viae Pompeiorum / by Anthony Gibbins

I spent one of the best afternoons of my life in Pompeii. It was a winter’s day, but not too chilly. I was visiting the city alone, much as Claudia does in this story. It was not my first visit, but at least a half dozen years had passed since I had been there last. And then it began to rain. Not a drizzle, or even a heavy drop, but an absolute downpour. And it lasted a good hour and more. The streets all turned to drains, just as we have all read that they would, and suddenly those quaint and historically interesting stepping stones were 100% necessary for crossing the street. People fled, and when the sun finally came out, the city was a ghost town. I spent another three hours there and – I tell not one inch of a lie – I didn’t see another soul until home time. It was incredible.

A map of Pompeii is very much like a map of Manhattan; there are two distinctly different arrangements of streets. Both cities began organically, and at those points the streets run in every which direction. In Pompeii it is in the south west, around the Forum. In Manhattan it is at the southern tip. And then, as the cities grew, a grid system was enforced upon them both. It noticeably distinguishes the old from the new, the chaotic from the urban-planned. In Pompeii the streets have been given wonderfully evocative names in the modern era; the Via dell’ Abondanza, Via della Fortuna and Strada Stabiana among others. These larger roads split Pompeii into four districts; an area for outdoor amusements that centers on the amphitheatre, a general residential area of upmarket homes in the area of the Central Baths, a cultural district for theatrical entertainment, and the ‘Old Town’ surrounding the Forum.

Carroll William Westfall provides a wonderful introduction to the city’s streetscape. Today he dedicates his study to the classical tradition of architecture in America.

Pompeii exemplifies the urban legacy of Rome and presents an instructive example of a traditional town built to sustain and foster a life of civility. Population density was high by modern standards with the 167-acre city holding perhaps 10,000 to 12,000 residents, a number that swelled each day as people came from the countryside to enjoy the city’s markets and diversions. The same general urban character pervaded the city’s background buildings: atrium houses, row houses and other common types of residential party-wall construction, often with shops fronting the streets. The typical street cross-section had building walls rising directly from a sidewalk with curbs defining footpaths, although some streets lacked sidewalks on one or both sides, and some were narrower than others. The solidly built-up blocks were arrayed in an irregular grid pattern in which most streets change their alignment every few blocks, a condition the Romans exploited to great advantage as they imposed their urban order on the city.

I was walking very happy through the streets of the town for some time, as though through a dream. I saw many things about which I had read many times in books.

The Lego model of Pompeii is housed in the Nicholson Museum of The University of Sydney, Australia. Entry to the museum is entirely free, and you may visit Monday to Friday between 10:00 and 4:30. The Nicholson is Australia’s oldest University museum and contains the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern Hemisphere.  

The Pompeii model was commissioned by the Nicholson and constructed by LEGO Professional Builder Ryan McNaught. It is the third such model the museum has exhibited, following the Colosseum and Acropolis.  The Colosseum was returned to McNaught and recently exhibited around Australia. The Acropolis was denoted by the Nicholson to the Acropolis Museum in Athens. The Pompeii model is estimated to include 190 000 bricks and took 420 hours to complete.