Monday, June 11, 2007

A day in Pompeii

One of the earliest memories I have of reading was a story in a book my grandmother gave me about the eruption of Vesuvius and destruction of Pompeii in 79AD. Ever since then I have been fascinated with the idea that an entire city can disappear in a matter of hours. On Monday, May 21st Meredith and I visited Pompeii and it proved to be one of the highlights of our entire trip.

We left Naples at 8:00 on the Circumvesuviana Rail line, basically an above-ground subway train for people commuting in the area. We arrived at 8:30 and grabbed a coffee and pastry at a concession stand just out side the gates. It was already very warm and predictions were for the temperatures to go into the high 80's so we armed ourselves with a couple of hefty bottles of water.

As we approached the gate we noticed a number of dogs lolling around on the cool marble floor.

As the attendant was unlocking the gate the dogs began lining up to go through the gate. It was so funny to see them waiting impatiently for him to let them in, almost as if they were headed to work. Once we got in I didn't see them so I don't know where they went.

We paid the admission charge and headed into the city.

Back in 79AD this walkway would have led right down to the Bay of Naples. It is now several miles inland.

Vesuvius dominates the landscape to the East. It looks so placid although we did notice steam escaping from the sides as the train went around it. A litte disconcerting, given its history.

Walking up the entrance ramp it was eerie to think of how many millions of people had trod these same cobblestones when Pompeii was a vibrant city and had rushed back down them to the bay in a vain attempt to escape the hot ash on that August day.

Looking back towards the entrance way

A side street with Vesuvius in the background.

Yes, that is Vesuvius again in the background.

Meredith in the Temple of Apollo. Getting there early meant we didn't have to face the hordes of tour groups and school kids who showed up later. The ruins had a serene quiet feeling to them.

The Basilica area, Built in the second half of the 2nd cent. BC, as part of the plan to create monuments throughout the city. At the back is the tribunal, where the magistrates sat, reached by a wooden staircase. The building was dedicated to administering justice and for business negotiations.

View to the Southwest (looking towards Sorrento and Capri)

Another view of the Temple of Apollo

A narrow alleyway

It isn't hard to envision this column supporting the roof of a busy shop or a portico. The ash that fell on the city in those first few hours reached temperatures of close to 700 degrees fahrenheit and was heavy enough to collapse any structures that it didn't incinerate.

The Macellum, the main food market adjacent to the larger Forum

The Temple of Jupiter

A classic Pompeiian scene

It was suprisingly full of trees and flowers, a stark contrast to the ruins

The streets were paved with very large flat stones fit together like giant jigsaw puzzles, with raised sidewalks to provide smoother walking surfaces and elevation above the street grime as well as protection for pedestrians from the chariots. The streets were often flooded to clean them using water provided by aqueducts built by the Romans.

Large stones were placed in the street at intervals to provide stepping stones to cross. They also provided some traffic control by keeping the chariots and wagons on track. The ruts made by those ancient wheels are still visible in those street stones. At the intersections, a single stone in the middle of the street would indicate a one-way street, two stones meant two way. There were street signs with pictures of men carrying vases, indicating a pedestrian-only area.

A household cooking oven.

Painted walls of a modest household

Meredith walks through the Temple of Apollo

Podium in the Temple of Apollo

The oven in one of the city's bakeries

The inner garden area of a wealthy resident's villa. It is surrounded by a peristyle (a covered walkway supported by arches or pillars). The bedrooms would have been adjacent to this garden area.

The atrium at the entrance to the household. The pool in the center was designed to collect rainwater.

A floor mosaic at the entrance to a villa

Gorgeous lush tropical foliage. The climate was VERY hot but also very dry.

Columns everywhere...

...making for great photo ops!

Amazing landscape!

And Vesuvius is always looming in the background.

This is the stage of the large theater taken from the right side of the seating area. Behind it is a smaller theater. The day we were there local children were there dressed in traditional first century costumes re-enacting games that children of 79AD might have played.

Throughout the ruins there were representations of the people who died in the eruption. Contrary to common belief, they are not lava-encrusted bodies but rather plaster casts poured into the cavities in the lava formed by the bodies which had decomposed over the centuries. They were an eerie sight.

By this time we had been on the sight for nearly four hours. We had not seen the entire city but its vastness made that extremely difficult. Also, we were noticing a dramatic increase in the groups of school children and the tour groups and were ready to surrender to the heat and leave to find something to eat. We visited a few more public areas including the Amphitheater and the Forum, then left the ruins and headed for the modern town of Pompeii.

Gorgeous flowers along the street leading to town... a stark contrast to the bleakness of the ruins.

We found a wonderful little restaurant with a sidewalk cafe. We ordered Bruschetti which was absolutely delicious and then treated ourselves to some delicious gelato for dessert.

The ashtray on the table was a reminder that smoking is still very pervasive in outdoor restaurants, although Italy has banned smoking in indoor restaurants.

After lunch we headed back to the train station and returned to Naples. We were pretty tired from the walking, the heat and the hot sun but did a little bit of exploring along the Naples waterfront and the main street, visiting a few shops. Some of the garbage had been removed, although there was still quite a bit on the streets. We headed back to the hotel for a nap and then returned to our favorite restaurant from the previous night for a delicious lasagna dinner. Then it was time to head back to the hotel and get our things ready for the trip to Rome.

Next post: Day 1 in the Eternal City



What a great experience!! I am so thrilled that you got to see so much of Italy and that your days were jam-packed full of sights, fun, and what looks like some really great food! Meredith looks wonderful. Love Sue
PS Awaiting the next post with baited breath!

sappmama said...

Pompeii seems like the Lost City of Atlantis. We know Pompeii is real, but it feels like a fable.

You're hurting me with this food.