Live at Pompeii: the Pink Floyd concert became a legend

by Gerardo Russo

The Archaeological Park of Pompeii, from 4 to 7 October 1971, it became the setting for a work made legendary. In the'Roman amphitheater of the excavations performed i Pink Floyd, for an unusual concert behind closed doors. The aim was to make an extraordinary documentary film dedicated to the British rock band. The inspiration that would lead to the project "Live at PompeiiCame to the director Adrian Maben just during the visit of the ancient Roman city.

Live at Pompeii: il concerto dei Pink Floyd diventato leggenda
The Roman amphitheater of Pompeii during the opening hours to the public, where it was filmed Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.

The choice of Pompeii

Adrian Maben had studied in Rome at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and wanted to return to Italy with his girlfriend. It was right after visiting the Pompeian ruins that the documentary director realized he had lost his passport.

He then returned to the entrance to the excavations and was allowed to return to look for the document. The streets of ancient Pompeii were now empty, just as the amphitheater was deserted. Maben tells how they even echoed the sounds of insects. It was at that moment that he realized he had to shoot a documentary dedicated to Pink Floyd, with whom he had already had interlocutors in the past.

The Live at Pompeii project would have planned to leave the amphitheater empty. The absence of an audience was motivated by the desire to make a concert film opposite to that Woodstock, where therefore the silence made more noise than the fans. The spectators would have been in a sense the ghosts of ancient Pompeii.

Live at Pompeii: il concerto dei Pink Floyd diventato leggenda
Pompeii with Vesuvius in the background.

The sound of the amphitheater

Amphitheaters were places dedicated to shows in ancient times and therefore, according to Maben, Pompeii would have been a perfect location for Pink Floyd. The sound engineer of the band, Peter Watts, when Pink Floyd started playing, brought back to Maben there extraordinary sound produced in the amphitheater. The director, during an interview carried out in 2017, recalls how the resonances bounced off the stone walls, producing echo effects still not reproducible in the studio. The acoustic qualities of the amphitheater, dating back to the 1st century BC, proved to be impressive.

Days of registration

Maben managed to convince the Archaeological Superintendence to shoot the documentary through Prof. Ugo Carputi, among other Pink Floyd fans. The recordings of the documentary should have taken place in six days and for the occasion the Pompeii park it was closed to the public.

The Pink Floyd, after accepting the project, claimed that the technique of the was not used in any way playback. They wanted the sound to come out like when recording a record. Complications soon arose in getting the electricity to work inside the amphitheater. The solution, found only after two wasted days, was found using a gigantic electric cable able to connect the amphitheater with modern Pompeii. The shooting of Live at Pompeii thus lasted only four days, from 4 to 7 October 1971.

Live at Pompeii: il concerto dei Pink Floyd diventato leggenda
Ancient Pompeii.

From concert to documentary

The audio and video recording of the concert was released in 1972, under the title Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, supplemented with scenes from the band in other places, such as the Solfatara of Pozzuoli and to the Europasonor film studio in Paris, as well as archival material provided by the Superintendency. The work was followed by other versions by Maben.

The same David Gilmour, singer and guitarist of the band, performed in 2016 in the Roman amphitheater, this time with an audience. From the concert of David Gilmour an album came out in 2017, once again called “Live at Pompeii”.

The great thread that binds Pompeii

Maben never found his passport, but Live at Pompeii had a worldwide resonance. The Pompeii of the past, hanging from the electric wires of the modern city, managed thanks to him to host a show as in the days of the ancient glories. This time the show was shared with the world, but at the same time aimed only at the memory of the Pompeian inhabitants of the past.

Thirty years later the director returned to Pompeii and visited the hotel that had housed the troupe. However, the accommodation had been closed for years. The director thus found himself wandering in an abandoned property, calling it a sort of second Pompeii, in which, however, he was the ghost.


Adrian Maben (Live At Pompeii) - 2003 - with Brain Damagel

The Republic; Adrian Maben, the director of 'Pink Floyd at Pompeii'. “We were the anti Woodstocks”; 2017

The Lunatics; Pink Floyd in Pompeii. A timeless story; 2016

Nicola Acanfora; Essay on the uses, customs and history of the municipalities of the metropolitan city of Naples; 2019

The mysteries of Pompeii - Pompeian antiquities in the imagination of modernity: proceedings of the study day, Pavia, Collegio Ghislieri, 1 March 2007; 2008

Maria Paola Guidobaldi, Fabrizio Pesando; Pompeii, Oplontis, Herculaneum, Stabiae; 2018

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