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Gardens of Pompeii

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Gardens of Pompeii , by Annamaria Ciarallo. Translated by Lori-Ann Touchette. (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum: 2001. Pg 73, illustrated, plant list) ISBN: 0-89236-629-X.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 11, 2002

Annamaria Ciarallo is a botanist, and she directs the laboratory for applied research at Pompeii. As such, she is intimately acquainted with the gardens, and gardening practices of the Ancient Pompeians. She is therefore eminently qualified to describe the gardens that once graced Pompeii, which she has done in her new book, Gardens of Pompeii.

In this book, Ciarallo details what plants where native to Pompeii, which were introduced, and what each plant was used for, with special attention given to medicinal plants and those used for dyes. She also describes how, and what plants, were used in urban and agricultural settings. In determining what plants where used in Pompeii, Ciarallo has used artistic and literary resources, as well as the archeological evidence that has been retrieved from the ruins of Pompeii. This evidence runs the gamut from preserved foods such as fruits and grains to pollens and other microscopic remains that must be analyzed in a laboratory setting to determine what they represent. Combining all these sources of evidence, Ciarallo recreates the botanical world of Pompeii in stunning detail. Her narrative is spiced with quotes from period authors, and by the inclusion over 130 color illustrations.

This book is divided into four sections, By examining the botanical aspects of Pompeii, we not only garner an image of what the city, and the surrounding areas, may have looked like, but we are also given a hint as to some of the smells and tastes that would have assailed the senses of the Pompeians. This work also gives the reader an idea on how the various gardens of Pompeii were laid out, the tools used to cultivate the soil, and how the crops were put to use. For example, Ciarallo describes how bread was made, from the planting of the wheat to the grinding of the flour and the baking of the bread itself. She also includes interesting tidbits of information, such as "Analyses carried out on fragments of carbonized bread reveals the presence of powdered stone in the flour." (Pg. 55). This was a result of the methods used to grind the wheat used in the bread.

This book includes a plant list detailing the species of plants that were present in Pompeii in A.D. 79, when the city was buried as a result of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Also included is a plant list detailing the vegetation that is currently present in and around the areas under excavation at Pompeii.

All in all, Gardens of Pompeii is a fascinating book that expounds upon a unique aspect of Pompeii's history. It also gives the reader a greater understanding of what life was like in Pompeii and how the region would have looked.

Other books in this series:
Related Reviews:

Gardens of the Roman World, by Patrick Bowe.
An overview of the history, influence, and function of the Roman gardens from imperial palace gardens and sacred gardens to public parks and market gardens.

Ancient Herbs, by Marina Heilmeyer.
A delightful survey of forty important plants and herbs of the ancient world, which concentrating primarily on plants used in ancient Greece and Rome.

Earthly Paradises - Ancient Gardens in History and Archaeology, By Maureen Carroll.
This work examines the function, significance, and design of ancient gardens from the second millennium B.C. to the middle of the first millennium A.D.

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