The ancient Roman port city of Pompeii, Italy, located at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, is most well known for its place in history as the town that was buried beneath a massive volcanic eruption. The city had thrived for centuries prior to that one fateful moment in August of 79 A.D. when all that was, was destroyed in a flash.
Today, Pompeii is a World Heritage site, providing glimpses into life interrupted nearly 2000 years ago by a catastrophic volcanic eruption. It is a window into a city that was flourishing one week, then buried and dead the next. Come explore with us these ruins, see for yourself what life might have been like in the moments before disaster struck.
Welcome to The Fragmented Ruins of Pompeii
Today, Pompeii is an archeological treasure trove of ancient Roman life. The shambles of a city in ruin, buried beneath volcanic ash and rock, of life left at a moment’s notice, tell the story of a catastrophic interruption so many years ago.
The rapid speed at which Pompeii disappeared beneath volcanic detritus resulted in a city well preserved, albeit fragile. Remnants of Pompeii’s once grand lifestyle remain today, some still standing, while others lay where they fell during that destructive time.
Enter the central forum, where a modernistic display of art stands in stark contrast to the surrounding ancient ruins. This juxtaposition of an ancient world with the artistic renditions of the modern day Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj create an interesting clash across the centuries.
The eye is first drawn to the bronzed, fragmented mythological face, then drifts onward, upward, and beyond, to ancient columns still standing, to where ruins of temples and basilicas remain despite the passing of nearly 2000 years.
At the time of Mt. Vesuvius’ eruption, an estimated 11,000 or more people called Pompeii their home. Not all perished during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and its aftermath, but many did, left buried beneath as much as nine to ten feet of volcanic debris. Those that did survive, in the blink of an eye lost all they owned in Pompeii.
A Window Into Daily Life at Pompeii
All around are the ruinous remains of what was once a grand Roman port city. With its relatively close proximity to Rome, Pompeii was in part a coastal retreat for Rome’s sun-seeking wealthy citizens as much as it was an international trading port.
Much like the resort towns of today, Pompeii was a flourish of activities, complete with artisan shops, cafes, open air theaters, churches and bathhouses. Evidence of life once in motion remain throughout, providing insight into a more commercial aspect of Roman life in Pompeii.
Stroll through an ancient shopping district, complete with shops and fast food styled lunch counters. Stone topped cooking stations remain as if just yesterday, they were selling their fare to hungry passersby. Their sunken terra-cotta pots, once filled with foods used in their pre-cooked meals, instead are filled with years of soil and ash.
An ancient thermopolium, the equivalent of an ancient fast food lunch counter, still stands, as if ready to serve up its fast food fare to hungry citizens. Though no longer in service, these thermopolia remain testaments to how Pompeians lived their lives.
Crumbling walls, once decorated with colorful frescos, now represent a singular moment in time, and one of total destruction. Rusted out jugs, once filled with necessities and excesses of a life in Pompeii, sit broken into pieces.
Explore the remains of an opulent bath house where ornate bathing rooms have been relieved of their ashy tombs. Enter the caldarium, a hot room once heated with furnaces. Walk through the frigidarium, a cold room, and the final room in the Roman bathing process.
Stand beneath a coffered ceiling, still decorated with ornate medallions that survived the catastrophe. Examine partially preserved frescos that reveal colorful hints of Pompeian life. It is hard to imagine so much can be destroyed in a flash so long ago, yet remain intact today!
Life Interrupted Inside Pompeii
Many lost their lives over the course of that fateful August day as volcanic ash and rock rained down upon the city. Many who survived the falling debris succumbed later, some as they sheltered in their homes, asphyxiated by the toxic gases that followed.
Some of the city’s inhabitants who did not escape the ravages of the volcanic eruption, are still seen today. The remains of dogs, children, and adults, their bodies encased in solidified ash, depict a story of agony when realizing all was lost.
Meander down an ancient thoroughfare cutting its way through a long deserted Pompeian neighborhood. Take note of Mount Vesuvius looming large in the background. Imagine these streets succumbing to volcanic ash, volcanic rocks raining down from above.
It must have been a fearsome sight for those who remained in Pompeii. Pompeii was home to both luxurious private homes of the wealthy, as well as the much more simplistic homes of those with less. That mattered none to Mother Nature! All was destroyed.
Once buried beneath mounds of volcanic detritus, efforts are in place today to further explore life, and its destruction, in Pompeii. Only small sections of this massive city may be open to the public, but what is available provides an amazing insight into life long ago.
Tips To Plan Your Own Pompeii Experience
Though our time in Pompeii was short, it was time filled with an experience our family won’t soon forget. Our one regret? That we were not afforded time to explore more of Pompeii on our own. When planning your own adventure here, don’t sell yourself short on time!
I’ll leave you today with three tips to consider when planning a day in Pompeii:
- Book a guided tour. You will be glad you did! There is so much to see here. Having a guide ensures you see highlights of Pompeii, and get the most out of your day.
- Check the cruise schedule for nearby Naples. Cruises in port most likely mean a more crowded Pompeii, as most offer day trips here. Consider switching your time to be opposite their schedule.
- Plan for extra time after the tour for further exploration on your own. Not having sufficient time on our own was our one big disappointment of the day.
Have you been to Pompeii? Did you enjoy it as much as we did? Did you have enough time to see everything you wanted to see? Were you there during Mitoraj’s modernist sculptures exhibit? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please do!
Note: Igor Mitoraj’s bronze sculptures exhibit in Pompeii is scheduled through January 2017.
All images by C.Biederman