Monday, April 11, 2016


Pompeii completely exceeded all of my expectations. 

I've always been fascinated by ruins, trying to imagine what the stones that have been preserved for a thousands of been a part of, and the lives that surround them. It's often been very abstract though; seeing columns or the outline of a building and trying to mentally fill in the rest. Pompeii brought back all the hours spent in high school and college history classes, learning about the ancient Romans and their incredible civilization. In Pompeii, you can see it and understand that it really was there. 

I'm starting to love tours. 

Walking around with a guide who fills you in on the ins and outs brings it to life. Words of advice should you ever visit the ancient buried city: Take a tour. While it is impressive to see the how well preserved the city is, without a tour you miss out on the history, the details, and some really interesting stories. It would also be hard to tell exactly what was what. My tour led me and about 30 other people through a day in the life of a Pompeii citizen, starting with a fast-food stand. Ok, not an ancient McDonalds, but there were ancient "restaurants" where the owner would have a few pre-made stews or dishes ready to spoon out and be taken away. It really was almost like a drive through, but instead you'd walk up to the front of the building, pick from the few options, and be sent off with a delicious meal. In the corner, you can see a stair; the proprietor of this shop lived upstairs. The guide mentioned that the people were smaller back then so I guess they needed less space, but the room was incredibly small and it made me so appreciative of my little apartment!

Look carefully for those wheel-tracks!

The structure of the city was well thought-out down to the stones in the street. 

When the streets were cleaned (and gross sewage washed down them), the people needed a way to cross to the other side without getting their feet covered in grossness. So these stones were put in along the streets every few yards. Because they were up higher, you could cross the street safely and cleanly by stepping on them. It was crazy to see how each was placed so that a cart and horse could still maneuver between them; I could see deep gouges in the rock that had been worn down by hundreds of carts passing in the same spot over the years.

Lead Pipes: The Downfall of the Roman Empire?

Even things as simple as the pipes running through the city blew me away. These have been here for thousands of years! They say that the lead pipes carried water to the homes of the ancient roman elite. The craziness of some of the emperors (Caligula, anyone?) could have been due to a concentration of lead in the pipes being 100 times greater than water from local springs. Crazy!

Look at that tiny little bed!
Take your pick ;)
The brothel was fascinating as well! As a port-city, the city was full of brothels (called Lupanar for the She-Wolves who resided there) which catered to an international crowd. The wolf-dens were small with few rooms, each of which was outfitted with a tiny stone bed- yes, stone. Not only does that sound ridiculously uncomfortable, but the beds were so teeny-tiny! I'm a short little person, and those beds looked too small even for me! Anyway, the walls were covered in frescos depicting... ahem... a 'menu' of sorts for customers to choose from when requesting their services- pretty convenient for those travelers arriving in the port-city who may not have known the local Latin! There is also ancient graffiti that, much like reviews on TripAdvisor, gave opinions of previous customers. It was pretty fascinating stuff!

The art hidden amongst the ruins was a tribute to the people's appreciation for beauty. Celings and walls were covered in colorful, chipped-away frescos in shades of blue and red. Like the cobblestones and the remnants of buildings, these provided another snapshot into ancient life. All throughout the buried city were these incredible bronze statues. At first I thought they were just well preserved works of art, but as it turns out they were much more recent works by Igor Mitoraj. I have to say, I was obsessed with them. Set against the ruins and the volcano, they were a very dramatic addition to the views. Many of the huge states appeared broken, but perfect at the same time. Somehow this made them seem intensely sad, and enhanced the solemn and awed mood I felt while exploring the ancient city.  The dichotomy of the old and new, broken and flawless, the current tranquility and history of catastrophe was overwhelming and moving. 

As glad as I am to get to see such a frozen moment in history, it was also a humbling moment that like many of my favorite travel experiences made me feel very small. 

The reason we can still visit the old city and actually see so much of how they lived was because the nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, erupted on August 24th, 79 AD, burying the city in a hurricane of ash as a mixture of lava and mud flow cascaded toward the nearby towns. The people were completely taken by surprise, as it had been labeled an extinct volcano for decades. For hundreds of years the city lay buried in between 13-20 feet of ash, which preserved the city in its last tragic moments. When experiencing new cultures and being surrounded by history, I always have the intense desire to learn more, but I found in this case that I was avoiding learning more about the actual eruption. While the culture fascinates me, when we came to the courtyard where you can view three plaster casts of frozen victims of the eruption (a man, a dog, and a child), I found that I couldn't look and had to walk away, crying. Seeing them makes it too real and too horrifying, and maybe it's immature to avoid the reality of the tragedy, but I can't think about it. I loved visiting Pompeii and would 100% recommend it to anyone visiting Italy. 

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