Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Lens to the Past - Pompeii

In the year 79 AD, the two seemingly ordinary Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were forever immortalized by one of the most catastrophic volcanic events in recent history. Mount Vesuvius' eruption not only created two of the most fascinating and unique archaeological sites in the world, it also created a lens through which we can gaze upon how life would have been in an actual Roman city. Spectacular Roman archaeological sites are littered all across Europe, Northern Africa, and the Middle East, but few can provide the kind of information that Pompeii and Herculaneum can.

Pompeii's streets seem to stretch on forever

Our first stop for the day was Pompeii, easily the most visited of the two and definitely the largest site. According to most scholars, Pompeii was an affluent and important city in the Roman Empire before its extraordinary demise. While estimates vary, it seems that the city had approximately 12-15,000 inhabitants, 2000 of whom died the day of the eruption. However, gazing out over the remains it's easy to imagine the city as much larger as the buildings, pubic squares, and roads appear to stretch on forever. 

Wandering through the 2000 year old houses is extremely rewarding

The preservation and restoration of some of the buildings is amazing

Pompeii was rained down on by ash, rocks, and other debris for 6 hours on the day of the eruption, knocking down roofs and walls, and leaving the city buried under 25 feet of debris until its rediscovery 1700 years later. 

The culprit, Vesuvius, in the background

With advancements in technology and further site excavation, more and more is being learned about Pompeii, the eruption of Vesuvius, and everyday Roman life. DNA analysis continues to be run on skeletons found there, and the results shed light on everything from relatedness of people found together to general health to trends in population dynamics (heights, occupations, etc,). 

Some of the unbelievably preserved frescoes

Colors and detail in the surviving frescoes

Much of the site is still off-limits and being studied

Upon entering the site, we were immediately blown away by the sheer size of the city. Block after block seem to stretch on forever and make the city seem larger than the accepted estimates. We decided not to follow any route in particular and just wandered aimlessly through the houses, brothels, eateries, temples, and amphitheaters that have all been uncovered.

The main amphitheater of Pompeii

We were amazed at how well preserved some of the mosaics, frescoes, and architectural elements of the structures were. And then there's the stuff removed from the buildings. Plaster casts of some of the victims, sculptures, fountains, and endless amounts of pottery still remain on site, many kept in a fenced off area that you can still look into.

Some objects still remain where they were found

Sculptures found on the site

The number of intact pieces of pottery is unbelievable

The "posterboy" of Pompeii

With the new cards and passes available in the region of Campania, visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum are now cheaper and easier than ever. We decided to pick up the 5 site card which gives entry to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabiae, and Boscoreale for just 20 Euro per person. Even if you only go to Pompeii and Herculaneum (which we did) you still save 2 Euro per person. 

**Don't worry, our Herculaneum post is on its way tomorrow! 

By Travis Huyghebaert with No comments


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Calli and Travis returned from a four month trip through Europe more excited than ever to hit the open road. Who knows where they'll end up next...

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