It’s unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to create a well preserved, historic experience…but it works out well for us as tourists! Just as we were able to visit towns throughout Europe that remained stuck in the medieval ages because of economic crisis, today we viewed a preserved Roman civilization because of a volcano eruption. That’s right, today we went to Pompeii!
The Circumvesuviana train took us almost right to the archelogical site. We could have gotten to Pompeii using regular trains & our rail passes, but the main train station is on the other side of town, versus the metro stop that is about 20 steps away. We were there nice and early, so it was pretty dead when we got in. In general, the crowds all day were small for such a major attraction…but it is November. We imagine this place is swimming with people in July & August. Upon entering you are overwhelmed with just how many ruins there are. You hear about this place & how it is a city buried, but we had never thought about how it was an entire city…in other words, it is big!
Alright, who wants a bit of background info on Pompeii? Even if you normally skip our educational parts you should read this one…we swear it’s super interesting! In 79AD Pompeii was a middle class, working Roman town who didn’t understand why the nearby mountain had been rumbling for a week straight. Finally on August 24, Mt. Vesuvius casatrophically erupted over the course of 2 days and covered the city in up to 4-6m of pumice and ash. 2000 people died from the heat or suffocated and for nearly 1700 years the city was lost. Since it’s rediscovery the site has been extensively excavated to provide detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and with Mt. Vesuvius lingering in the shadows, it’s easy to understand why over 2.5 million people visit this site every year.
Rick Steves acted as our tour guide through the ruins. His informative audio tour saved us some money when we were able to completely bypass the audioguides & people trying to sell you guided tours. Neither of us had remembered our head phones, but it wasn’t busy so we were able to just play it out loud on Justine’s phone without bugging others. The first cool thing you come upon is the Forum. This is the traditional center of a Roman city. It was then that it hits you that this was actually a real, working city. It had a market square, with the city hall, temples and basilica. Because these important buildings usually ring the forum the ruins here were most impressive.
On the North end of the forum is the Temple of Jupiter (who is the Roman equivalent of the Greeks Zeus…as more people seem to know Greek gods than Roman ones…could it be because of Disney’s Hercules?). It looks like an impressive cluster of columns with a white marble Jupiter in the center. And yes, when you look at the photo that is Mt. Vesuvius in the background! The crazy-ass volcano that blew it’s top & buried this city. Fun Fact: Vesuvius literally blew it’s top…connect the 2 peaks in the photo up to a single peak and you would have the size it used to be prior to it’s Pompeii covering eruption.
A cool thing about Romans (according to Kristin…but lets remember she’s a little obsessed with them) is their incredible city planning. Pompeii is laid out on a perfect grid with perfectly parallel/perpendicular roads. You can figure out the importance of any road by the number of stepping stones you find on it. These stones were placed there to allow people to cross the street without getting their feet wet when water was rushed down them to wash away the collection of dirt & grime. One stone is a one way street, two stones is a normal two way road and three is a main transit route. There were also roads with giant beaver tooth blocks at the ends; these were purely pedestrian walkways. A super cool things to see (that Rick thankfully pointed out to us) were the chariot grooves in the road stones. Those were made by real Roman chariots thousands of years ago!!!
The House of the Faun is the largest house in Pompeii. It was the size of a city block. We saw the original dancing faun statue, which gave the building it’s name, and the the large Alexander the Great mosaic at the Archeological Museum yesterday but seeing replicas in their original location helped solidify the image that these Romans really were not only technically but also artistically advanced for their time. We may not be fans of art but art that is 2000 years old and has survived a volcano is pretty cool. These paintings and their bright vibrant colors have remained on these walls for longer than we can wrap our heads around.
And check out these crazy displays!
Those are plaster people. When the city was buried people were trapped under the rubble. Over time their flesh decayed, leaving empty holes in the ground. Scientists discovered these while digging. By pouring plaster into them they were able to recreate the positions people were in during their last moments.
To continue to experience Pompeii as a working city, we entered the perfectly preserved bath house. You could follow the path one might have taken all those years ago. We enjoyed the statues separating lockers above the seats and the grooves etched into the ceilings to prevent condensed steam from falling off the roof onto the bathers. Outside the baths along the main roads we found Roman “fast food restaurants”. These were marble counters set up with holes on the top to store food. In a middle class working city like Pompeii these counters were a quick popular way to catch a snack or a decent meal.
After we finished with Rick we wandered through the vast expanse of city still left. Eventually we came across a grassy area surrounded by small sleeping quarters. This was the gladiator training ground. We could imagine burly men running about, battling for their lives. And behind that was the theater. It is incredibly well kept. You can still make out the different seating sections, as the Romans also had both box & cheap seats. This theater is still used for concerts today.
And if you think that theater is cool, check out the Amphitheater. Bigger, although less well preserved. The best part was that we were the only ones in there and able to explore at our leisure.
After leaving the site we went for another delicious Naples pizza. It was a little soupy on top (like the one from the other day) so that seems to be the style here in pizza’s birthplace. It doesn’t make them any less yummy, just a little more difficult to eat…especially for a couple of knife & fork strugglers like us! Justine’s was an Apollo pizza, aka mozza+salami+tomato, and Kristin’s was a Volcano pizza, aka an Apollo pizza+spicyness.
We returned to Naples for an easy evening. We got one of the hostel employees to point us towards a laundromat. We walked over there in mish-mash outfits of the only clean articles of clothing we own while carrying bulging bags of everything else. People possibly thought we were homeless…. While waiting for our washing Justine fixed Kristin’s shoes (which were looking rather worse-for-wear) and Kristin worked on this post! As a snack we treated ourselves to gelato! Yum! Yum! Yum! Those flavor combos are berry+lemon and strawberry+coconut.
Love, Luck & Lava…it’s a comin’ for ya!