I knew I had to visit Pompeii when I went to Italy. Having learned so much about Ancient Rome, I couldn’t pass on an opportunity to see this time capsule. As the city was destroyed and covered by volcanic ash and lava, it was also preserved by it.
Pompeii in Ancient Rome
Pompeii’s location on the coast, near modern-day Naples, made this a very valuable port. It was a thriving city long before it became a part of the Roman Empire in 80 B.C. The Greeks, Phoenicians and Etruscans all traded their goods through here.
The Romans saw the value Pompeii presented and used it to the fullest. Construction and improvements brought the city to Roman standards. Road improvements, amphitheaters, aqueducts and public baths were built all over town. This was also where many wealthy Romans has their holiday villas and came here to enjoy themselves by the seaside. Pompeii became of the largest cities in the Roman Empire, with an extensive wine and olive production.
The volcano that is Mount Vesuvius, had erupted a number of times, long before it destroyed Pompeii and nearby town of Herculaneum. As a result, this made the soil around it very fertile. The Romans, like those before them, used it for agriculture and produced large quantities of goods that supplied the local area. What made the soil so valuable was also a threat to those that lived around it.
There was a massive earthquake about 17 years before the eruption in 79 A.D. that destroyed Pompeii. The destruction was quite extensive. Not all the damages have yet been repaired by the time Vesuvius erupted. Roman writers have told stories of how common the tremors were in that area.
In the days before the eruption, there were a number of warning signs that went mostly ignored. Since people were so accustomed to them, they probably didn’t fully understand the danger. The tremors and quakes became more frequent in the days leading to the eruption. Nobody seemed to be alarmed and the volcano erupted as everyone was going about their daily tasks.
Part of me is horrified by what happened, yet another part of me is amazed as to how many records of the event exist. Those who lived at the time left very detailed writings of what occurred in days leading to the eruption and the event itself. Thanks to those notes, it is estimated that the volcano erupted on August 24, 79 A.D.
Much of what we know about this event comes from the writings of Pliny the Younger who saw the event that also took the life of his uncle Pliny the Elder. Pliny writes about the large, unusual cloud that appeared over Pompeii which prompted his uncle to part from the Bay of Naples on a rescue mission. He never made it back.
According to the experts, within the eruption that lasted about 24 hours, Pompeii and the nearby Herculaneum were buried under six or seven metres of ash, lava and debris. They were abandoned and forgotten for the next 1600+ years.
A time capsule to the past
As Pompeii and Herculaneum lay buried underground, everything from that time did as well. The mineral composition of the debris preserved both towns like a time capsule. Excavations provided a look into what life was like for the Romans of the day. We can learn all about city planning, architecture and everyday activities of those that lived there by what has been uncovered.
How the Romans lived
It was quite interesting to walk on the streets that were once bustling with activity. You can still see the indents the wheels of the chariots left on the stoned streets. The baths, public toilets and drains are quite fascinating. I have always been amazed at how advanced the ancients were and how that knowledge was lost for centuries. It boggles your mind to see such elaborate sewage systems that were forgotten for generations. Would life have been different in the middle ages if they had running water and a sewage system? It is definitely something I have thought about extensively. Maybe that’s just me.
We were in Pompeii for quite a while. But it was only when the sun began to set that this eery feeling started to set in. A lot of visitors have departed by then or were just on their way out. The sounds of voices and laughter were replaced by silence. It was still a hot day, but now there were shadows as the sunset in the distance. It’s difficult to explain, but I suddenly couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Points of interest
It’s actually amazing how much of Pompeii is still intact. This was a thriving city with a population of about 11,000. It was filled with bathhouses, brothels and other vices, making it a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. There was a large stadium, amphitheater, shops, bakeries, temples and large villas on the hills.
Everyday items were found where they were dropped or stored when the volcano erupted. Many of these objects, like vases and pottery, are still in the same place they were left in.
There is graffiti on the buildings which provides a glimpse into the Roman culture. Some are obscene, some instructional and written by the hands of those that lived there. It makes you wonder what people in the future would think of today’s street art.
Probably the most popular among the tourists is the brothel. With many naughty frescos still visible on the walls, you get the idea of the building’s purpose and decor. Some giggle, some are scandalized, but everyone stops by to check it out.
There were many wealthy Romans living in Pompeii. You can see how their households were built by the layouts and construction. Some still have frescos on the walls as well as other intricate decorations that hint of the glory of the past.
To me, even the roads were interesting. They are so different, yet so similar to what we know today. They are a bit difficult to walk on so comfortable footwear is highly recommend.
The most chilling are the plasters of those that perished in the eruption. Bodies that disintegrated in the process, cast in stone. Some will truly move you, but the technology to capture their last moments will fascinate you.
Today, Vesuvius is still on a verge of eruption. Experts predict that it is due for another one, but nobody can predict when. There are about three million people living in this area. This makes it especially dangerous if the volcano was to erupt again. We have more sophisticated systems in place to monitor any activity and alert people of imminent danger. For now, they keep an eye on the volcano and all that is inside it.
If you’re a history buff like I am, this is your best opportunity to step back in time. This time capsule will show you what life was like in the first century A.D. It’s a very unique experience, one that is definitely worth visiting.
Have you been to Pompeii? Would you like to? Let me know!