Here’s an odd bit of info from my childhood – I spent a lot of time watching horror and violent films when I was young, definitely before the age of seven and possibly as young as four. This was before the time when parents were advised to restrict the time children spend watching TV and the type of content being consumed (at least in Asia). I vaguely remember movies featuring Chinese vampires, Freddy Krueger and also, the strangest of all, a mini-series called the Last Days of Pompeii. This showcased the luxury lifestyle of the people in Pompeii and how it all came to an end when the volcano erupted. From time to time, my parents still mention that there was a period of time when I insisted on watching the Last Days of Pompeii while having dinner, otherwise I would refuse to eat!
So imagine my excitement when hubby and I finally planned a trip to Southern Italy, with the aim of visiting Pompeii. My hubby had barely heard of it and was more than perplexed by my obsession. I also made him watch bits of the Last Days of Pompeii before our planned excursion to Pompeii, but obviously, the 1984 series looked rather tacky and ancient. The next morning, we headed out to Pompeii bright and early. We were staying in Sorrento (I’ll cover this in my next post) and Pompeii was just an easy 30 minute train ride away. Once we got off the train, it was only a short walk to the main attraction.
For those who are not familiar with the history of Pompeii, here’s a quick summary. According to historians, Pompeii was a vacation resort for the upper class of ancient Rome. Tragically, Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. resulting in the death of around 2,000 people and the whole town was buried under tons of volcanic ash. Pompeii was re-discovered in the 18th century and the town and skeletons were very well preserved. Due to this reason, Pompeii is unlike any other ancient ruins and so well preserved that ‘haunting’ is the best word to describe my impression of Pompeii.
Be prepared to spend at least half a day and make sure to wear comfortable shoes as the site is large and the uneven stone floor makes it challenging to walk around. We were provided with a map of the excavation site, but to be honest, it was hard to follow and the places weren’t marked clearly. However, rather than following a prescribed path, I think the best way of seeing Pompeii is just to wander around.
There were a few areas which stood out. First, the areas where the skeleton casts are on display – it’s mind boggling to think that these skeletons have been frozen in time for thousands of years. There are a few theories on how the people died – either they suffocated due to the volcanic ash and gas, or they died of extreme heat surge from the eruption, or they suffered injuries from falling rock or buildings. If I’m not mistaken, experts have concluded that the second theory is the most probable. The most amazing thing about the skeletons is how the final moments have been captured. Most of them are lying down or in various crouching positions, but there’s also a child together with an adult and one who’s sitting down with his/her hands covering the face. It was too vivid and painful to look at them, each life coming to a horrific and premature end.
As for the ruins, the grandest of them are the big square with tall columns which was the main square of the town and the amphitheater which is the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater and was able to host over 10,000 people. There are also houses, brothels, temples, Roman baths, etc. While Pompeii is technically in ruins, the town is pretty well preserved, with wall paintings and inscriptions still clearly visible and lots of statues and furnishings still intact.
We also visited Herculaneum, a smaller but even better preserved fishing town which suffered the same fate as Pompeii. While we enjoyed walking around and looking at the buildings and paintings, unless you’re a die-hard fan of Pompeii like yours truly, I’m guessing that visiting Pompeii is enough to do the trick.
Throughout our time in Pompeii, Mount Vesuvius loomed ominously in the background. Even though it has not erupted since 1944, it is still an active volcano and in recent years, experts have been worried that it is due for a large explosion. Italy has even come up with an emergency plan to evacuate 700,000 people if it erupts. With this thought in mind, it made what happened in Pompeii thousands of years ago even more real and scary.