The force of nature
It was the year 79 C.E., 24th of August. Within 24 hours the Pompeii city plunged into darkness as thick layers of ash and lava poured down from the volcano nearby - Vesuvius. Pompeii and the volcano are located in the Naples area, Italy; and like no other place on earth, the city gives us the possibility to closely examine the Roman life. I stayed in Naples and took a short car drive to the site early in the morning. Arrived at 8am, the visitors area was full with tourists already. After waiting around 20 minutes in the queue, I finally entered the site. First impression - it's huge. Plenty of things to explore all day. Amusingly, the volcano not only destroyed the ancient cite, but also preserved it for future generations - the buildings, houses with furniture, shops with work tools, Roman paintings and mosaics. Sealed away and re-discovered in the 16th century, once it was home to around 12,000 inhabitants.
Pompeii was built by the Oscans, around 8th century B.C.E. They spoke an extinct Indo-European language, slightly different from nowadays Italian.
The area developed on lava terracing, shaped up centuries ago, which had many advantages - it served as a natural defense against attackers and an especially fertile valley allowed for the swift development of the agriculture. Thus, for centuries, Pompeii developed in every sector - economy, trade, maritime, arts. While at the site, you can see the volcano nearby - it's magnificence and the damage it did to the city is stunning.
The warning sign and destiny
Unfortunately, the flourishing city was not destined to last. Historians say, that the first indications of what is to come were felt around 62 C.E., when Vesuvio devastated the city and surroundings. More than a decade later, the magnificence of Pompeii and it's peaceful life came to an end. The middle and lower class paid the highest price, having their houses destroyed, while some villas remained - please see the pictures below, showing intact walls, roofs and even the colors of the interior, mosaics. Most of the public houses were still being restored, when Vesuvius became active again. Some citizens tried to run away, but were suffocated by the fumes, others died in their own homes or work places. Luckily, there were survivors. While identifying destinations of the Pompeii refugees was difficult, researchers found proof that they resettled nearby, in the communities of Naples, Cumae and few others.
The most recent mount Vesuvius eruption happened in March 17–23, 1944 and the volcano remains active - in fact, it is one of the most dangerous ones in the world. Scientists say that a fatal eruption may happen at any time. I had a conversation with a local, who did not seem to worry about Vesuvius at all, but he confirmed that once in a while they feel an earthquake.
Thermal baths, theaters and temples
When visiting Pompeii, we will most certainly find a number of thermal baths. “Thermae” were public. There were also few private baths, built inside luxurious villas for the city’s well-off families. Mostly, bathrooms were separate for men / women and had different functions - changing rooms, cold bath, tepid and hot bath rooms. The most luxurious ones included a pool, a gymnasium area and were furnished with beautiful gardens and open spaces. They even had a heating system, which worked by running heated water through gaps in the walls. While it was definitely a joyful and relaxing time spent in the “thermae”, it used to serve a very important social function as well. I thought to myself - their luxurious life wasn't that much different from ours today - comfortably warm, with jaccuzi's and gyms, well-kept gardens.
Theaters played a very important part in Pompeii life and the structures were made following a Greek model, which used the natural inclination of the terrain. Diversely, the Roman theatre is based on a man-made structure. Comedy and tragedy performances were loved by the locals.
Just as in Ancient Rome, temples were built to honor the Capitoline Triad - Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. We will also find a temple for Apollo, with statues of him shooting arrows. There are a number of other religious worship areas - for smaller cults, protector Gods of the houses and for the emperor Augustus. If planning to spend all day at the site, I highly recommend arriving early, bringing your own water and snacks. Regular bus tours are organized from Naples. Otherwise, if you're renting a car, you can organize an excursion on your arrival to the visitors area. There are touristic road signs everywhere, you can find the place even without the gps. There are few small caffe's at the site to buy espresso, ice-cream and other refreshments. I was in July, so it was a peak season and very hot, so a hat and sun-creams are a must. Overall it was a fantastic trip, learned so many things about the history, saw beautiful structures, arts, however, at the same time it was really sad to see human bodies covered in lava-ash mix and frozen in time.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Justina Janeliunaite
Justina Janeliunaite (author) on June 15, 2020:
Truly amazing place and worth exploring. All the region is stunning, with many ancient sites and beautiful nature. Thank you for your comment and hope you'll visit Pompeii soon :-) Have a great day.
Liz Westwood from UK on June 15, 2020:
Since learning about Pompeii at school, I have long been fascinated by this unique place. Your article reminds me of why I hope one day to visit it.