Like us, you probably don’t know the date or the day of the week! Our 1,000th day of homelessness and adventure whizzed right by us. Today, the Day of the Dead, is our 1,006th day of – well, living in hotels around the world (we can’t quite say “traveling the world,” since we have been sidelined, along with the rest of humanity).
We visited on November 19, 2009. We were on a cruise that stopped in Naples, so we made our (long) way through Naples to the train station, where a dedicated train leaves for Pompeii several times a day. Our admission fee included an audio guide, so off we went. It was simply amazing. To think that all of these houses and shops, streets, an amphitheater…an entire wealthy civilization…was covered in 20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice from Mt. Vesuvius and not discovered for 18 centuries is almost unbelievable.
Pompeii is one of the travel sites we talk about a LOT when asked about our favorite places. A few years ago, we also visited Herculaneum, which is a few miles down the road from Pompeii, with similar views. At that time, we visited our friend Sebastián in Austria. His family was hosting a high school student from Italy for a semester. Excitedly, we told him how much we had enjoyed Pompeii. He wrinkled his nose and gave us a perplexed look. Pom-PAY, we pronounced it. Nothing change in his expression as we repeated it several times. How could he not know Pompeii, we wondered? As we described the city buried by Vesuvius, his face broke into a smile and he blurted out, POM-pee! NOW he knew what we were talking about!
Since today is the Day of the Dead, we are starting with some photos of the plaster casts of those found under the ash. Looking up at Mt. Vesuvius, it was easy to imagine a city of people, much like ourselves. They were going about their business in 79 AD, having no idea they lived next to a volcano, until it started spewing ash. After two days of that, a pyroclastic flow of hot gases and volcanic matter came rushing down what they had thought was a mountain a few days before, moving up to 400 miles per hour, killing everyone who had not abandoned their homes and businesses due to the rumblings, smoke, and ash. With a population of about 20,000, approximately 1,100 bodies were found, meaning that the majority of people were able to flee. Over the centuries, the city was forgotten. It had been looted after its destruction, and in the 1500s an architect built an aqueduct that traversed part of the city, but the architect never revealed Pompeii’s location or even a description. It is now one of Italy’s most popular tourist sites, with 2-3 million guests per year.
You can see two photos of the amphitheater at the edge of Pompeii, which is in pretty good shape, with its six-arched entrance. After that comes one of our favorite discoveries in the city…the fast-food stand, called the Thermopolium. There are two photos of the counter that ran along the street, with holes built into the stone. At the bottom of the holes was a fire; pots of stew, soup, meats, and vegetables were placed in them and on the fire to keep them warm. People walking by could see what was being offered that day, and stop for lunch! Amazing!
Following these photos are several from around the city. As you can see, many frescoes were uncovered, as well as entire streets. Pompeii had a brothel with “paintings” on the wall. We found that it was a menu! Since the port of Naples drew sailors from around the world, not all spoke Italian. So when they visited the brothel, they could just point to the picture of whatever service they desired. Seeing the frescoes, and the carved stone details, is all the more enjoyable, knowing that it was buried for all those years and is still quite beautiful.
We have been to many museums all over the world, including some which had amazing collections, such as the British Museum. We found there is nothing like going to a city and seeing items in place as part of the city. While walking down the sidewalk (yes, they had sidewalks), we noticed that there were raised pillars set at regular intervals in the middle of the street. After some thought we realized that they were a society moved around by animals, which left their “waste” in the street as they traveled. How does one cross the street without interacting with that waste? By walking on pillars above the street, of course. And since they had carts moving down the streets drawn by some of those animals, likely the pillars were spaced in a way to allow the wheels to travel through.
Our favorite photos are the last two. There is an open area that was in front of the Forum and market. But look in the background – you can see Mt. Vesuvius looming in the distance. And the last photo is that of a home’s front entrance. It was locked, so as people wouldn’t damage the tile by walking on it. There is a snarling dog in mosaic, and in Latin, around the bottom, it says, “Beware of Dog!” The more things change, the more they stay the same.