Pompeii, the city under the ashes.
One of our must-see pins on the map was Pompeii and Vesuvius. No matter how bizarre it sounds, we thought it would be exciting to see the destruction the volcano Vesuvius caused in Pompeii almost 2000 years ago. Well, maybe not so much the destruction, but the phenomenon that caused the people to be encapsulated, so that we can study the tragedy to this day.
Two days of destruction.
The vulcano eruption began at noon in the year 79 AD and lasted for 2 days. People in town were, so to speak, taken with their pants down when the outbreak started. The author Pliny the Younger witnessed the outbreak and he tells how lava and ashes shot up like a cloud 20 kilometers above Vesuvius. Buildings collapsed due to the earthquakes, that caused the outbreak and the people who failed to escape, were encased in a cement of pumice, ash and water. This perpetuated them the moment they died. When the eruption was over, the city was also buried in a 4-5 meter thick layer of this ash cement.
An ongoing process.
Pompeii was much larger than we expected. The town had about 20,000 inhabitants, and it is a huge area that has been excavated since 1748. Yet, there are still archaeologists in the city. Apparently, even more is hidden under the dry soil. The city is organized with streets and house numbers and it takes many hours of walking to get through it all. But while doing so, it is easy to imagine how life was back then. Besides the ruins of regular houses, there are also shops, town squares, pubs and even a brothel.
Not for delicate souls.
People, furniture, plants and animals are immortalized by plaster casts. The ash cement had created a mold around the various objects and by pouring plaster into these molds, it has been possible to make precise castings. This means that the city’s dead inhabitants are now exhibited in great detail in rather uncanny positions. Some hold their hands up in front of their face, to protect themselves from the outbreak. Others lie in positions where they try to protect their children and some look as if they know that the end has come and they simply just hold each other in loving embrace. We even saw a man with his pants half way down and his butt showing. What a sad way to go. All of these people, captured in the moment of death, was a strong sight.
The cause of the disaster.
When you have seen Pompeii, you also need to see Vesuvius. The volcano that cost the lives of about 2000 people. Although Vesuvius has not been in an outbreak since 1944, it nevertheless releases sulfur gases and is monitored around the clock. Fortunately, the volcano is now surrounded by UNESCO-protected nature. That means that in the event of an outbreak there will not be much to evacuate. Only nature will suffer.
Lets be honest.
Vesuvius is a tourist trap. There, we’ve said it! Countless buses make trips to the volcano and we were also lured into taking such a bus for 10 Euro per person, rather than the cheaper public transportation. However, we were loaded off the bus at the same place as the public bus loaded people off, and it was not by the volcano crater as we were promised! It was at at some sort of vantage point, with a couple of kiosks that sold ice, water, snacks and souvenirs. The volcano crater couldn’t even be seen from there. We had to walk to the top yourself. We actually had to pay an additional 10 Euro per person, to access this walk. By doing a quick mental arithmetic, we found out, that it is an income of several 1000 Euro daily, for an attraction without any service or maintenance. It’s a little too expensive.
Well, we were there and we actually paid the 20 Euro for one of the toughest walks, we have ever done! The path up to the volcano was covered with a thick layer of lava gravel. It was like walking in freshly fallen snow in more than 30 degrees Celsius, under the relentless sun. It was so hard! But we reached the top and could look straight into the crater. Which was the next disappointment. It was by no means similar to what we imagined. We expected to see a hole with dried out black lava on the sides and maybe even some of the sulfur gasses rising up into the air, We saw none of that. Instead we looked at a bowl-like hole with stones and plants at the bottom and it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. It certainly didn’t look like any of the pictures we had seen on the internet. However, we could now check Vesuvius off our bucket list.
On the positive side.
The view however, outweighed the disappointments. It was spectacular! Just as we thought we had seen and photographed enough, we turned around and there was even more to enjoy and photograph. Not too long though, because we also had to reach the vantage point again, before the bus came to pick us up. Fortunately, the walk down was easier than the steep walk up.
Normally we don’t but….
We actually wanted to complain to the bus company for their misleading information about the trip to Vesuvius. We had certainly not been the only ones upset about the walk and the extra expense. But unfortunately they were closed when we got down to Pompeii again. So we put the experience in our backpack, as one of the lesser ones, and went home to Mr. Hymer, the caravan, with tired feet and sore muscles. Here we welcomed the fact that Pompeii had, after all, been an experience we would not have been without.
– Text: Eva. Addings and photo editing: Malthe