Who hasn’t heard of Pompeii and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, that buried the city under lapilli, burning pumice stone, and preserved an ancient way of life for us all to discover and marvel at? However, a massive earthquake first struck the thriving port of Pompeii with its 20,000 inhabitants, sixteen years earlier, and many citizens had fled and not returned. For that reason, only about 2,000 people actually died as a result of the eruption, and their bodies were encased in the debris, almost exactly as they fell.
Records suggest that Pompeii was first established in the early 7th century BC, but fell to the Romans in 80 BC. It was a city of stunning temples to Apollo, Venus and Jupiter as well as elegant mansions and a thriving trading economy. Pliny the Younger was on hand to witness the eruption and to write a searing account of the sights and sounds of devastation.
Pompeii was all but forgotten until an architect unearthed some ruins while digging a canal in 1594. He made a note of the find, but carried on with the task at hand. It wasn’t until 1748 that excavations began, financed by the Bourbon King Charles VII. As consolation for the expense, Charles satisfied himself with many of the treasures that were unearthed, using them to decorate his palaces.
Only about two thirds of Pompeii’s 66 hectares have been excavated to this day, and though there is no doubt that more frescoes and mosaics lie within the walls of the ancient city, the focus today is on preserving what has already been uncovered. More than 2.5 million visitors come to Pompeii each year, most on quick two-hour tours, but there is enough to keep the really keen for hours, or days, longer.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
After reading about the fact that Herculaneum was much better preserved than Pompeii, we weren’t really expecting to be very impressed with the ruins. When we picked up our audio guides, we noted that there were suggested routes through the ruins that would last for two hours, four hours or six hours. Despite the fact that we had perfect weather for a long visit, we didn’t expect to stay for any longer than the minimum length of time.
Were we ever mistaken! Six hours later, we finally left Pompeii because our legs and backs couldn’t tolerate walking on uneven stones any longer, and the sun was getting low in the sky, it would be dark soon and the site was closing. We pretty much saw all the major highlights, but though we probably won’t return for a second visit, there are certainly many more streets to wander along, and incredible buildings to admire.
The one thought that was foremost in our minds was, ‘how do people manage to come to Pompeii during the summer months’? There’s an incredible amount of walking to do, and virtually no shade. Top that off with long queues to get into the site, bus loads of other tourists clogging the streets and small rooms inside the villas, not to mention how difficult it would be to take photos without people getting in the way.
We are both so very happy that we waited all our lives to see these famous sites when we had the leisure time to explore them properly, and the ability to travel when the ‘worker bees’ are busy keeping the world humming. For thirty-five years (or more) we had to travel when school wasn’t in session, and now we are free to enjoy the cooler temperatures, the quiet tourist sights and the off-season rates. Patience has never been one of my virtues, but I’m being rewarded all the same.