Exploring Pompeii

On a trip we took to Italy, we spent a day Exploring the well-preserved ruins of Pompeii.  It is like no place I have ever been.  Frozen forever in time it seems both sad and kind of eerie.

This is not the romanticized version as portrayed in the movie Pompeii starring Kit Herrington.   Seeing the ruins of a civilization that was completely destroyed while Vesuvius looms in the background is quite a different experience indeed.  Solemn and a bit ominous.

 

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The History

Pompeii sits near the coast South of Naples Italy.  On the day we visited, there was a pretty good layer of fog giving cover to the destructive giant volcano that was looking down on us. Vesuvius has erupted over 50 times throughout history.

The last time it erupted was during WWII  in 1944.  The US Army 340th Bombardment Group was based at Pompeii Airfield, just a few kilometers from the eastern base of the volcano. The eruption damaged or destroyed between 78 to 88 of the 340th’s B-25 medium bombers.

More than 2000 people were killed during the worst eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.  People were covered in Ash and Lava turning them into fossilized statues.  Following this eruption, Pompeii remained mostly untouched until 1748 when a group of explores began digging through the carnage.  What they found as they knocked away the ash and dug through the debris were perfectly preserved items encased in the stone.

The Geology 

Even though it has not erupted since 1944, this volcano is still considered a be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.

  • This volcano is classed as a Complex Stratovolcano (a volcano built up of alternate layers of lava and ash)  and because its eruptions typically involve explosive eruptions as well as Pyroclastic flows (a dense, destructive mass of very hot ash, lava fragments, and gases ejected explosively from a volcano and typically flowing downslope at great speed).
  • Vesuvius is located in close proximity to the city of Naples and several surrounding towns with a combined population of approximately 3,000,000 people that would be directly in the volcano’s path should it erupt in the future.

In order to protect local inhabitants, Vesuvius Observatory monitors seismic activity on the volcano 24/7 looking for signs of an impending eruption.

 

Our Tour of Pompeii

Pompeii has been a continuous archaeological dig since that discovery in 1748. When visiting the ruins of Pompeii, you will be able to see preserved City Streets, Homes, the Public Bath House, an amphitheater and the Main Square of the city including the Temple of Apollo.

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Pompeii is a Unesco World Heritage Site and draws many Tourists each day.  I was glad we had the good fortune to view the ruins with a Guide that could tell the story and explain the significance of everything that we were seeing as we moved through the city.  There was also plenty of time to explore on our own after the initial Walking Tour.

The streets were deep channels with perfectly spaced stepping stones for pedestrians to cross over and with openings for chariot wheels to fit between.  I found it fascinating how they built the city with a slight slope so that heavy rains would naturally wash away from the town toward the sea. Unfortunately, it also let the lava flow quickly through the area as well.

There is an area where they catalog and store the items that they have been brought back to life through a process of creating plaster casts out of the voids left by the decay of organic materials in the hardened ash and pumice.

 

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Many of the significant artifacts and remains found in Pompeii are housed at the

National Archaeological Museum of Naples

 

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Since Pompeii is a Tourist destination, you will find carts of Pompeii Memorabilia for sale, Costumed Roman Soldiers walking about for photo ops and a selection of snack stands and places to grab a bite to eat.  I could have done without the fake soldiers (I expect they were there for the kiddos) since it seemed to trivialize this otherwise solemn site.

This is the kind of place that really makes you understand how quickly a natural disaster can change, or even destroy an entire culture.  I highly recommend visiting Pompeii if you find yourself in Southern Italy.  Plan to take your time exploring the ruins, and get a Guide if you can as their commentary adds a lot to what you are seeing. If weather permits, you may even want to explore Mount Vesuvius up close.

 

 

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