Pompeii: simply awesome

The small town that Jeff and I visited near Naples was Pompeii, the city of roman ruins. What is special about Pompeii is the preservation, which is the result of being engulfed in the volcanic aftermath of the eruption of Mt Vesuvius. There are three archaeological sites near the mountain, the two you hear about are Pompeii and Herculaneum, Stabiae is the third. All the sites were the victim of the 79 AD (1,933 years ago) eruption, which started by the earth rumbling from the geological shift, then a plume of ash raising into the air that could be seen for hundreds of miles. This information is from a writer, Pliny the Younger, who survived the eruption. The townspeople began to flee, once the ash started to land on the ground.

 Mount Vesuvius in the background.
Pompeii is believed to be about 20,000 people at this time, which is about the student population of Harvard. The city was very advanced; buildings had heating from warm water being pumped by hydraulics, there was a reservoir for water, and they even had primitive odometers on their carts. The city had two amphitheaters and one large stadium as well as gardens, frescoes, and mosaics. 
The ash continued to fall, making the air thick and difficult to breath. People were able to leave the city though.

About 12 hours after the original ash eruption, those who stayed behind in the city were victim to a pyroclastic surge. This is a 100 mile per hour poisonous gas that was about 900 degree Fahrenheit. This surge killed whoever remained in the city in a fraction of a second, and then their body was covered in ash. The ash blanket was about 25m high, and all the ash from Vesuvius could of filled a cube 1.5 miles long on each side. An estimate 2,000 people were left in the city.

Jumping forward to 1748, the excavation of Pompeii began and is continuing to this day. As they dug up the city, they discovered pockets of air in the ash rock, which they soon discovered was the cavity of bodies that had been caught in the ash. The archaeologist poured plaster into the cavities and the result is the now famous plaster mummies of Pompeii. Because of the almost instant effect of the pyroclastic surge, the bodies have a casual quality to them. Their faces are not horror struck and they are not necessarily covering their heads.

In a garden, 13 bodies were found together. 

Jeff and I spent a whole day in Pompeii, and it is the largest Roman ruin that we have seen, and also the most impressive. It is like walking around a city, as many of the buildings are intact, unlike other ruins were only the floor plan can be seen. We covered a lot of the city, mostly looking for the garden with the 13 bodies together. We asked several people, and kept getting lost, it took us 3 hours or so to find them. It was okay though because we got to see so many interesting things along the way. To give you an idea of exactly how big this archaeological site is, I went on Google maps and drew an outline around the parts of Pompeii that were considered an excavation site. Then I put that outline over the University of Washington campus, as I know a lot of my readers are at least vaguely familiar with UW. Basically, the whole of Pompeii’s excavation site is about the size of UW Seattle’s main campus, though not including the area by the stadium and the IMA.

We had no idea what we were getting into, as neither of us could really wrap our head around what Pompeii really was. We’ve been to Roman ruins before, but nothing so complete and large. We often would wander around for 30 or 40 minutes without ever seeing other people. It was like being in a museum without security guards, no one to tell us where not to go, so, we went everywhere!

Pompeii is also the home to several stray dogs, all of which seemed relatively apathetic to people wandering around. The dogs are cared for by people who work at the site, but are also available for adoption if you would like. Some were friendlier than others, basking in the pets that we were discouraged from giving them. Some would join us for a walk around the site for a few minutes, just meandering by our side.

While I didn’t know all the facts about Pompeii when we went, I still enjoyed the site very much. It was frustrating getting lost, and not having the mummies clearly marked, but I guess that is our own fault for not buying a 10€ map. I had heard of Pompeii in elementary school and I was fascinated by the macabre of the bodies being preserved in the ash so quickly that they didn’t have time to react. It was a sort of strange validation of history for me, visiting the site. As has all of this traveling I’ve been doing, a validation of things about the world people have told me. It makes so much more sense once you experience it firsthand.


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