Friday, October 28, 2011

Pompeii At Last

We have officially lived in Naples for over a year, and yesterday was my first visit to Pompeii since our move. A place I learned about before the age of 10, one of Italy's major tourist sites, and it's located less than an hour's drive away. I visited Pompeii years ago and remember three things from that visit: (1) it is huge and takes forever to see, (2) there are phallic symbols carved into the streets pointing the way to the brothels, and (3) there are public toilets with no stalls in between the multitude of seats. That's what I took away from my visit to one of the Western world's greatest archaeological sites. That was then. Prior to her visit, my grandmother read Robert Harris's excellent book (fiction), Pompeii, and her only sightseeing request was to visit Pompeii. Since I really can't bear to visit Ercolano (Herculaneum) for the half dozenth time, I was fully on board to see Pompeii instead.

This time around, I found Pompeii to be large, but easily manageable, missed seeing the public toilet, and I didn't catch a single glimpse of brothel indicators. We didn't actually go into the brothel since the entire street that one of the excavated brothels is on was wall to wall tour groups waiting to go inside. Literally. We had to shove our way through just to get past everyone. While the rest of the city was fairly easy to visit without huge crowds, the brothel was definitely the place to see and be seen. Instead, we followed a walking tour out of our guidebook (Rick Steves - and the 2010 version wasn't that up to date with street closures, so we got lost in places) which hit all the highlights. We walked on original streets, marveled at the the stepping stones in various places which served as cross walks (so streets could run with water, yet citizens could walk without getting their feet soiled), learned that each street had indicators as to one way, two way, major thoroughfare, and got to see plumbing that looks pretty much like our plumbing today. We skipped the half mile walk to the amphitheatre, especially since the third largest amphitheatre of ancient Rome (after Rome's Colosseum and Capua's as the #2) is about an eight minute drive from my house.

Flour Mill and Bakery (see bread oven in back)
After this visit, I now know why I got the answer I did almost a year ago from Nathan and his Uncle John. They'd gone to Pompeii a few days after I'd taken Nathan's aunt and uncle to Herculaneum. I asked both men which was the better site, which was their preference. All I got in reply was, "They're different. It's impossible to compare." Now I understand. They are completely different, despite both being Roman cities destroyed by the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79 A.D. Pompeii is a fairly large city, and as my grandmother and I noted, it's about the same size as my hometown (where Ma currently lives). It's big. The devastation is complete with some walls remaining, but mostly, we walked down Roman streets and just enjoyed being there. Herculaneum is far, far smaller, and yet takes up as much or more time. Possibly because in Pompeii, one ruin looks much like the next, while in Herculaneum, many of the buildings are intact - meaning each building holds different mosaics, frescoes, and layouts, so there's a little more to explore, photograph, and inspire the imagination. And yet, Pompeii has a bit of magic filling the air, and every step is filled with a sense of the unbelievable...that I would walk the streets of this ancient city studied in elementary schools all over the world, that I'm standing there in the old Forum, looking up at cloud covered Vesuvius, thinking of those long ago school lessons. And for me, of course, my thoughts always turn to a bit of the morbid...what if it happens again, and soon...while I live here? What if I'm on my Roof Terrace one day and see the smoke and fire? What if, what if, what if...

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