in ancient times it would have been nearer to the coast. Pompeii is about 8 km away from Mount Vesuvius. It covered a total of 163 acres. Excavations at the site have generally ceased due to the moratorium imposed by the superintendent of the site. Additionally, it is generally less accessible to tourists, with less than a third of all buildings open in the 1960s being available for public viewing today.38

In spite of the viewing restrictions it was not possible to visit the whole of the area open to the public in the one day available as it is very extensive, but we were able to obtain a good general view of the site and of the amount of cipollino marble to be found there. Entering the site of Pompeii at the Porta Marina you climb up a steep path on the Via della Marina (Plate 2.53).

The Forum
The Pompeii Forum has been described as ‘the most perfect example of a Roman central square and is planned so that Vesuvius dominates its major axis’. In its prime it was adorned with colonnades, porticoes and statues, most of the splendour of which is now lost, although it retains its sense of grandeur (Plate 2.54).

In the north east corner of the Forum there is a series of plinths, clad with marble and which had supported the statues of Augustus (1), Claudius (2), Agrippina (3), Nero (4) and Caligula (5) (Fig 7). On the right hand side, facing the Temple of Jupiter, the front of the fifth plinth (Caligula) away from the temple has a fragment of cipollino measuring .47 m. (at the highest point) and .27 m. wide (Plate 2.55). On the side of this block there are two very small fragments measuring .14 x .11 m. and .12 x .10 m. (Plate 2.56). Behind the base of the fourth block from the north east end of the Forum there are fragments of .25 x .36 m. as well as some even smaller fragments. (Plate 2.57) On the second base (Claudius) there is a small fragment of .19 m. x .11 m. On the first base (Augustus) on the right hand side is a fragment measuring .19 x .13 m. on the left hand side another fragment measuring .21 x .13 m. (Plate 2.58).

The Macellum
The macellum leads off the eastern corner of the Forum between the via degli Augustali and Vicolo del Balcone Pensile. It was the general market for the city and a focal point of the ancient town. Although much destroyed during the earthquake of 62 AD and not wholly restored before the eruption of Vesuvius it has provided interesting finds, from food remains to examples of Roman wall paintings.

With its remnants of porticoes and columns, circle of bases for statues in the centre and the lines of shops (tabernae) at the sides, it is a typical example of a Roman macellum, another of which is to be found at Puteoli (now Pozzuoli).
The ‘chapel’ (sacellum) or ‘imperial cult room’ at the eastern end has five steps leading up to the entrance which have fragments of cipollino marble cladding, as have the bases on either side of the entrance and the base at the back (
Plates 2.59 & 2.60 ). The left hand side base is clad with fragments of cipollino covering an area of .28 x .65 m. and the right hand base with fragments covering an area of 1.33 x .66 m. It was not possible to go inside the barrier to measure the base at the back. Two steps have cladding at each end with fragments measuring .20 x .10 m.

The Houses and Bars
The Via dell’ Abondanza stretches from the Forum to the Porta di Sarno, the great palaestra and the amphitheatre. Along this roadway are many of the private houses, some of the baths and a great number of the bars of Pompeii (Plate 2.61) The houses of Pompeii varied in grandeur but were of a general pattern which included the central area, the atrium with rooms (alae) leading off it, the peristylium (colonnaded court) with the bedrooms leading off, kitchen, dining room, living room, guest room, rainwater pool, and a portico leading to a garden. There was usually an upper floor which was occupied by slaves or lodgers.39

One of the more imposing houses on the Via dell’ Abondanza, and which was open to the public, is the House of the Cithera player. It has very substantial rooms, is on several floors with a lower area leading to a very pleasant garden and has the remains of a portico with some columns standing. Like much of the building in Pompeii many of the columns are constructed of brick covered with what was Roman plaster or cement. There is no marble. It seems that even wealthy house owners could not or did not afford marble, although there are many fluted columns, some granite, some brick.

At the corner of the Via dell’Abondanza and via Stabiana was the first of the bars seen (Plate 2.62). The ‘bars’ were places where drink, and food, were served in the street. The countertops of the bars in Pompeii are finished with broken pieces of marble mortared into them. According to J. Clayton Fant’s paper, Bars with marble surface at Pompeii: evidence for sub-elite marble use, there is sufficient evidence to assume that the practice of the mortaring in of the marble pieces is an ancient practice. There has, however, been considerable restoration. But ‘documentation suggests that work of the 1980s at least was carried out carefully, using ancient pieces of marble and no others.


One final source of confidence in the restorations is that in the nearly 4000 pieces catalogued to date, no clearly post-antique lithotypes have been found’. Fant, at the time of writing this paper had studied 16 bars in 2004 (2774 pieces) and 7 more in 2006 (994 pieces). The plan was to study the remaining 25 bars with marble surfaces in 2009. In his paper he writes ‘The first result is an average size of pieces: 22.2 cm x 11.6. 90% of all pieces have no preserved edges. Thus they represent a very thoroughly smashed and broken assemblage indeed. This would be consistent with our initial hypothesis about the source of the pieces, that is rubbish from marble workshops, representing what the proprietors judged they could find no further use for and so discarded’. But he then goes on to say that other factors point away from this conclusion and more towards the principal source being the debris from the demolition of destroyed buildings during the earthquake of AD 62. Fant also gives a breakdown of the composition of the marble pieces used which gives by far the highest percentage to Karystian cipollino, 37% .40

The bar at the corner of Abondanza and Stabiana (IX I. 15. 16) (Plate 2.63) has fragments of cipollino. There are more fragments at another bar just opposite the House of the Chaste Lovers (La Casa dei Casti Amanti) at Reg 1-INS-VII and another big bar just past the House of the Chaste Lovers on via Stabiana (No 4); yet another at No 1 (REG-I-IN XI; GIA REG –II-INS-I) and also at No 13 on via dell Abondanza.41

The Thermae Stabianae (the Stabian Baths), next to the House of Pansa, were closed to the public. The only view was through the gate (Plate 2.64). The paving stones outside are of cipollino and measured .57 x .79 m. (Plate 2.65), and there is probably more inside considering the Romans’ frequent use of it where there was water, as in baths, latrines, and fountains. As the main road was blocked for ongoing restoration there was not time to reach the amphitheatre and the palaestra. However Lazzarini mentions cipollino in the paving of the theatre.42

On the Via Nola are the Forum Baths. Opposite is a large bar with three large pieces of cipollino cladding on the street side. Facing the bar, the right hand side piece measures 1.70 x .55m.; the middle slab .51 x .82 m. and the left hand side piece .78 x .82 m. There are other smaller fragments on the top (Plate 2.66).

Also on via Nola is the House of the Faun which was closed to the public. It ‘was a luxurious private city residence and is perhaps the most famous among the historical buildings of Hellenistic Pompeii. It takes up an entire city block’. 43 The impluvium (rainwater pool) floor is said to be inlaid with diamonds of marble and almost certainly has some cipollino. The statue of the Faun is a replica but the original, on its column of cipollino, was to be seen in the Archaeological Museum the next day.

Winter closing hours prevented further investigations and seeing the theatres. But we were left with both a strong impression of Roman life and of the extent of the use, and reuse of marble, particularly cipollino, in Pompeii.

29 Wallace-Hadrill, A., Herculaneum, Past and Future, Frances Lincoln Publishers, in association with the Packard Humanities Institute, 2011, p. 287.
30 Blanchard, Paul, Blue Guide Southern Italy, Somerset Books, London, W.W Norton, New York, 2007, pp.9 – 13.

31 Wallace-Hadrill, A. Herculaneum, Past and Future, Frances Lincoln Publishers, in association with the Packard Humanities Institute, 2011, p. 25
32 Wallace-Hadrill, p. 44.
33 The works of Faust Felice Nicolini by Cassanelli, Ciaparelli, Colle and Daunt, the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 2002, p.5.

34 10/04/2011
35 The date of the eruption is usually given as 24 August AD79.’To judge by the ripe pomegranates and other botanical evidence, it was likely to be a date in late November’. Wallace-Hadrill p.125.
36 Blanchard, Paul, p.169
37 Wells, Colin, The Roman Empire, Fontana Paperback, 1984, p. 205.

38 p.10With

39 Professor Wallace-Hadrill writes, of the houses in Pompeii and Herculaneum, ‘What is still needed is a wide ranging investigation of the links between shops and grand houses in the numerous published sides of the Roman world, from Delos and Ephesus to Glanum and Silchester, above all the towns of Roman Africa. The well-published excavations of Volubilis, in Morocco, suggest strongly the same sort of admixture of the commercial and residential as at Pompeii.’ There is no reference here to cipollino at any of the above sites, but it is interesting that they are all mentioned in the same context, of shops and houses together architecturally in the cities of the Roman world. A. Wallace Hadrill, Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1994, p. 134-5.

40 Fant, J Clayton, Bars with marble surfaces at Pompeii: evidence for sub-elite marble use, a paper presented as a poster at the 17th International Conference of Classical Archaeology, held at Rome 22nd-26th April 2008 on the theme ‘Meetings between Cultures in the Ancient Mediterranean’.
41 Beard, Mary, in her very detailed book on Pompeii, says that ‘there are relatively few bars in the area of the forum. From there along the Via dell’ Abondanza to the east there are perhaps two until it crosses the via Stabiana. At that point they start to appear again in significant numbers (in fact more than twenty food and drink outlets in 600 metres have been identified)’. M. Beard, Pompeii – The Life of a Roman Town, Profile Books Ltd., London, 2008, p.61.
42 Lazzarini, 2007, p. 184

43 The works of Faust Felice Nicolini by Cassanelli, Ciaparelli, Colle and Daunt. P.111.
44 Email from A. Savalli to Professor Wallace Hadrill, copied to the author. A. Savalli is the author of the report, Savalli, A. (2011) L’opus sectile nel sito archeologico di Ercolano con particulare riferimentro al ‘Salone dei Marmari’ nella ‘Casa del Rilievo de Telefo’. This report was produced for the Herculaneum Conservation Project, a Packard Humanities Institute initiative in partnership with the Sopritendenza Speciale per I Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei and the British School at Rome –
45 Blanchard, Paul, p.198.

Plate 2.53.jpg

Maps and Plates

Plate 2.53 General view from the via della Marina, Pompeii.

Plate 2.54.jpg

Plate 2.54 General view, the Forum, Pompeii.

Plate 2.55.jpg

Plate 2.55, 2.56 & 2.57 Fragments of cipollino cladding on the plinths of the statues of former Roman Emperors, the Forum, Pompeii.

Plate 2.56.jpg

Plate 2.55, 2.56 & 2.57 Fragments of cipollino cladding on the plinths of the statues of former Roman Emperors, the Forum, Pompeii.

Plate 2.57.jpg

Plate 2.55, 2.56 & 2.57 Fragments of cipollino cladding on the plinths of the statues of former Roman Emperors, the Forum, Pompeii.

Plate 2.58.jpg

Plate 2.58 Cipollino fragments in general view of plinths 4 & 5 for statues, and of the entrance to the Macellum, Pompeii.

Plate 2.59.jpg

Plate 2.59 Cipollino fragments in base at left hand side of the entrance to the chapel or cult room, the Macellum, Pompeii.

Plate 2.60.jpg

Plate 2.60 Cipollino on the steps of the chapel or ‘cult room’, the Macellum, Pompeii.

Plate 2.61.jpg

Plate 2.61 Via dell’ Abondanza, Pompeii.

Plate 2.62.jpg

Plate 2.62 Bar at the intersection of via dell’Abondanza and via Stabiana with fragments of cipollino, Pompeii.

Plate 2.63.jpg

Plate 2.63 Cipollino fragments in the bar counter at the intersection of via dell’Abondanza and via Stabiana, Pompeii.

Plate 2.64.jpg

Plate 2.64 Thermae Stabianae (Stabian Baths), Pompeii.

Plate 2.65.jpg

Plate 2.65 Cipollino paving stones at the entrance to the Thermae Stabianae, (Stabian Baths), Pompeii.

Plate 2.66.jpg

Plate 2.66 Three pieces of cipollino cladding in the large bar opposite the Forum Baths, Pompeii.

Fig 7.jpg

Fig 7 Chart of statues of Roman Emperors