Pompeii & Paestum

In July 1999, JK visited Pompeii & Peastum in order to view the roads and other paved areas. Much of our understanding of Roman city streets is derived from Pompeii. In AD79, Vesuvius erupted and covered Pompeii with volcanic ash to a depth of about 10m. Just when it looked as though things couldn't get any worse, Vesuvius exploded and sent a 100mph avalanche of rock and hot gases (now called pyroclastic flow) hurtling towards Pompeii and other nearby towns. All those who had remained in Pompeii died. The event was recorded by Pliny the Younger, who saw the avalanche from his ship in the Bay of Naples. Until Mount St. Helens erupted in 1981, everyone thought Pliny's account was fanciful, but his description of a black cloud hurtling towards Pompeii is now regarded as the first attempt to describe pyroclastic flow conditions.

Most of Pompeii still remains hidden beneath the now farmed volcanic ash but those parts which have been excavated have revealed important information about Roman roadbuilding. These pictures show examples. The first shows a typical narrow street in Pompeii. One stepping stone allows people to cross the road. The kerbs are higher than today's, mainly because the streets were regularly flooded to wash dust and debris away. Note the shape and size of the paving stones. The stones were particularly well fitted together, with gaps less than 3mm. The skills required to achieve this should not be underestimated.

Because this next road in Pompeii is so narrow, ruts have been cut during its construction to guide carts & chariots between the kerbs. The articulated front axle had not been invented so vehicles were difficult to manoeuvre. Note that all Roman vehicles had the same track width.


The next picture shows a water tower at a road junction. Water flowed up a lead pipe in the vertical duct shown to find its free level in a tank at the top of the tower. The water was then piped to local houses and fountains through smaller lead pipes. The pressure required to force the water to the top of the towers was produced by the pressure head of the incoming water which entered Pompeii from an aqueduct at the Vesuvius Gate, Pompeii's highest point. The tower shown is one of the few which survived the events of 79AD.

The picture below shows a wider road with three stepping stones. Ruts were formed in these roads only near the stepping stones to guide the carts through them.

This next picture shows an interesting kerb detail. The shape cut into the kerbstone is an indication of the nature of the business being conducted in the adjacent building. To my knowledge, no 20th century kerb manufacturer can supply this detail.



Peastum, 40 miles south east of Naples in best known for its tomb painting "The Diver" and for its Greco-Roman temples. The next two pictures show the temple commonly, but inaccurately, known as The Basilica.