At the entrance of Piazza Anfiteatro, by walking along the path through the greenery flanked by the ancient tombs of the cemetery of Porta Nocera, one comes to a unique place which, like so many other similar ones in Pompeii, is steeped in sanctity and compassion. It is a display area of several plaster casts of victims of the eruption, discovered close to the ancient gate of Porta di Nocera.

As from today, the group of plaster casts, now that the maintenance and restoration work has been completed, are once again accessible thanks to the interventions designed to upgrade and enhance the route that enables visitors to get close to the display area. From here, it is possible to contemplate the details which, while seemingly being just forms made of plaster, turn out on closer inspection to match the moving description provided by the writer Luigi Settembrini during the nineteenth century: “They have been dead for eighteen centuries, but they are human beings who can be observed in all their agony. This is neither art nor imitation, but their bones, the remains of their flesh and their clothes mixed with plaster: it is the pain of death that regains form and substance.”

The area of Porta Nocera, with its necropolis, is situated outside the city walls, to the southwest of ancient Pompeii. The city gate faced in the direction of the ancient city of Nuceria (where the present-day towns of Nocera Inferiore and Nocera Superiore are now situated). The whole area was brought to light during the excavations carried out in May 1952 by Amadeo Maiuri, the then director of excavations, as part of a much broader programme that aimed to free up the whole of the city walls from a large part of the backfill that still covered them.

In the autumn of 1956, during work designed to shore up the front of the excavated area, a group of four victims and the remains of a structure for muliones (mule drivers), were found in the area between Via delle Tombe and the city walls in the north-western sector.

As was customary at the time, plaster casts were made of the victims using the technique developed by the archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli in the nineteenth century. The method, which is still used to this day, consists in pouring liquid plaster into the cavities found in the bank of hardened ash, where archaeologists identify voids caused by the decomposition of the soft organic tissue. Once the plaster has dried, the volume, form and position of the object or body buried there are recreated.

Of the four plaster casts of the victims, only one lies in the original position where it was discovered. The victim was an adult male, about 1,80 m (6 ft) tall, lying face down with his legs spread apart, covered on his back by a tunic. The cast was left in its original position directly on the layer of lapilli. Two other victims were discovered not far from here, between Porta Nocera and Torre II (Tower II) of the city’s fortifications: an adolescent lying on his left side, his legs bent forwards with traces of a tunic on his back and on his belly and the soles of his sandals, and an adult lying on his right side with his arms and legs bent, traces of a tunic and the sole of the left sandal.

The last plaster cast of this group was a boy aged between 7 and 19 years old, initially interpreted by Maiuri as an old man, lying on his right side, who preserves the imprint of thin fabric on his chin, and who was wearing lace-up sandals. The traces in the cast of a walking stick, a wooden bowl and a haversack, which can be identified by a swelling on the left side of the victim, have led to the suggestion that the person was a beggar.

The plaster casts of the victims reveal the agony of the people who died during the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, a few decades after the facts that we commemorate in this Easter period” adds Gabriel Zuchtriegel the Park Director. “They represent an invitation to remember that, beyond the chocolate eggs we find in every possible size and colour in the supermarkets, there is a story of men and women that has been handed down to us, and that Pompeii can help us to understand this world in which many elements of our culture have their roots, last but not least Christianity. In reality, at Pompeii, the evidence for the new faith is scant and ambiguous, but the city does offer us an image of the life of the less affluent inhabitants often mentioned in the Gospels. One of the plaster casts of Porta Nocera, of which a copy is on display in the exhibition "L'altra Pompei" (The Other Pompeii) currently being held in Palestra Grande, was interpreted by Maiuri as a wayfarer, a beggar with a stick and a haversack, who, according to the most recent analyses, must have been a young person."

The maintenance and restoration work carried out on the plaster casts of Porta Nocera have sought to make the area accessible to the public in order to re-enhance one of the historic displays created by Maiuri.

In particular, the activities concern the establishment of a safe means of access to the site, a new arrangement of the display layout with the addition of new iron handrails and interventions designed to lighten the existing protective panels by eliminating the grilles that restricted the view of the works. The only part of the panels that has been left is the metal framework used to fit the new ultra-clear, entire safe glass to ensure a better overall view of the whole area and the details of the bodies. The existing roofing has been preserved.

Special attention has been devoted to the plaster casts which had been severely damaged by the unusual display area; the direct contact with the terrain on which they lie, the primary terrain in one case and the secondary terrain in the others, had led to deterioration due to rising damp. The conservation work was therefore designed to isolate the plaster casts, preventing direct contact with the underlying terrain by means of a complex operation that involved inserting an insulating honeycomb panel made of aluminium between the plaster cast and the terrain on which it lies. In this case too, the maintenance was strictly necessary to ensure constant care to resolve the conservational problems that are inherent to an archaeological context.

LINK VIDEO https://we.tl/t-kPFQXnSXtm