Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Ruins of Pompeii

When we went to Rome, we took a day to visit Pompeii.  If defied my expectations.

Most of us learned a little something about Pompeii when we were in school.  It is best known for its annihilation by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  When we think of Pompeii, most of us envision tragic ruins and the remains of unfortunate souls caught writing in their final pain.  To many of us, the name of that ancient city represents death and misery.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the ruins of Pompeii portray more how people lived rather than how they died.

The remnants of the ancient city are situated on a serene hill just off the coast of the Mediterranean.  It is easy to see that the city would have been marvelous place to live in the years before the tragedy.  The trees, the gardens, the buildings and the surroundings all combine to create what surely must have been a sort of Utopia there.

The images I saw back in school showed bodies everywhere, right where they fell at the moment of their deaths.  I was pleased to see that that is not the reality of the situation.  “Bodies” are limited to certain areas and it is easy to avoid those areas, if you so choose. It might also comfort you somewhat to know that there are no actual preserved bodies displayed at Pompeii.  What you see are plaster casts that were made from indentions remaining in the soil and ash when the excavations were being done.

At about 163 acres, the ruins spanned much more ground than I anticipated.  We explored the site all afternoon but that did not allow us enough time to see it all.  There are so many wonderful things to see there.

The citizens of Pompeii enjoyed their own Forum and Coliseum, much like the ones in Rome but on a much smaller scale.  Just like in any modern city, the homes were both large and small. There were bars and restaurants.  There were also houses of ill-repute.

Some of the original frescos survived and they are among the most fascinating things to see there.  Although the gardens of Pompeii obviously could not have survived its tragic destruction or the ravages of time, some have been recreated to reflect their original beauty.  The water fountains still work and the water is safe to drink.

Even the streets show signs of life as it was in ancient times.  Look down as you walk and you will see cat’s eye tiles that reflected moonlight so that the original citizens could see where they were walking at night.  The stones in the street also contain some obvious signs pointing the way to the brothels.  Quite frankly, the signs are depictions of male genitalia carved into stones in the street.

The most surprising thing about Pompeii is that a modern cafeteria sits right in the middle of the ruins.  I was thrilled to find a place to pick up food and drinks.  Pompeii takes hours to explore and modern facilities were a most welcome sight on a hot day.

Most people arrive in Pompeii via train.  If you go from Rome, you will need to take a train to Naples, then change train lines to go to Pompeii.  We picked up our Rome-to-Naples tickets from a vending machine in Termini station.  The price varies with the type of tickets you chose.  We paid about €22 per person.  When you get to Naples, you must switch to a different train line for the trip from Naples to Pompeii.  That’s easy enough because the other train line is in the same terminal you come into from Rome.  Follow the signs to the Circumvesuviana ticket window and ask for a roundtrip ticket to Pompei Scavi.  As I recall, that ticket was less than €3 per person.

Admission to the ruins is inexpensive at €11 per person.  There are other things to see at Pompei Scavi but if you only have one day, touring the ruins will be about all that you will have time for.  Be sure to have plenty of cash on hand.  Pompeii is a cash-only site and there is no ATM nearby. Visit http://www.pompeionline.net/en for more details.

When you visit Pompeii, be sure to wear sturdy walking shoes because the streets are very rough and uneven.  Also, wear a hat and sun block.  There isn’t much shade in Pompeii.  Be sure to take along a refillable water bottle and fill it up at the ancient fountains.

The ruins of Pompeii are a reflection of beautiful lives lived in beautiful surroundings.  Take a look at these pictures to see the wonder and the beauty for yourself.