Tomorrow, August 24th, is Mount Vesuvius Day. The day marks the anniversary of Mount Vesuvius erupting in AD79 destroying the Roman cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae. In 1999 Helen and I visited Pompeii on the tourist trail when the cruise ship we were sailing on docked in the port of Naples.
At the time we went on this cruise around the Mediterranean, Helen was only 17 and I had only recently turned 19. A cruise isn’t the first choice holiday for a couple with an average age of 18, but there we were aboard the MS Sunbird.
Naples’ 2,800-year-history has left it with a wealth of historical buildings and monuments, from medieval castles to classical ruins, and a wide range of culturally and historically significant sites nearby, including the Palace of Caserta and the Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
It’s fair to say that I’ve never visited anywhere quite like Naples. At the time we only saw what we could from the tour bus that took us from the ship to Pompei and back. What struck us was how busy it was. There were cars everywhere on our journey out to Pompeii, apparent gridlock at every junction with driver blasting their horns constantly. I’ve never known anything like it.
We went back to Naples 5 years later on another cruise and that time we did a red bus city tour. It was just a crazy then as well.
In 1995, the historic centre of Naples was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
At nineteen years old I wasn’t the biggest history buff. I didn’t take it for GCSEs and didn’t really have much interest in history. My knowledge of Pompeii came from the sitcom Up Pompeii starring Frankie Howard, hardly the most authentic of historic sources there is. However, the tour salespeople on the ship did a good job on us and managed to sign us up for the trip to Pompeii. In hindsight, I am glad they did as it remains one of my favourites visits anywhere, ever.
Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern Naples in the Campania region of Italy. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum and many villas in the surrounding area, was buried under up to 6 m (20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. Many of the inhabitants were also buried before they could escape.
The site was eventually lost until its initial rediscovery in 1599 and subsequent broader rediscovery almost 150 years later. The primary reason the city has been largely preserved is that of lack of air and moisture. The artefacts preserved provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of the city. During excavations, liquid plaster was used to fill the voids in the ash that once held human and animal bodies giving often gruesome images of their last moments.
Pompeii has been a tourist destination for over 250 years. Today it has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors every year.
Excavations have recommenced in some unexplored areas of the city, with findings reported in April and May 2018.
During the height of summer, when we visited, Pompeii is a magnet for tourists. It’s a huge site, so in places, you feel like you have a lot of space, but on some of the avenues, it gets very crowded.
I remember the heat from the beating sun the most about our day in Pompeii. It was easy to understand the preservation from lack of air and moisture – it was certainly dry when we visited. I remember that I carried a large bottle of water around with me all day, it even made it into one of the few photos of myself from the trip.
One thing in particular that I found fascinating in Pompeiplaster the plast casts that have been made from the voids found in the volcanic rock. Voids left by people being engulfed by the flowing lava from Mount Vesuvius that capture thei dying moment. In one way its very macarbe but still intriguing.
Clearly, much of Pompeii is ruined. You have pillars that once support grand villas and halls that are now free-standing and open spaces that were once part of a building.
But there are also very well preserved architectural masterpieces such as the House of Vettii. On entering the house, the first thing you will see is this erotic depiction of Priapus. Priapus is a very common pornographic figure in Pompeian houses and is a symbol of fertility. But, it also served to ward off evil influences.
But the thing I remember most about The House of Vettii was the courtyard that was full of wonderful colour.
Of course, no Pompeian house would be complete without a plethora of statues. I did love this charming little figure on the edge of the courtyard.
Frozen in Time
When you are in Pompeii you really get a sense that the place was frozen in time. To imagine that an entire city was buried by an erupting volcano and uncovered thousands of years later. You enter the houses that people once lived their lives in and see what they would have seen. It can make you feel a little sad, in a way, but you also really appreciate what you are experiencing.
Going Back To Pompeii
I have a book I purchased from the gift shop in Pompeii that has hundreds of photos within it’s pages. It’s also a mine of information from an age before Google. But it also showed me, once we got back to the cruise ship, that there was so much we didn’t see. In fact, despite being there for a number of hours we barely scratched the surface of Pompeii.
All these years later, with more discoveries and restorations made I would love to go back. Taking our girls to a place like this would be a dream come true.
The photo below gives you a sense of the scale of Pompeii and just how big it is. There are areas that tourist can’t get into but still there was so much we didn’t see.
In the bottom left of the photo is the amphitheatre that we never got to and this still annoys me to this day. That’s one good reason to get back there.
A visit to Pompei is something that I can highly recommend. But, makde sure you allow youself enough time to see it properly.
Thanks for reading.