Our trip to Naples wouldn’t have been complete without an excursion to nearby Pompeii, so one day Greg, his brother Drew and I headed there to explore.
As I’m sure you remember from history class, Pompeii is the ancient Roman city that was buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. The site was lost for almost 1,700 years, and when archaeologists excavated it they found a remarkably intact city. They even used plaster to fill the voids in the ash where human bodies had been, so the archaeologists could see the exact position each person was in when he or she died. What was a moment in time in Pompeii had been preserved for centuries.
Knowing the city’s tragic history, I have to say it was a little disconcerting walking Pompeii’s streets while Mount Vesuvius loomed in the background. It was only after my visit that I learned Mount Vesuvius is still one of the world’s most dangerous volcanos. And, according to the History Channel, a similar eruption is due any day now. I’m really glad I didn’t know this while we were there!
My favorite travel question a friend of mine asked me once after a trip is “what did you find most surprising?” I feel like that reveals much more about someone’s vacation than just asking “how was it?” Ever since then I’ve asked friends and family that question whenever they’ve traveled.
So, in case you’re asking me, the most surprising aspect of my recent trip to Italy was the size of Pompeii. The city is massive, and after walking around for most of the day we still hadn’t seen anywhere close to all of it. And only about 1/3 of Pompeii is available for tourists to view, so practically speaking we hadn’t seen anywhere close to 1/3 of Pompeii after spending the day there. How crazy is that?!
In that vein, I can’t imagine how long it took to excavate Pompeii, with archeologists having to painstakingly shift through layer after layer of ash.
Pompeii was very developed, which also surprised me. It had an amphitheater plus two theaters, a swimming pool, at least four public baths, temples, gardens, restaurants, bars, a gymnasium, a hotel, and a large number of private homes and businesses, including a brothel. And all of this, as well as 2,000 of the city’s inhabitants, were buried in minutes.
As an ironic twist of fate, it is widely believed Mount Vesuvius erupted just one day after Vulcanalia, the festival of the Roman god of fire, including volcanic fire. Clearly the celebration was not up to his standards…
While you’re walking around the site you can’t help but imagine your daily life, and what it would be like if a random moment was frozen in time for thousands of years. It’s really difficult to wrap your head around.
Whenever I visit historic sites I always wonder whether the people had any idea their home would one day become a tourist destination. I can’t imagine thousands of years from now having tourists walk through our apartment and take pictures of the art and furniture for their Instagrams (or whatever the future equivalent is). By wandering through Pompeii it’s almost as if you’re trespassing on the former residents’ lives.
It’s hard not to become introspective at Pompeii. The city is so well preserved that you’re able to have a more intimate view of people’s lives, more so than at most ancient ruins which are just that: ruins. At Pompeii, on the other hand, you can almost picture the people walking the streets while corralling unruly children, flirting with a lover, or thinking about their hopes and dreams for the future.
Except you know the ending that they don’t.