The Lost City

26 Apr

Pompeii. The Lost City. I’m sure that you’ve heard about it before, but in case you haven’t, you’re about to learn all about it! It’s one of the most incredible, yet haunting, places I’ve ever been to. And once we decided we were heading to Rome, it was a no-brainer that we’d make the trek southward to share this amazing piece of history with our guests.

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Norah loves train rides!

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Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near present-day Naples, about 2 hours south of Rome. It was founded in the 7th century BC and grew to become a bustling, affluent city- complete with a complex water system, a gymnasium, an amphitheater and a port- with more than 20,000 citizens.Elegant houses and elaborate villas lined the paved streets. Tourists, townspeople and slaves bustled in and out of small factories and artisans’ shops, taverns and cafes, and brothels and bathhouses. People gathered in the 20,000-seat arena and lounged in the open-air squares and marketplaces.

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Mount Vesuvius, a volcano about five miles from Pompeii, is hundreds of thousands of years old and has erupted more than 50 times. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 AD, when the volcano buried the city under a thick carpet of volcanic ash. The dust “poured across the land” like a flood, one witness wrote, and shrouded the city in “a darkness…like the black of closed and unlighted rooms.” Around lunchtime that day, the blast sent a plume of ashes, pumice and other rocks, and scorching-hot volcanic gases 21 miles into the sky- so high that people could see it for hundreds of miles around. As it cooled, this tower of debris drifted to earth: first the fine-grained ash, then the lightweight chunks of pumice and other rocks. By nightfall, as more and more ash fell, it clogged the air, making it difficult to breathe. Buildings collapsed. Then, a “pyroclastic surge”–a 100mph surge of superheated poison gas and pulverized rock–poured down the side of the mountain and swallowed everything and everyone in its path. By the time the Vesuvius eruption sputtered to an end the next day, Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash. Every single person in the city perished, and Pompeii was buried for centuries.  When a group of explorers rediscovered the site in 1748, they were surprised to find that, underneath it all, Pompeii was mostly intact, just as it had been left that fateful night in 79AD.

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Factoid: Geologists categorize the next Vesuvius eruption as ‘imminent,’ claiming that it could happen any day. Just like before, there have been small earthquakes and rumblings in recent years (at the time of Pompeii, they didn’t realize these were warning signs- Vesuvius had been silent for 500 years at that time and was just considered a mountain by that point). Currently, more than 3 million people live within 20 miles of its base.

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Four year old boy, with pursed lips and wearing clothes…

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Found hiding in a corner of a house, covering his face from the ash…

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Dog on his back…

Underneath all that dust, Pompeii was almost exactly as it had been 2,000 years before. Its buildings were intact. Skeletons were frozen right where they’d fallen. Everyday objects and household goods littered the streets. Later archaeologists even uncovered jars of preserved fruit and loaves of bread!

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Ruts left on the roads from constant carriage travel…

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That’s the oven behind the pestle…

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The Villa of the Mysteries is a well-preserved Roman villa on the outskirts of Pompeii, famous for the series of frescos in one room, which are usually thought to show the initiation of a young woman into a Greco-Roman mystery cult. These are now the best known of the relatively rare survivals of Ancient Roman painting. The villa wasn’t discovered and excavated until 1909, long after much of the main city. It is now the best preserved building in the entire city.

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Villa of Mysteries with Mt. Vesuvius in the background…

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Wall paintings…

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You can’t even tell how filthy we all were by this picture! Ha!

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Kitchen counter in one of the wealthiest homes…

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Tile mosaic in an entryway…Considered the unofficial symbol of Pompeii. We have a tile of this that hangs at our front door in Charleston ❤

During excavation of one site, the bodies of thirteen adults and children were found huddled together, making futile attempts to shield themselves from the onslaught of volcanic dust, pumice, stone, and ash. This place, where once stood an ancient orchard, came to be known as the “Garden of the Fugitives.” (*Sorry for the glare on the pictures- since the last time we visited, they’ve put up protective glass walls around the bodies 😦 )

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Ancient signage- painted right onto the building- for a bakery…Neat fact: There were 31 bakeries in Pompeii, proving that it was a lucrative business.

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Each hole would’ve held a bowl with warm food. These ancient ‘snack bars’ were also common in most cities. Surprisingly, it was the poorer people who frequented them because their homes were less likely to have kitchens.

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Vesuvius in the distance…

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Isn’t it incredible?! And I use that word for so many different parts of Pompeii. It’s incredible how advanced people were thousands of years ago. It’s incredible that every single one of these structures was built long before Jesus was born. It’s incredible that that 20,000 people called this city home, then were completely gone in one night. It’s incredible how well it was preserved by the ash and lava from Mt. Vesuvius. It’s incredible that there’s still 1/3 of the city still buried, waiting to be excavated. And most of all, it’s incredible that we get to visit it and learn from it and feel its incredible energy today, 2000 years later. To experience Pompeii is to witness one of the most tragic, horrific, inspiring, liberating, beautiful experiences you’ll ever have. And all you can do is be present. ❤

Tomorrow will conclude our three part series on our southern Italy adventure. You won’t want to miss Sorrento and the most scenic drive in the world, the Amalfi Coast!

 

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