Saturday, May 11, 2013

Napoli, Italy: The Ancient Streets of Pompeii

Ruins in the Forum with Mount Vesuvius in the Background

Pompeii is the ancient city that perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  The eruption buried the city in volcanic ash preserving many of the buildings and even human bodies below it.  You may remember seeing pictures of Pompeii or pictures of the plaster casts of bodies found during excavations from history classes growing up.  I definitely remembered this and was very much looking forward to the visit.

The ruins of Pompeii were different from the other ruins we have visited on our trip due to just how much of the city was preserved.  Entire building walls are still standing and the old streets are intact just as they were during the days when the city was inhabited.  

In current streetscape design we try to focus on pedestrian access while still accommodating vehicular traffic.  While walking through the ancient streets our guide shared some things with us that showed old ways of pedestrian focused design.  

For instance, the streets used to flood with storm water as well as dirty water dumped into the streets by the people living and working there.  Due to the high level of water in the streets, stepping stone crosswalks approximately 12" high were installed to allow people to cross the streets while not having to step into the filthy water.  Another element that is an old example of something we have refined and continue to use today is the curbs lining the streets.  Although the curbs are extremely high and the sidewalks are quite narrow it is still an early example of separating pedestrian and vehicular traffic.  On the main street they installed white lava rock in the joints of the large cobblestones to reflect the moonlight and help guide those using the street.

Raised Stone Crosswalk and Cobble Street
Close-Up of the Crosswalk Stones
Narrow Side Streets with Large Curbs
Wider Main Street with Wider Sidewalk
Cobblestone Streets with White 'Reflector' Stones
One last item that is something we strive to do on many projects these days is the use of native materials.  This is evident in much of the early construction, but for the purposes of this blog I want to highlight the use of large volcanic rock as the street cobbles, and the large blocks of volcanic rock used as the curbs and sidewalks.  In those days access to foreign materials was much more rare than today, therefore obtaining local materials for construction wasn't just a desire it was a necessity!

Volcanic Rock Curb
(The Holes were for Tying Up One's Horse in the Street)
Design standards for streetscapes have come a long ways since these days.  Although there are no tree pits or bike lanes it is unique to see early examples of design elements we continue to use today.

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