Pompeii, along with nearby Herculaneum, was completely buried and destroyed, during a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius over two days beginning on 24th August 79.
The volcano buried the City under a layer of ash and pumice many metres deep and it was lost for nearly one thousand seven hundred years before its accidental rediscovery in 1748. Since then, its excavation has provided a detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire and which at the time of the eruption is estimated to have had approximately twenty thousand inhabitants and was located in an area in which many wealthy Romans had their holiday villas.
At around one o’clock in the afternoon on August 24th, Vesuvius, which had been dormant for eight hundred years, began spewing ash and volcanic stone thousands of meters into the sky. When it reached the boundary between the troposphere and the stratosphere, the top of the cloud flattened leading the Roman historian Pliny the Younger, who was observing from a safe distance across the Bay of Naples, to describe it as resembling a stone pine tree.
For people in Pompeii, who had no idea what was about to happen, the bad news was that the prevailing winds were blowing towards the southeast which caused the volcanic material to fall primarily on the city and the area surrounding it and the residents were covered in up to twelve different layers of soil.
According to Pliny the volcano burst open with an ear splitting crack and then smoke, mud, flames and burning stones spewed from the summit of the mountain, sending a rain of ash and rock through the surrounding countryside. The mud flowed down the sides of Vesuvius, swallowing nearby farms, orchards and villas and basically anything else unfortunate enough to be in the way. Adding to the destruction were poisonous vapours that accompanied the falling debris and it was these fumes that first caused deliriousness in their victims, and then suffocated them.
We really enjoyed Pompeii and were glad that we didn’t miss the trip with many marvelous houses and buildings to visit but it proved a bit too big to see everything in one afternoon. We saw the Roman Forum and the administrative buildings, the public baths, the brothels, the shopping centres and the outdoor theatres.
Most of the priceless exhibits have been removed of course to the museum in Naples but there were some copies of the most famous and there are still wall frescoes and paintings to admire. It was amazing to be walking through the streets of a two thousand year old city and to try and imagine what life must have been like here. Pompeii is a wonderful place to visit and along with nearby Herculaneum, the Colosseum in Rome, the Amphitheatre in Pula in Croatia and the Aquaduct in Segovia in Spain has to be one of the best places to visit to see the remains of Ancient Rome.
After nearly four hours we were getting tired and conscious of Jonathan’s earlier poorly condition we called an end to the visit and made for the exit. There was a little while to wait for the return train but outside the station there were little bars all selling gallons of fresh lemonade so we stopped for a while and had a couple of refreshing glasses while we waited.
This was the first time that I had used a train in Italy so I was a bit nervous because the railways are prone to wildcat strikes that can bring chaos without notice but I needn’t have been concerned because the graffiti scarred train arrived on time and thirty minutes later we were back in Sant’ Agnello.
After two disappointing meals we agreed not to risk a third so later we walked out and found a trattoria because we felt compelled to have a traditional pizza.
Authentic Neapolitan pizzas are made with local produce and have been given the status of a ‘guaranteed traditional specialty’ in Italy. This allows only three official variants: pizza marinara, which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, pizza Margherita, made with tomato, sliced mozzarella, basil and extra virgin olive oil, and pizza Margherita extra made with tomato, buffalo mozzarella from Campania, basil and extra virgin olive oil. We had our pizza and a couple of beers and then finished the evening at the bar opposite the Hotel Mediterraneo and watched the reflection of Vesuvius in the sea changing colours under the moonlight.
Fortunately Jonathan was completely recovered from the mysterious twenty-four hour bug and we were glad of that because tomorrow we were going to visit Herculaneum.