Pompeii: It’s Gettin’ Hot in Herre

Oleander – the perfect metaphor for Pompeii. Beautiful, but deadly.

In 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the residents of Pompeii in layers of volcanic ash and stone, and killing thousands as a result of extreme heat and volcanic gases.

For centuries, the story of Pompeii was thought to be a legend. But in 1748, the city was rediscovered. Since that time, there have been ongoing archaeological efforts to uncover the city and its remarkably preserved display of ancient Roman life. You can visit the ruins, and walk the streets in the same way that Romans did thousands of years ago.

Mount Vesuvius looming in the background. It’s still active, and last exploded during World War II.

As part of the excavation efforts, plaster casts were made of the bodies of the dead.  Most of the casts and artifacts are not in Pompeii, but on display at the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. With that said, they had a few small exhibits which contained some of the casts. It’s clear from the tragic images below that the people were in distress as they died:

Having a bad day? Not compared to these people
The posture of this person says it all – you can sense his or her complete hopelessness

Not pictured are the 5000 tourists around me taking the same photograph. These displays were behind barred gates, and you had to wait for a spot in the crowd and quickly stick your camera through the gates to get a photo.

We went on a Sunday when it is free to visit the grounds, which may have contributed to the crowds. When we arrived in the morning, it wasn’t too busy, but within an hour, the place was swarming. Tour guides were actually bickering with one another, angry if another group didn’t wait their turn to enter a packed room.

At one point, another tourist attempted to leech onto our private tour and listen without paying. When our feisty guide Lino called him out, the tourist fought back, claiming he was “just looking at a wall.” Lino told him he’d call security, and the guy disappeared pretty fast. Needless to say, Lino was a badass, and the entertainment was not limited to learning about history.

This man had the good fortune of taking a nap when everything went down, and remained oblivious to the end of his world. This would probably have been me if I lived in Pompeii. I love a good nap.
Pictured in the glass display is a small dog, contorted in pain.

The Romans knew how to live it up. They had numerous baths (a.k.a. spas) where they would go in the afternoons, sitting in tepid water while servants bathed them.

We toured one of the spas with ornate statues carved into the walls. It’s pretty amazing when you realize that the angel below was carved over 2000 years ago, yet still stands today:

Pompeii was much bigger than I thought, with streets that extended for miles. Pictured below is one of the long streets, engraved with lines from the carriages that passed through thousands of years ago.  If the streets flooded, the large stones allowed people to cross the street without getting soaked feet. Romans liked their liquor and they liked to party. Almost every other structure along this road was a former bar.

As someone on my tour pointed out, imagine trying to stumble down these streets after a night of drinking…

In addition to bathing, drinking, and partying, Romans also liked sensual pleasures. In ancient Roman times, Pompeii had its own “red-light district.” To ensure that visitors to the city could find it, the Romans carved some helpful signs into the roads to point people in the right direction. Look closely at left side of the photo below…

It’s in shadow because there were about 10 other tourists taking the same shot, but yes, that is what you think…My reference to that Nelly song is dual purpose.*

Pompeii also offered a display of food discovered amongst the ruins. The small sign in the photo below states that this is “Pane carbonizzato.” You don’t need to understand Italian to know this is some seriously charred bread.

I’ve baked cakes that look like this
This dog is too cute to be scary. I want to cuddle him.

Within the ruins of Pompeii, there are many beautiful tiled floors with various patterns and pictures. One of these floors contains the oldest known “Beware of Dog” sign. I didn’t get a photo of the floor (there were too many crowds and I was probably hangry), but it’s easily Googled. This tiled floor in Pompeii is the inspiration behind numerous ceramic “Beware of Dog” signs which Amalfi Coast residents affix to their front entrances. The ceramic sign above costs about eight euro ($12 CAN) – the perfect souvenir for dog-lovers.

Our tour finished at the entrance to the “New Pompeii.” People live outside the ruins, even though Mount Vesuvius could explode again. The streets are lined with vendors selling the usual souvenirs (tiny Pinocchio dolls, postcards, raunchy aprons, key chains, magnets, etc.). One lady aggressively tried to sell me a lava bracelet, saying it was made with lava from Mount Vesuvius. I’m pretty sure it was plastic.

Here are some final pics from inside the ruins:

*Note: The “Herre” in the title is not a typo. That is the official spelling of the 2002 hip hop song.

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