Friday, March 13, 2015

Italia After All, Part Three: Pompeii

Ok, so I know that in the last post my final remark led you all to believe that this one would be about Capri (said, "Kah-Pree"), which might be why you clicked over, because island, but it would be going out of sequence to jump to Capri, amazing as it might be, and skip over something probably equally as amazing: the ruins of Pompeii.

First, I've gotta warn you, I'm about to throw down a little history lesson/blend it into this one, so buckle up, and we'll get through it quickly -- promise!

So terribly, destructively awesome

Wikipedia refers to the 79AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in Southern Italy as, "one of the most catastrophic and infamous eruptions in European history." So fellow Americans, take note. Because I'm pretty sure we never learned about it, as most of our history is focused on our own young country. During the eruption, Vesuvius was tossing up 1.5 tons of its scorching-hot cookies per second, which consisted in molten rock and annihilated pumice, and its deadly could of ash, gas, smoke and stones rose 33km (21mi) high. Talk about big! They say that the amount of thermal energy it released was 100,000 times more than the A-bomb that was so kindly dropped on Hiroshima during the Second World War.

Within range of Mt. Vesuvius' eruption-destruction were two towns; Pompeii and Herculaneum; which were buried beneath the mass amounts of Vesuvius' messy stuff. (Language and grammar adaptation contributed by yours truly. After all, I am an English teacher.;) It's still not known how many people actually died in the aftermath of the eruption, but they've found over a thousand bodies.

Both places are now tourist sites, and draw in major amounts of people each year, who come to see the layout of the former Roman town, which can still be understood, and some art, columns, brothels, and structural skeletons that remain. Needless to say, going to Pompeii was bound to be a highlight for me, and was definitely one of the things I most looked forward to on the trip!

I was so intrigued to see this former buzzing, populated place, and try to get a feel for what ancient Roman life was like. Being a total culture junkie, I get a great high going when I'm learning about other ways of life, and it's even better if I can observe it in some way. And, in one of the classes at the high school, we talked about volcanic eruptions, including that of Mt. Vesuvius, and the photos of the perfectly petrified bodies got my whiskers wiggling and ears perked up plenty. Don't be freaked out, I'm not like some death addict or anything, I'm not actually great with death by any means, but it was sure to be fascinating to see little Roman people that had been scorched doing whatever it was they were doing, therefore perfectly maintaining their form. So on Monday, we took the 20-30 minute train ride from Sorrento to Pompeii (it runs about every half-hour, and leaves you right in front of the archaeological/ruin site), to meet the dead, and see some wicked ruins!

There are a variety of companies that offer guided tours, and we had originally been looking at some that left from Napoli, took you to the ruins, gave you a 2-4 hour guided tour, and etc (the options are endless and easy to find online), but they were quite costly, and in the end, we didn't want to be locked into any sort of time frame that we didn't decide upon ourselves. I also read online that you can get a guide when you get there, some people tend to hang out by the gates, but I think this only applies to high season, and from what I read, it was 100€ for a four hour tour (said to be worth it). We opted for the guided tour that you can get for I believe 12€. The kind that you punch in the number of the thing you're at, put it to your ear, and listen to what they say. This was a perfectly adequate way to learn, and I recommend going this route (more money for pizza, holla!).

As I mentioned here, we had planned our entire day around making a certain ferry to Capri, so we didn't have much time in Pompeii, which was a bit of a shame. It's not such a big place, but it was big enough that having at least two or three full hours would have been good. Especially at the slow, snail-ish, absorb-it-all/gawk-a-lot rate I like to wander around a place, I could have easily spent five hours there. But we had nearly two hours, and I was able to get a pretty good sense of it, and see some super cool stuff.

I really loved listening to the information on the Guided Tour Telephone (GTT), and just imagining what the place would have been like, full of short, Roman people. (I say short, because people were smaller back then. I'm not making insulting remarks, just using appropriate adjectives.) And if you've been paying much attention, you might have done a little, "Wait, what?" at the sight of the word "brothel." Yes, my friends, you read that right, twice now. Brothels.

A little more research (thank you again, Wikipedia) allows me to tell you right here and right now, that there were 35 brothels in Pompeii when it was still a town; information which was given to me from my GTT, but I subsequently forgot, because I was blown away by everything that was flowing into my ears. Which means, when you break down the population of roughly 10,000 people, there was a brothel for every 286 people. That's not that many people per brothel, really. Now, I make a big point of this, because, as P pointed out, it's quite ironic that a place that was so full of brothels, would come to cease existence due to none other than a massive eruption. Haha. I can't contain myself.

I'll give it a minute to sink in, if it hasn't already.

And can I just point out, God seriously has the greatest sense of humor? I mean, come on, I'm not trying to be insensitive or anything [but it was over 2,000 years ago], but to destroy a place that is full of sexual sin with a giant explosion? It doesn't get any more perfect than that! But anyways, before I start offending too many people...

The brothels are just one part of Pompeii, and what struck me as the most fascinating about it all, is that you can still see the paintings that they'd put above the rooms/beds or in the brothels, of different sex positions, so the client would only have to point, and not bother with any sort of language barrier that might have existed. (P said that there's even one of a woman having sex with a goat, which I unfortunately did not see.) And according to the GTT I had, the life of these prostitutes was absolutely terrible. Which you could probably figure out anyways, but just hearing about their situations filled me with remorse. I mean, just look at the beds they had to work on!

The fact they put some sort of straw mattress on top of that massive, concrete slab doesn't make me feel like they were any less uncomfortable. (And were they really that tiny!?!)

And here, you can see an example of the illustrations that were painted around to ease the communication aspect of the interaction. 

Overall, it was a really great part of the trip, and I highly suggest popping by Pompeii if you're in that area. It'll be a nice way to get a little history and culture mixed in to the never-ending slew of gelato stops, coffees, and restaurants you're likely to indulge in whilst in Italy. 

Oh, and here's some pictures of petrified people...and a dog, sorry if it makes you cringe and/or cry. (You didn't really think I'd finish this one off without including these, did you? It was the whole reason I went!)

What a way to go, eh? I guess I've gotta say, at least it's pretty epic. And hey, in a way, they're living on -- they're on display for thousands of tourists to see each year! (Again, sorry if I'm being insensitive.)

And now that you've all dealt with my information delivery till now, I will gift you with some extra goodness in the next episode: Part Four, Capri!!!!! Island Adventures in Italy, ohhh yeahhh! :)

Blessings, Love, Light & Wonder to you all!
Travel far, love hard, live well, smile as much as possible, and hey,
It's life, don't take it so seriously, b/c in the end, you could end up like these guys!

-Allison :)

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