Old wheel tracks-street of Stabia
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Again we can get our location from Vesuvius. We are evidently looking toward the northwest. This street was the principal business street of the town. Although glass has been found in Pompeii it was not used for house windows, the front wall of residences being built up from the pavement with small grated openings to admit air near the top of the wall. These were protected by shutters. The living rooms of the house opened on an inner courtyard from which came the light and air and in which the family spent most of their waking hours. This method of construction gave a very monotonous, commonplace appearance to the street, which was really only an opening between long lines of brick walls. In the business thoroughfares, however, as you may observe in this street of Stabia, the front of the buildings opened directly on the street either with arches, as seen on the corner of the street to our right, or with wide open doorways between intervening pillars of brick, these openings being closed by means of wooden doors when business was not being transacted. This arrangement gave to a business thoroughfare what residence streets lacked, namely, variety, animation, life.
Another striking feature in the street before us is the wide deep rut in the rough lava pavement made by the wagon wheels. What ceaseless grinding of heavy iron-tired wheels, through many long years, it must have required to have accomplished such a result! And think of there being no springs in the cart! and if there were, how long would springs stand that terrific bumping? It is easy to see that carriages were not in fashion then, since, if they had been, the paving would have been smoother. Having seen them all I can testify that Stabian Street, like every other street in Pompeii, is more ill paved than " the rocky road to Dublin."
Notice two heavy blocks of lava which form the curbing of the sidewalk and observe how brick and stone are used together in the construction of these buildings, most of which, however, are built of brick. Just in front of us, on the left-hand side of the road-way, is a stone watering trough at which horses were watered and in front of it are two stone posts to prevent its being marred by passing vehicles.
If we look to the end of the street where the excavations have ceased, we are able to get a clear conception of the depth of the material that covered the entire city. From where we are it looks as solid as a mass of granite. It is about as high as the walls of the town, which are from thirty-five to forty feet, according to the inequality of the ground.
We should notice also that this roadway is only wide enough for vehicles going in the same direction, hence different streets were assigned for wagons going in different directions. The cross streets were too narrow for vehicles and were used only for pedestrians and as channels for carrying off the rain water. The sidewalks are high and narrow, and, indeed, in some places there are none at all, the pedestrians being obliged to take to the lava blocks of the wagon way, which must have made hard walking. Notice those large stepping-stones, three in a row and placed at regular intervals where the main thoroughfare is crossed by side streets. They served in rainy weather to enable foot passengers to make the crossing without getting their feet wet.
On the left-hand side of the street, and at the farther corner formed by the cross street you observe a square brick tower with a sort of groove on the side facing us. That is a water tower and is similar to those seen by the traveler in Constantinople to-day. A lead pipe fitted into that groove. For some distance from the top the tower is hollow and was lined with metal, and from it ran pipes to the neighboring houses or shops. These towers were rarely over twenty feet high. The sewer system in Pompeii was really insignificant, consisting simply of covered conduits taking water from the Forum. Open drains in the streets sufficed for the rest. At the corner of the streets, shrines for the " gods of the street crossings," the " Lares Compitales," were frequently seen in a niche of the wall.
In this Street of Stabia were situated quite a number of baker shops in which were found loaves of bread in the ovens. One loaf was stamped with the baker's name. Milling and kneading machines were also found here, for in Pompeii the miller and baker were one. The ovens are not unlike many in use in Europe at the present day, being shaped like a low beehive with a sort of flue in front to enable the fire to burn inside while the oven is being heated. The dough was placed in a baking pan made of lava. The kneading machines were constructed upon precisely the same plan as those recently invented by an enter-prising Yankee and in use with us today.
On this street was the shop with the word " Felicitas " or " Good Luck " over the entrance. This is quite well preserved; the mills are still standing and the stock of carbonized bread remains unsold.
This street also contained numerous wine shops, on the wall of one of which is the legend, " Da fridam pusillum" (Add cold water, just a little), a sort of ingenious way of affirming the strength and purity of the wine sold. Under this a customer has scratched
"Landlord, may your lies malign Bring destruction on your head !
You yourself drink unmixed wine, Water sell your guests instead."
Tricks of the trade were evidently not wanting, and adulteration of food products belongs as well to ancient as to modern times. The Pompeians utilized business opportunities whenever possible ; they even turned Vesuvius to account, exporting pumice stone and lava mill stones.
It was near the south end of this street, close by the Porta di Stabia, that I saw an inn, and over its entrance door, which is attached to a garden or court-yard, is written :
"Come, weary traveler, lie down and rest
Quite an attractive invitation to a way-worn traveler.
Politics were as breezy and exciting in this city in those ancient days as they are now with us, for on many of the walls of houses located on street corners are still to be seen inscriptions in red paint calling upon all citizens to vote for a certain candidate; and then follows a detailed description of all the virtues of this office seeker and of the things he has accomplished for the public good. There is an element of refinement and consideration shown by these Pompeians which, with all their vices, is far in advance of modern political methods, and that is, that the followers of a candidate did not stoop so low as to call the attention in their public announcements to the weaknesses, real or imaginary, of his opponent.
Let us not turn away from this scene hastily; it demands and should receive our closest attention. Such a sight as this borders closely on the miraculous, for it is a revelation of a condition of things long since passed away. As I gaze upon those deep furrows in the pavement they become vocal with the whirl of chariot wheels, and I feel, instinctively, like stepping aside to let them pass ; while some of the street shops found here look as though they had quit trading only last night and were now ready to resume business. Ah ! but that was a long night that fell between then and now. It lasted two thousand years.
Although Pompeii was a port of entry from which merchandise was distributed all over Italy, yet the narrowness of its business streets indicates that its commercial importance could never have been great. Large business interests require corresponding facilities for their transaction, and these are nowhere found in this disinterred city. The importance of the place to us lies in the fact that it is the most valuable and almost the only source of our acquaintance with ancient domestic life. Classical authors give us fragmentary outlines, but here we have the actual conditions of life, as in a living picture, portrayed before us.
In order that we may become better acquainted with these conditions, let us pass on a short distance along this very street and enter a typical dwelling.