A Moment Frozen In Time; Pompeii

Pompeii Vesuvius
Pompeii Vesuvius

 

 

Pompeii Street
Pompeii

Every so often one gets a snapshot of a moment in history; a faded photograph, a piece of nostalgia, everywhere we go there are glimpses of the past. 

Pompeii girl
Fresco at Pompeii

These little bits when stitched together can create an idea of what life was like in a certain time period. And in fact, many historians and archeologists spend their entire lives lovingly stitching together moments to create a pure line of history as carefully and patiently as grandma stitched her quilts. 

So imagine visiting a place frozen in time where no stitching necessary to see exactly how an ancient people lived almost 2,000 years ago. 

Such is Pompeii, a wealthy city located along the shores of Mediterranean Sea a short distance south of Naples in Campania, Italy. 

Pompeii Vesuvius
Pompeii Vesuvius

If you are unfamiliar with Pompeii, It is an ancient Roman city that was completely overwhelmed and mostly covered up by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Subsequent eruptions buried it further and it was not until the 1700’s that archeologists really understood what lay beneath the years and layers of dust and volcanic ash that preserved these ruins beautifully, until they were finally excavated.

Beautiful House in Pompeii
Beautiful Ruins in Pompeii

When they were, archeologists discovered a magnificent jewel of a city frozen in time more than 2000 years ago when all life suddenly stopped. 

The dust and ash that covered Pompeii had the effect of perfectly preserving everything it touched including frescoes, buildings and even food that was to be sold at the markets that day and consumed for the next meal that never arrived. 

rescue Pompeii
Fresco Pompeii

Preserved were the city streets, the tiled walkways and floors, the sidewalks. And as you walk these ancient streets, despite the crowds that normally flock to Pompeii in the high season, you can get a feeling of exactly how the people lived so long ago and how they died suddenly in the catastrophe that was the eruption of Vesuvius. 

It took many decades for Pompeii to be excavated to the extent it is currently, however today, the excavation site at Pompeii is huge.

Pompeii Map
Map of Pompeii

As you can see from the overhead view from Google Maps, the city of Pompeii spans four and a half miles. A shady, tree-lined walkway takes you into the park. The modern shops, stalls and restaurants are a stark contrast to the ancient city, but oddly only superficially. These modern shopkeepers need to make a living selling their products just as the ancient people of Pompeii did. 

Prior to the catastrophe, Pompeii was a thriving port town and an important trading hub. The excavation of amphorae revealed a busy trade in wine and olive oil.

Amphorae
Amphorae
Grapes
Grapes in Naples are fertilized by the volcanic soil

The farmlands surrounding Pompeii were rich in volcanic soil and created an abundance of agricultural crops including grapes, barley, wheat and millet. These were all grown for export to various parts of the Roman Empire. 

As you walk the streets, you see complete apartment buildings and shops. There are also a myriad of food stands that catered to customers, complete with menus frescoed on the walls. Walking in today is just like walking in in August AD 79. You almost expect the proprietor to wipe the counter in front of you and stand there waiting for your order.

The presence of beautiful villas with lavish wall decorations and gardens points to the fact that Pompeii housed many successful people. Nero himself visited Pompeii and was said to have performed there. 

Pompeii residences
A Typical Street In Pompeii

Life was rich and good in Pompeii, that is until August 24 AD 79 when everything changed.

(New evidences suggests that the date was actually later than August and was more likely as late as November. This is due to several factors such as the clothing worn by the victims, which was heavier and more Winter type clothing. Also important is the fact that the fruits and vegetables being sold at the market at that time were also Winter products and that there were chestnuts in the market which would not have been available in August. These facts all seem to point to a later date.)

 

Volcano
Pyroclastic Flow

The eruption that buried Pompeii took place over two days. Prior to that time, for at least 17 years, Pompeii had been subject to earthquakes. In fact some archeologists believe that parts of Pompeii were still being repaired from the previous destructive earthquake in 62 AD which had destroyed much of the city. Others disagree and state that much of the city had been repaired and new buildings had been added. 

The first 18 hours consisted of a rainfall of tapilli, small volcanic particles that rained down on the city. This warning was enough for some residents to leave to city taking whatever valuables they could. Since there have only been about 1,150 bodies recovered out of an original  population of about 20,000, we can surmise that most people actually did leave the city either after the first earthquake in 62 AD, years earlier or just before the eruptions turned into the deadly pyroclastic flows, the “Walls of Death “ that ended up entombing the city and annihilating any inhabitants left. 

Volcano2
Volcano Eruption

A pyroclastic flow is a billowing cloud of 700C gas, ash and rock that scientists now believe flowed from Vesuvius on a cushion of air allowing the flows to reach speeds of 750 km per hour. 

While initially it was believed  that the victims were overcome with ash that caused their demise, it is now believed that the heat of the pyroclastic flows killed them instantly upon its arrival even if they were inside buildings or other structures. 

Victim
Victim of Vesuvius

Discoveries of mass casualties in a cave near the sea reveal that even those who took refuge succumbed in the same fashion. The cave discovery, near Herculaneum revealed that several of these people had gathered up their most precious belongings, gold bracelets and earrings and coins, and sought shelter thinking that the cave would save them. Sadly this did not occur and they succumbed with the others in Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum.

Sculpture at Pompeii
Sculpture At Pompeii

Pliny the Younger, who lived during that period was across the Bay of Naples at Misenium when the eruptions occurred and gave a first hand account of what he saw. His uncle, Pliny the Elder, was admiral of the fleet and died while rescuing victims as he had ordered his ships to travel across the Bay of Naples to assist. 

Bay of Naples
Bay of Naples

At that time volcanic ash covered Pompeii to a height of almost 20 feet.

And she lay there for centuries until she was found.

On a peaceful Spring or Summer day you can explore Pompeii although it takes more than a day to see it all. 

There are three separate entrances as the park is so big. 

Pompeii has many noteworthy sights however here is a short list of a few of them:

Temple of Apollo
Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo

This temple features Etruscan architecture and is thought to be the oldest structure in Pompeii having come up through history from Etruscan occupation, through the Greeks and finally the Romans.

House of the Faun
House of the Faun

The House of the Faun

This particular villa is one of the most famous sights in Pompeii. As a villa it covers an entire block and was home to the Alexander Mosaic which depicts Alexander the Great fighting the Persians. Intact are the geometric floors, however many artifacts have been recovered there as well. Named for a statue of a faun that was found there, this house depicts the lavish lifestyle and success of some of the people in Pompeii. 

Forum Pompeii
The Forum at Pompeii

The Forum At Pompeii

Like the Forum in Rome, the Forum of Pompeii was the center of life in this ancient city. Government activities were carried out there and nearby, one found shops, markets and baths. 

As you wander through this formerly buzzing space, you can still feel the activities as though they were still occurring despite their 2000 year hiatus. 

Sabian Baths
Sabian Baths

The Sabian Baths

Ancient Rome was big on bathing and no wealthy Roman city would be without its luxurious baths. Hot, cold and tepid baths were provided for those looking for a day out and a little cleanliness. 

Annaliseart
Photo Credit Annalisart

A visit to Pompeii seems to always end up with lines of tourists waiting to see the Lupanare or the brothel ruins. In fact, there were several brothels in Pompeii and curious tourist minds want to know. 

All through Pompeii there are various houses identified as to who owned them. The house of the lonely poet, the house of the surgeon, The house of Pansa all giving a snapshot frozen in time of a vibrant city that suddenly stopped like a broken clock. 

Getting to Pompeii by train is relatively easy. From Naples you can either take the Circumvesuviano which takes about 35 minutes to cover the Pompeii-Naples route or you can take the Metropolitano which will get you to Pompeii In 38 minutes, Please be wary while on these trains and in Naples in general as there are pick pockets much like in any big city. However they do seem to haunt the train routes to the attractions so extra care should be taken. An over the shoulder bag that zips up and with straps that cannot be cut through is perfect for both men and women for carrying valuables. Never carry your wallet in your pockets. 

I hope you have enjoyed our little trip through Pompeii. You definitely have to experience it in person. And when you are there come a little further south and visit us in Calabria. We will look for you there.

Ciao!

Credits:

Wikipedia
Science mag
Pixabay
Pexel

How to Make Your Trip to Italy Surpass All Expectations

Pieta
Pieta
The Colosseum In Rome

Ciao!

So you are heading off to Italy! You researched flights online and got the best deal or you went with a travel agent. You have your hotels, your trains, your cars all figured out. It is going to be GREAT! 

And it will be. You almost cannot go to Italy and have it be anything other than great.

But Italy, with all its beautiful cities, amazing structures and fabulous art can be a bit overwhelming. Everywhere you look there is something spectacular to see. Italy is a giant art bath and it literally takes your breath away. 

So how do you somehow get everything in order in your mind so that you don’t see it all in a giant blur and then not remember any of it? 

My husband and I are avid Italophiles. We have a place in Calabria and get over there whenever we can. We always stop over in Rome and many times Florence before taking the train down south and every time we go we see new and exciting things. 

Florence is a very special city and the birth place of the Renaissance. 

Medieval Italian Home
Medieval Italian Home

But Rome and Florence can also be a giant blur unless you know the history and at least have an idea of the chronology of the events and the personalities that have shaped these cities and made them bright stars in Italy’s crown. 

Since we first realized that we needed proper context in order to really enjoy these cities on a deeper level, my husband and I started purchasing courses through The Great Courses. 

In addition we found  a great series on YouTube that anyone can view for free. There is so much available that it is difficult to pick out a few favorites. 

Roma
Roma

1) “The Rise of Rome” by Professor Gregory S. Aldrete Ph.D. (The Great Courses Plus)

In his course The Rise of Rome, Dr. Aldrete explains in entertaining detail how from the 8th century BC, Rome rose to a massive civilization that controlled the entire Mediterranean basin and beyond. 

Dr. Aldrete not only goes over the chronology of the rise of Rome but puts in perspective all of the main events and characters that shaped Rome as she rose and then started her demise. 

Dr Aldrete is as entertaining as he is brilliant sometimes giving his lecture in a Roman toga and inserting anecdotes that enlighten and add color. 

Many of the Great Courses lectures are offered in DVD format or you can stream them. They come with an accompanying text with pictures and important information but even if you simply watch the lectures you will gather tons of great data that will put the entire city in perspective for you. 

Ostia Antica
Ostia Antica, Roma

2) “Meet the Romans” series by Dame Mary Beard  (YouTube)

Dame Mary Beard is a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge as well a a fellow of Newnham College and the Royal Academy of Arts. Honestly she has so many achievements that it would take pages to list them all, however despite her amazing depth of knowledge of all things Roman, Dame Mary Beard has managed to create a series that is intimate and understandable. 

The most fascinating part of her series is that she follows the steps of the Roman Empire and on the way, translates various monuments and grave stones from Latin to English and gives historical context to each one. 

Apparently back in ancient Rome, when someone died, a lot of information about them was written on their grave markers. Since these are in Latin, we pass them by in the streets, in alleyways and lining the Via Appia, and never know what secret treasures they contain. 

Dame Mary opens up this treasure trove of intimate information so we see how the inhabitants of Ancient Rome lived, from the emperors to the men and women in the streets. 

Happy Travels
Goofy Tourists in the Piazza Navona

3) “The Prince” by Professor William Landon (The Great Courses Plus) 

The Prince is a lecture series that follows the life and downfall of Niccolo Machiavelli and the impact his book “The Prince” has had on society up to and including present day. 

Machiavelli lived in Florence during the Renaissance and is a contemporary of Michelangelo, Lorenzo De’ Medici, Rafael, Leonardo Da Vinci and the insane Franciscan monk, Savonarola. 

Political situations were volatile back then and one could be in a cushy government job one minute and hanging upside down in a bonfire in the piazza the next. 

This lecture series gives a close up look not only at the political situation and surrounding events during that incredibly active time, but also how the crucible of political upheaval helped create Machiavelli’s brilliant work and how his ideas have permeated our culture today. 

Walking the streets of Florence, you can’t help but understand better everything around you and to see the city in its ancient context bringing the Renaissance to life. 

Roman ruins
Roman ruins

4)  “The Genius of Michelangelo” by Professor William E. Wallace.  (The Great Courses Plus) 

Of all the courses my husband and I have studied, this is my favorite because I have a deep love and respect for the genius that is Michelangelo. 

Professor Wallace shares that love and respect and takes you through the journey of Michelangelo’s life from his relatively ignoble birth to his rise in Florence and to the associations with various popes who commissioned him to create some of the most beautiful art works ever created anywhere. 

Florence is a treasure trove of Michelangelo’s works and one of the homes he owned is now a museum dedicated to him where you can see up close and personal his early works like “The Madonna of the Stairs” and “The Battle of the Centaurs”. 

Walk in Michelangelo’s footsteps in both Florence and Rome and see where they cross those of Machiavelli and Leonard Da Vinci. Glimpse of the personality of the artist and understand the barriers he had to overcome to create everything he created in one short life time. 

This lecture series more than any other take both Rome and Florence from one dimensional tourist destinations to multi dimensional story tellers with every street, palace or museum contributing to the tale. 

5) “Pompeii: Daily Life in an Ancient Roman City” by Professor Steven L. Tuck (The Great Courses Plus)

In the days of the Roman Empire, Pompeii was a thriving port city and a playground for the rich. That all changed in 79 AD when an explosion blew the entire top off the mountain of Vesuvius and created a pyroclastic flow that killed everything in its path and enshrouded the entire city and all its inhabitant in volcanic ash where they lay for centuries.

It was not until the 1700’s that Pompeii was properly discovered and excavations began uncovering a city almost perfectly preserved as if in amber right down to a loaf of bread that was cooking in a bakery as the eruption began. 

Walk with professor Tuck through the ancient city and get a taste of life on the Mediterranean in ancient times. 

6) The Life and Operas of Verdi” by Dr. Robert Greenberg (The Great Courses Plus) 

In addition to being an Italophile and Renaissance addict I am also a musician. I have purchased and studied many of Dr. Greenberg’s lectures and find him uniquely understandable and highly entertaining. 

Travel with him through the life and the operas of Italy’s favorite musical son up through the Italian Risorgimento. 

Verdi’s operas are beautifully constructed and anyone who loves opera has seen one or more of them. 

Dr. Greenberg gives us a glimpse of Verdi’s character, his trials and tribulations as well as his resounding successes. This is all presented within a rich historical context giving us a unique slice of life in Verdi’s beloved Italy. 

If you love music, you will love this set of lectures. On another topic, Dr. Greenberg has similar lectures exploring the life and works of Beethoven and an all around favorite “How to Listen to and Understand great Music”

These lectures and other similar studies have deepened our understanding of these unique beautiful Italian cities and of Italy itself. 

Italy has the deepest and richest history of any European country. It boasts of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, and gave birth to the most compelling and greatest artists, architects and statesmen the world has ever seen.

If you study even one on the above lecture series, you will have a depth of understanding that will allow you to remember your trip long after you return home and will also you to reignite your memories when you rewatch them. 

The Great Courses offers the courses we referenced above and much more through the Great Courses Plus video-on-demand service  offering over 8,000 engaging video courses taught by university professors from top schools. We have viewed many of their courses and recommend them without hesitation. The Great Courses Plus has a free 30-day trial that you can take advantage of by clicking on the banner link below. We do receive a commission from signups through this link, but it’s at no extra cost to you and helps us fund additional content for this site.

© 2023 Super Savvy Travelers, LLC