20 September 2013 Friday - Pompeii

Today we went to the ancient ruined site of Pompeii. For those who don't know, the city of Pompeii was destroyed in the year 79 AD when the volcano, Mount Vesuvius, erupted, burying the whole town in many feet of ash.

We walked up a hill from our hotel to what appeared to be a back entrance to the site. Soon we found ourselves in an amphitheater.

At the time of the disaster, it was a very large Roman city, bustling with lots of people. There were stadiums, many big homes with courtyards, businesses, bath houses. The place just went on and on.

We walked to the large sports stadium, and it was a long way. The stadium was a lot bigger than I expected.

They even had fast-food joints, and we saw several of these scattered throughout the city.

For a week prior to the disaster, the mountain was rumbling, so the people knew it was going to erupt. They tried to evacuate the town, but since it was bordering the sea, they had to escape in ships and many did not get out alive. As we walked through the city, we could often see the volcano nearby, an ever-present reminder of what had happened.

When archaeologists unburied the city from the hardened volcanic ash, they kept finding strange pockets of air. After several of these pockets were discovered, they got the idea to fill them in with plaster. After the plaster dried, they removed the ash and surprisingly, the plaster casts took the shape of the people who died.

Basically, when the volcano erupted, the ash and smoke had filled the air and they all choked to death, unable to breathe. So they died in place. Their bodies were buried in ash. Eventually, the bodies decayed, leaving the empty pockets of air in the shape of a body.

This didn't happen to everyone. Some people escaped in boats. According to eyewitness accounts, rescue ships were sent across the sea. Still, many died.

I had set my expectations low and was prepared to be disappointed because a friend, Ali Wylie, told me she was disappointed in Pompeii. So I thought it would be commercial, or pretty small. I was very wrong. Pompeii was a huge city! We walked around the streets of the ancient town for hours and hours, taking hundreds of photographs. It was incredible.

Some of the houses still had the original water pipes exposed. They were made of lead, which we now know is poisonous, but back in 78AD, they didn't know that, and other metals were very difficult to find or use.

We were hoping we could see the neighboring city of Herculaneum, but it didn't take us long to figure out that we'd never have time to visit both places in one day. Pompeii is just too big. I was definitely not disappointed. This was like walking through the entire city of Brainerd; it was that big.

Some of the artwork was still intact in many of the homes. A lot of it, however, was moved to the museum in the nearby city of Naples. Hopefully, we'll get enough time to see that tomorrow sometime. Some of it had been replaced with replicas so that the originals are preserved, while still showing visitors what it was like.

One house had a painting inside with a symbol of fertility: a man with a very big penis!

A lot of the streets were blocked off with “do not enter” signs, which I had fun making a mockery of. The main purpose of these signs and gates were not to keep people out, as much as it was to direct them to walk through the town in a certain direction so that the foot traffic from so many people kept flowing.

At the end of the day, we walked to the ruins of an ancient brothel, which was interesting. It was pretty small, but had stone beds (which I assume had cushions on them). Above the rooms were paintings: a visual menu of what services you could buy there. In ancient Roman art, men were portrayed as having a dark red color, while women were shown pasty white in color.

One interesting thing is that Pompeii was originally a port town on the Mediterranean sea, but the volcano dumped so much ash and debris that it extended the land by a mile (or something).

By the end of the day, Karen and I were absolutely exhausted. Kathy, however, had to continue exploring. So she ran off with her camera while we stayed behind and pulled up an uncomfortable rock to rest our weary bones.

I sent an email to Mitzie and Skip, giving them details on how to get to our hotel in Rome in a couple days, but I had no way of knowing if they'd get it or if they'd be hopelessly lost. The Internet access here is nearly impossible. Wifi is not working anywhere and the hotel's desktop is impossibly slow and riddled with viruses. I basically had to plug their Ethernet cable into my own laptop.