18 November 2009

Cave Canum

At the entrance to Pompeii's House of the Tragic Poet, you will find this.

It's the original Cave Canum, and translated from Latin that means Beware of the Dog.

Here's a cleaner shot of it.

There are a number of these mosaic entryways scattered around Pompeii and most of them just show a chained dog.

They're yet one more thing that really humanizes the experience of walking around Pompeii. As an archeological site, Pompeii is enormous. Once you're on the grounds you cannot see out of it. It seems to extend in all directions for as far as you can see.

That's Vesuvius looming over the back of the Forum here.

Pompeii's definitely a ruin. Most of it has been exposed to the elements for the last 200 or so years and those years have not been kind. At the same time though, Pompeii's unique beauty comes in a large part from that state of decay. The place is a paradox. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that it was once a thriving outpost of Rome at its height. Every once in a while though, you'll turn a corner and get poked in the eye with the humanity of the people who once called Pompeii home.

The Cave Canum is one of those humanizing touches.

Two million people a year file past the Flintstones-themed campground (I'm not kidding) to get that glimpse into those ancient lives. And each of those two million people leaves a mark. Very little of Pompeii is off limits or behind velvet ropes. A visit there has you walking across real Roman floors and running your hands over real Roman architecture. It's easy to get carried away and despite the crowds, it's not difficult to get off the beaten path and have some quiet time in the ruins.

Yesterday, my great friend Nancie Mills-Pipgras (who along with Bill Buckingham, edit one of the world's premier art annuals, Mosaic Art Now) posted a notice on her Facebook page and it reminded me of another one of Pompeii's quirks.

Pompeii has a large number of stray dogs walking around the place. It's somehow fitting that they're there. Pompeii is in Naples after all. Now I don't mean that as a slam. To say Naples has a culture unto itself is an understatement of biblical proportions. Naples is a place of mind-boggling chaos played out against a back drop of nearly indescribable beauty. It's a place where 700,000 people live cheek by jowl in the shadow of a volcano that could blow at any moment. It's a place where stray dogs roam at will across what's arguably the world's most important archeological site.

I took this photo as I was walking out of the Suburban baths. This dog was sacked out in the middle of the floor and you had to step around him to get past.

A year-and-a-half ago, the Italian government declared a state of emergency for Pompeii and decided to spend some money cleaning up the place. A part of that is a new program to adopt out the stray dogs of Pompeii. Three of Italy's animal charities, the Anti-Vivisection League, the National Animal Protection Authority and the National Dog Protection League have been spaying, neutering, vaccinating and preparing the stray dogs of Pompeii for eventual adoption.

There's now a website, i Cani di Pompei that's dedicating to showcasing these dogs and searching for homes for them. The search is being extended worldwide, so if you've ever wanted to own a dog that can parla l'italiano, now's your chance.


  1. This is my favorite post of all time! I took a picture of a dog that looked very similar to that when I was there. Same thing; sacked out in the middle of a walkway.

  2. Isn't it wild how calm those strays are? I suppose when you're a stray dog and you have two million people a year file past you, you get pretty used to being around people. I don't know though. Pompeii without piles of dog shit just won't be the same. Hah!

  3. If we didn't already have three dogs, I'd snap up a Pompeii dog in a minute!!

    It's great that the government and charities are making an effort to help the stray dogs find homes. They might be content enough living in the streets, but I'm sure they'll all be happier living in proper homes with loving families :-)

    Great post, Paul -- thanks for spreading the word about the dogs of Pompeii :-)


  4. I can only imagine that de-flea-ing and de-mange-ing them will take quite a while. They seem to be sweet dogs though. On the i Cani di Pompei website they have the individual dogs lists. Appropriately enough, they have Latin names.

  5. awwww... i'm glad they are finding homes. i would imagine with 2 million sets of hands to pet them filing by every year, that they are quite friendly...

  6. I don't I ever saw anyone touch one. It's strange, they are relaxed around people but they sort of keep everyone at arms' length. They also reek to high heaven and that might be why I didn't see anyone petting them...


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