We started out the day with an hour long train ride and a short metro trip to get to the National Archeological Museum in Naples. This is the oldest archeological museum in the world. It was started in 1758 by King Charles III.
Today's tour of the museum was a completion of the Pompeii and Herculaneum sites. The museum contains all of the artifacts that were taken from those sites. Our guide, Eugene, started us out in the mosaics room. We saw many beautiful mosaics and Eugene explained a little about each one. He said that mosaics were usually created by three artists. The first being the most inexperienced and just starting the outline of the image. Then the second and usually the most experienced one will put the stones in place. Finally the third artist would put the finishing touches on the piece. Eugene told us that mosaics are different from frescos because of the fact that they can be done slowly and more precisely, whereas the fresco had to be completed quickly before the plaster could dry. These mosaics were very important to the people of these cities, especially to the Greeks. We learned that the mosaics were used to explain Greek mythology to younger generations. They were also used to show Greek pride or cultural sophistication. The Greeks were living in Roman culture and it was important to them to hold onto their Greek roots. One particularly exceptional mosaic was the depiction of the battle between Alexander the Great and Darius. It is estimated to contain around 1.2 million stones. It truly was a masterpiece!
Next, we wandered to the area that contained some of the miscellaneous artifacts that were found. We saw many pots and tableware. There was one of the largest collections of silver tableware that was found on display. Here we also saw many instruments of all different kinds of professions from surgeons to blacksmiths. Eugene told us that they used the tools that were found in different houses to determine the professions of people who lived there. We made a special stop at the papyri. These were ancient scrolls that were found in a house in Herculaneum. They found thousands of these scrolls that manged to survive the lava and were able to read some of them. They contained text that had never be found anywhere else. So they proved to be incredibly useful.
Our next stop was to see the frescos that had been extracted from the houses. We saw all of the different types of frescos and learned that they used different minerals to obtain the vibrant colors used to paint. Frescos had to be painted very quickly since they were painted over wet plaster because once the plaster dried they couldn't paint anymore.
Our last stop was the area that contained all the statues. Here we saw many busts of former emperors and deities. My favorite statue was the one Hercules. It was quite impressive. This concluded our tour of the museum. Eugene told us that it would take two weeks for someone to go through the entire museum thoroughly and today 30 percent of the museum was closed for restoration. This just means that we will have to come back someday because there is a heck of a lot more to see.
Today really rounded out this leg of the trip. We had spent the last few days seeing the actual cities, but here was the icing on the top of the Ancient Roman cake. This museum was filled to the brim with pieces they had taken from the sites, all the art and other material objects which were found in the cities. It was really cool to get to see all these works, which are beautiful in themselves, but then to also think about the fact that these used to decorate people's houses really blows my mind.
The Romans did not use furniture in their houses like we do today, instead their interior decorations were mostly built-in, in the form of these frescos and mosaics. And their culture was all about conspicious consumption, you showed your power and wealth through your material goods; more ostentation equals higher status. So some of these works are so intricate and of fantastic quality, it really was a treat to get to see them.
Some of us were definitely talking about which pieces we were going to have in our future houses. They say all trends come back around eventually, we are just going to go extremely retro and bring back the real "Classics" into interior decorating.