Monday, March 5, 2012

Lezione di Storia- Vesuvio e Pompeii

After waking up at an ungodly hour on Thursday, we got picked up at our hotel to meet up with the rest of our tour. Mom, Cesca and I booked a 3 day tour of Naples, Pompeii, Sorrento and Capri and Day 1 included an early wake up call and a 3 hour bus ride to Naples. 
This was our bus. It loves Rome

Mom admiring the beautiful scenery
Tuscany may have rolling hills, but Southern Italy has the Apennine mountains which are stunning. We got off the bus in Naples for a super quick tour.

A gallery with a class ceiling to commemorate
the unification of Italy

Touring Naples
Another 20 minute bus ride brought us just outside of Pompeii. After looking at a beautiful (and ridiculously expensive) gallery of the coral jewelry made in the region, we headed to the ruins

Had to get the "look at me, I'm a tourist" audio guides

Traditional pose Asians do. Idk why

London flashback!

Entering the ruins

Mount Vesuvius can be seen in the background
Now, I don't really know what I was picturing when I imagined Pompeii. I knew it was ruins, but this wasn't what I expected. I actually pictured more dead bodies, but most of these have been moved to the Archaeological Museum in Naples. This was disappointing at first, but once I saw some of the plaster casts of the bodies I was relieved there weren't more. There's something horrifying about witnessing someone's last terrifying and awful moments on earth that was unnerving.

This person was trying to protect their
face from the deadly ash cloud
Our tour guide gave us lots of interesting information about Pompeii (Only 2000 of the 20000 inhabitants died- I was under the impression that everyone did- I think 15,000 overall died in the area), as well as info about the surrounding towns. Herculaneum, Pompeii's less famous but richer cousin was also destroyed. However, while Pompeii was suffocated by the falling ashes, the citizens of the neighboring Ercolano (as we say in Italian) met a much more gruesome end. While Pompeii was panicking, Herculaneum wasn't as worried because the ash wasn't falling on them. Many ended up evacuating to the sea, and this is why, for many years, historians thought these citizens escaped: the town was virtually abandoned. It wasn't until the excavations got to the shore and they discovered the skeletons of about 800 people in the boat houses that the history was clear; these people didn't escape but were probably burned in the rush of lava from Vesuvius known as a pyroclastic flow, which would have actually killed them instantly. This flow almost perfectly preserved the town, much like the layers of ash and volcanic material preserved Pompeii, but the deaths of the citizens happened in an entirely different manner.

The straggling Pompeian people who stayed during the initial stages of the eruption may have been killed in a smaller pyroclastic flow (there's some debate as to whether suffocation or heat was the cause of death) but Herculaneum took the brunt of the molten rock flow from Vesuvius. The Pompeians died from a combination of ash inhalation (leading to suffocation) as well as the gas inhalation when a cloud of superheated gas and ash passed over the city (this cloud was the result of another pyroclastic flow) and suffocated any who remained. The heavy flow of ash from the initial eruption cause many buildings to collapse, also causing many deaths in Pompeii.

Hope you enjoyed that history lesson- I find Pompeii and the surrounding area fascinating.
On to less gruesome things!
stray dogs chill in the ruins of Pompeii


Just warming my hands. Apparently bread was found
in these ovens during the excavation

Chariot ruts

Some raised lava stones were used to
make paths for people to cross
if there was a flood
These stones were necessary because Pre-Vesuvius Pompeii was actually near the coast in ancient times, unlike today where it is much more inland as a result of geographical changes because of the eruption.

this is how I imagine they crossed the street
What is almost sadly ironic about the streets of Pompeii is that the stones they used were in fact, lava stones. AKA stones formed because there's a VOLCANO nearby. Sadly, the citizens of the cities surrounding Pompeii did not know the word for volcano; they only recognized it as a mountain. It had been dormant for so long it was almost considered inactive. Vesuvius is still active today; it's last eruption was in 1944/48 or somewhere thereabouts, but was obviously not like the eruption circa 79 AD. It's thought that the longer the volcano remains silent, the worse a subsequent eruption would be. This is especially concerning to many experts, because people live closer to the summit of Vesuvius today than people did in ancient times, and in much higher densities.

Mom in front of the ruins of a temple with Vesuvius looming
All in all though, it was an interesting trip, being transported back in time, able to imagine what life might have been like for these people.   We saw lots of sites, like a bakery, a wine bar and even a brothel. It wasn't what I expected (since I didn't really know what to expect) but it was an awesome trip. The weather was gorgeous and I got to hang in the sun with my family.

Despite it's sad past, Pompeii has beautiful views and is
quite enjoyable
Walking around the ruins was an amazing experience and a bit disturbing as well, since much of it was so well preserved and the eruption is relatively well documented. We can easily picture what the final days were like for this ancient Roman city, and it's a bit scary. Vesuvius looms over the once bustling city, and the plaster casts of the dead, as well as the crumbling ruins remind us of the awesome and terrible power of nature. It was definitely something I will never forget.

We separated from the big group after our tour of Pompeii and headed off in a small bus to Sorrento, a city on the coast of Italy. The whole day was exhausting, so we turned in early to get ready for our trip to Capri the next day. 

I have to catch up on my Italian homework now, since I missed Thursday's class (worth it), but if you want to see TONS more pictures, I uploaded them to my mom's facebook. They are public albums, I think, so you should be able to view them if you click here and here for the albums which include Pompeii (tell me if you can't, I can't remember if I fixed the settings). I'll update about Capri later!

Ciao for now!

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