Summer solstice at Pompeii

The sun was hiding behind the clouds up at Stonehenge this year, but it was a lens-flarin’ spectacle at Pompeii.

The Via di Nola and Via dell’Abbondaza face the sun at summer solstice. They are aligned within less than half a degree of the solstice sunrise azimuth. This is a feature seen in other Roman cities, including Pompeii’s neighbor Herculaneum. Ancient writers record that it was customary to orient a town’s main street, the Decumanus, towards to sun where it rises on a day of special significance to the town. Solstice sunrise was a special day for many Roman towns and forts. Archaeologists suspect the origins of the practice goes back to the Etruscans whose religious rituals the Romans absorbed.

Already at the beginning of the last century, antiques and archaeological research investigated the urban orientation of Pompeii and its relationship with astronomical orientations and the sun. As part of the wider program of studies on the cities of Campania, the doctoral course of the Department of Letters and Cultural Heritage of the University of Campania, combining astronomy and archeology and moving from scientific data, investigates the ancient urban systems, from Capua to Calatia to Sorrento. The Archaeological Park of Pompeii opened its doors shortly before dawn to the small group of scholars composed of Carlo Rescigno, Michele Silani, Carmela Capaldi and Ilaria De Cristofaro. The sun, on the day when it ‘stays’ longer in the sky, arose from the tip of the mountain on Via di Nola and dell’Abbondanza and from these streets it was photographed in its blinding halo. The city of Athena and Apollo, of Diana and Venus, is also told by the lines, apparently silent, of its many orientations. And documenting the city, the summer solstice was celebrated in a Pompeii illuminated by the first light of dawn, immersed in history and in its many possibilities of knowledge.

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