Tag Archives: Roman

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.


Norah loves train rides!


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.



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.


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.



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


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


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!



Ruts left on the roads from constant carriage travel…



That’s the oven behind the pestle…


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.


Villa of Mysteries with Mt. Vesuvius in the background…


Wall paintings…








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


Kitchen counter in one of the wealthiest homes…


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 😦 )






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.


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.



Vesuvius in the distance…


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!


Ciao da Roma!

25 Apr

Disclaimer: You’re in for a long, juicy, but oh-so-awesome, pretty picture post with this one! What else could you expect? It’s Rome!


What a fabulous time we’ve had these last 5 days! Seriously. We rolled up into here (home) last night feeling like we’d used every ounce of oomph- and every muscle in our legs- we had and it hurt so good. We couldn’t have covered any more ground if someone was paying us $1 million to do it! That’s when you know it was a good trip! Ha! Although laying in bed after our second day, John and I both agreed that we’re getting older. We’ve always been ‘power travelers’- we go into most trips with a gameplan, research ahead of time, and make the most of our time in any given place- but I’ve got to admit, we’re feeling more like 28 instead of 22 these days! 😉


We took a train from our house to the airport, flew direct from Stuttgart to Rome, then took a taxi to our apartment in the city. This is waiting for Uber (taxi).

Several months ago, once Mark and Bethany decided on their travel dates, we started giving thought to where we’d like to visit during their time here. They had their Bucket List, so it was just a matter of where to start on it. With it being their first time in Europe, we wanted to make sure that their first side adventure was one for the books- somewhere recognizable, somewhere that makes an impression, somewhere that we could see alot of in a pretty short amount of time. Well yeah, Rome- and southward- certainly fits the bill, right?! And the fact that we’d spent a good bit of time there in the past- we guestimate that John’s been there for work 25-30 times!- really helped in the decision because it just makes things that much easier for getting around- and knowing what’s worth waiting in line for 😉 The icing on the cake? Going that far south means warmer temperature and sunnier (mostly) skies! WOOHOO!


Our apartment (Airbnb for the win!) was just off this square, probably the largest in the city.



Standing 86 feet tall, Trevi Fountain is the largest Baroque fountain in Rome and one of the most famous in the world. (Anyone remember the movie, When In Rome, where Kristen Bell runs out of the church and climbs into a big fountain?) The fountain, originally built in 19BC is actually the junction of three roads that marks the the terminal point of the aqueduct that supplied water to the ancient city. The current fountain was restored and expanded in 1629. It’s made from travertine stone taken from a quarry about 20 miles outside of Rome.



After dinner gelato at Trevi Fountain. (We sure do make some blue-eyed babies, don’t we?)



The Pantheon is the best-preserved ancient Roman building and has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Dedicated in 126AD, the reason it’s been so well preserved is likely because it’s remained in continuous use for most of its history, having been used as a church since 7AD. The building is circular with a portico of large granite Corinthian columns under a pediment. A rectangular vestibule links the porch to the rotunda, which is under a coffered concrete dome, with a central opening to the sky.



Standing in the middle of the Pantheon looking straight up through the oculus in the ceiling.

An interesting fact about the Pantheon dome…If you were to put hinges where the base meets the walls and flip it upside down like a bowl, it would be less than 1mm from the ground, making a perfect sphere. Yes, they were able to get that precise nearly 2000 years ago. I can’t even.


Can you believe these marble floors are 2000 years old?


It’s tough to get a good shot of such a large, round space, but this gives you a feel for inside. Walking in the front door, looking immediately left.


Walking back to the apartment after a successful first afternoon ❤


Random Cathedral we happened upon…Jeez.

Vatican City, the world’s smallest country in both area (110 acres) and population (842), is a walled enclave in the heart of Rome. It wasn’t officially declared autonomous until 1929. Its government, all Catholic clergy led by the Pope, has “full ownership, exclusive dominion, and sovereign authority and jurisdiction” over the city-state.

The Vatican City State budget includes the Vatican Museums and post office and is supported financially by the sale of stamps, coins, medals and tourist mementos; by fees for admission to museums; and by publications sales. The incomes and living standards of lay workers are comparable to those of counterparts who work in the city of Rome. Other industries include printing, the production of mosaics, and the manufacture of staff uniforms. The Institute for Works of Religion, also known as the Vatican Bank, is a bank situated in the Vatican that conducts worldwide financial activities. It has an ATM with instructions in Latin, possibly the only such ATM in the world.


Walking to the Vatican. The Tiber River is on the left, the Vatican is straight ahead. You can see St. Peters Basilica in the distance on the right.


Vatican City State, which employs nearly 2,000 people (most are Italian citizens who live outside city walls), operates with a $5 million surplus most years (layman’s terms: you’ve never seen such wealth!) Its citizenry consists almost entirely of two groups: clergy, a very few as officials of the state; and the Swiss Guard. As a result, all of the City’s actual citizens are Catholic as are all the places of worship. Unlike citizenship of other states, citizenship of Vatican City is granted on the grounds of appointment to work in a certain capacity in the service of the Holy See. It usually ceases upon cessation of the appointment. Citizenship is extended also to the spouse, parents and descendants of a citizen, provided they are living with the person who is a citizen. Anyone who loses Vatican citizenship and does not possess other citizenship automatically becomes an Italian citizen by law.


*Stock Picture just to give an idea of Vatican City as a whole.*


Pope’s Apartment, top straight across level of the brick building…He had his windows open enjoying the nice weather 🙂



St. Peters Basilica is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and one of the largest churches in the world. It is regarded as ‘the greatest of all churches in Christendom.’ Catholic tradition holds that the Basilica is the burial site of Jesus’ Apostle, St. Peter, as well as , the first Pope. Because St. Peter’s tomb is located directly below the high altar, many Popes have been interred at the Basilica since the Early Christian period. There has been a church on this site since the time of Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great. Construction of the present basilica, replacing the Old St. Peter’s Basilica of the 4th century AD, was completed in 1626.


There Pope had held an outdoor ceremony the day before, so there were hundreds of chairs in St. Peter’s Square. 

St. Peter’s is famous as a place of pilgrimage and for its liturgical functions. The Pope presides at a number of liturgies throughout the year, drawing audiences of 15,000 to over 80,000 people, either within the Basilica or the adjoining St. Peter’s Square. As a work of architecture, it is regarded as the greatest building of its age and is one of the four churches of Rome that hold the rank of Major Basilica. Contrary to popular misconception, it is not a cathedral because it is not the seat of a bishop.


Walking in the front doors of St. Peter’s Basilica…


Each marble inlaid into the floor is representative of another major Catholic church from all around the world, showing their size in relation to St. Peters.


Looking straight up..


An interesting tidbit for this picture, and the previous few if you scroll back up. There is NO paint used in the Basilica. It’s ALL tile. Yes, even this mural in the ceiling dome and everything on the walls…It’s all mosaic tilework. WOW. WOW. WOW.


St. Peter’s Altar. 


Looking back from the altar.Another interesting note: the letters around the walls are each 6 feet high. That offers some perspective of the grandeur here…

The Vatican Museums are the museums located within the walls of Vatican City that display the collections built up by the Popes throughout the centuries, including some of the most renowned classical sculptures and most important masterpieces of Renaissance art in the world.  Julius II founded the museums in the early 16th century. There are 54 galleries in total, making it one of the largest in the world, with the Sistine Chapel, notably, being the very last gallery within the Museum. Each gallery (they look like beautiful ornate arched halls) showcases everything from sculpture to metalworks to jewelry to tapestries to paintings.  For me personally, you could practically take away the collections and I’d be just as awe-struck by the galleries themselves!




Neat Factoid: None of the ceilings use any moldings. JUST PAINT and technique. Scroll back up to the last picture with that in mind…WOW. 


Because everyone needs a little comical relief during a morning of major art inspiration!

The Sistine Chapel is a chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope. Since 1480, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today, it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly its ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. Remember a few months ago when I was describing the feeling I get when I see the Eiffel Tower twinkling at night? Standing in the Sistine Chapel, absorbing all of this immense beauty and artistic creation…I feel so much the same way. It’s moving and inspiring and breathtaking. And there’s this huge sense of disbelief that someone would ever have the ability to do such masterpieces.

The ceiling was commissioned by Pope Julius II and painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512. The commission was originally to paint the twelve apostles on the triangular pendentives which support the vault; however, Michelangelo demanded a free hand in the pictorial content of the scheme. He painted a series of nine pictures showing God’s Creation of the World, God’s Relationship with Mankind, and Mankind’s Fall from God’s Grace. On the large pendentives he painted twelve Biblical and Classical men and women who prophesied that God would send Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind, and around the upper parts of the windows, the Ancestors of Christ.


I purposefully left John’s head in this shot to showcase my mad skill at taking the picture completely blind from my purse! How awesome is this picture?! Photography isn’t allowed, but since that’s only because Japan owns the rights since they did a restoration in the 1980s, I didn’t feel bad about breaking the rules for you guys. Imagine that 😉

The Last Judgement, also painted by Michelangelo, is a fresco on the wall behind the altar. It is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final and eternal judgment by God of all humanity. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates, as judged by Christ surrounded by prominent saints including Saints Catherine of Alexandria, Peter, Lawrence, Bartholomew, Paul, Sebastian, John the Baptist, and others. The work took four years to complete and was done between 1536 and 1541, 25 years after Michelangelo  finished the Sistine Chapel ceiling.


Again, trying to be sneaky, so pardon the bald head and the dude with candle antlers.


Quick pit stop for lunch before continuing our day!

The Colosseum is an oval amphitheater in the center of Rome. Built of concrete and sand,it’s the largest amphitheater ever built was was completed in just 8 years in 80AD.  It could hold about 80,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. Its main use during its heyday was weekend gladiator events. Gladiators were typically slaves who offered spectators an example of Rome’s martial ethics and, in fighting or dying well, they could inspire admiration and popular acclaim. They were celebrated in high and low art, and their value as entertainers was commemorated in precious and commonplace objects throughout the Roman world. The best gladiators could sometimes earn their freedom by staying alive long enough to earn their masters huge amounts of money. However, most gladiators lived their lives fighting and would die in battle at some point before freedom was even a thought.

Atypical Saturday would be divided into three events: the morning would have gladiators vs. exotic animals; afternoons would have gladiators vs. gladiators; evenings would have all gladiators and all remaining exotic animals fight to the death until there was only one remaining life in the fighting arena. In the days that followed, the arena would then be filled with water for naval battles as a way to rinse the blood away. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era (around 600 AD), but was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.


The Colosseum is my personal favorite site to visit in Rome. There’s just something about its imposing grandness. It’s heavy and solid and so much still in tack. It commands your attention and your curiosity. Once inside, you can FEEL the energy of centuries past, you can HEAR the crowds roar. I had wondered if I’d still feel this way all these years later and it was an immediate yes. To me, the Colosseum is the most beautiful site in all of the city.



So the way the amphitheater was set up was very similar to many arenas you’d go to today for a concert. Once you enter, you walked the outer circle until you found your numbered section. There was a small section on one side for royalty, then the knights would have the rest of the ground level circling the fighting stage. The lower levels were for noble people. Midlevel was for middle class. Upper levels were for peasants. At the very top was a section for servants made of wooden benches, as opposed to stone like the rest of the building (they are no longer there, of course). The ground at the center of the arena was actually a false floor. Beneath it was an intricate web of hallways and holding cells where the gladiators and animals would wait to be lifted (yes, they had advanced trap doors with pulley systems) into the arena when it was their turn.


This gives you a good idea of the false floor and what lied beneath…


Standing at ground level, looking down into the underneath hidden hallways and holding cells.


If you look straight across the arena in the center, you’ll see a cross. This marks the birth of Christianity and the demise of gladiator games.

Directly across from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum, the center of ancient Roman life. It was essentially their downtown area- it had government buildings, the marketplaces, restaurants and public spaces. It was where elections were held, parades and processions were marched, and Roman citizens addressed in speeches. Today, you can walk along the streets among the ruins, picturing for yourself what life once looked like here. Coincidentally, Julius Caesar is buried here.






And at this point, she was still considered pretty clean! HA!


Caesar’s Tomb





Capitol Hill, bookending the far side of the Roman Forum.

Can you believe how much ground we covered ON FOOT in just a day and a half in this city?! I can’t either. I plugged it into Google Maps and figured out that we walked just shy of 13 miles, including a toddler and a preschooler! We. Are. Rockstars. We rewarded ourselves with bellies full of pasta and pizza (call us cliche, we don’t care! ;)) and gelato with friends before schlepping our way back to our apartment and falling asleep within 3 seconds of our heads hitting the pillows. Which reminds me! Look who we ran into while we were in Rome!


Recognize that extra toddler making a beeline for gelato?


It’s our neighbors! They were in town with family for the week and were headed back to Stuttgart the following morning, so glad we got to meet up ahead of time! Love this family ❤

I told you it was a long, juicy post! Thanks for sticking it out with me. Hopefully the pictures of eons past and neat factoids helped hold your attention a bit 😉 Rome is just one of those cities that can’t be condensed into a nice, neat piece I suppose! Afterall, it’s the oldest city in the Western world! And I just find the history and the stories so, so mesmerizing- everywhere you turn is a ruin or a statue or a fountain or something that just grabs your eye. I love sharing it all with you guys and hope that you enjoy it just as much. There’s really no other city where I feel as much like a sponge, just soaking it all up- WANTING to soak it all up, WANTING my brain to expand to hold it all and to remember…It’s definitely one city I would say that everyone should have on his Bucket List- there’s no place in the entire world like it.


Stop back by tomorrow as our adventure continues southward to Pompeii, the lost city. I promise you won’t want to miss it.

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