While on a visit to Rome, I took a long awaited trip to a fascinating city with a dramatic history, Pompeii. This wealthy Roman port city was buried under volcanic ash and pumice in August 24, 79 AD during an eruption of the neighboring Mount Vesuvius.
The motor coach ride south to Pompeii by way of Naples took 3 1/2 to 4 hours. It was, however, a scenic and enjoyable ride aided by the contributions of an informed and knowledgeable tour guide.
En route, we passed the historic Abbey of Monte Cassino founded by Gregory the Great around 529 AD. It was the site of one the most famous and costly encounters of World War II, the Battle of Monte Cassino in 1944. Ironically,1944 was also the year when Mt. Vesuvius last erupted. However, that will not be the last we've heard from it.
A pleasant lunch not far from Monte Cassino was included in the daytrip.
Upon reaching Naples, we were provided with a bus tour of Naples. A stop at the scenic Bay of Naples was a refreshing little change of pace before we headed to Pompeii with the double-humped Mt. Vesuvius looming in its background.
Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius
As much as I have read over the decades about that fateful final of Pompeii in August 79 AD, the sites and scenes of an entire city brought to a halt and smothered in a deep layer of volcanic debris was still dramatic to see.
The walking tour through the streets and past the buildings of this city showed the visitor just how much of this city remains intact. This, two thousand years after the cataclysm that brought an abrupt demise to Pompeii and the neighboring city of Herculaneum.
Our guide provided us with interesting and, at times, amusing facts and data helping make Pompeii more than a large, static museum piece.
It is a trip I strongly recommend and cannot wait to do it again.
In the distance from Pompeii, you will see Mt Vesuvius. Though not close enough to be overwhelming, it is in close enough proximity to Pompeii to be more than a little ominous. Vesuvius had two major eruptions in 5960 B.C. and 3580 B.C. It has erupted about three dozen times since 79 A.D., the last being in 1944. This makes Vesuvius the only volcano on mainland Europe to erupt in the last century. It is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to the three million people living in close proximity.
Mount Vesuvius was held sacred by the ancient Greeks and Romans, and they named the town at its base Herculaneum in honor of the god Heracles/Hercules. Today the mountain stands over 4,200 feet tall.
This seemingly quiet peak has erupted many times since annihilating Pompeii and Herculaneum. 4000 people perished in a 1631 event, and the last eruption, in 1944, was captured on film. Scientists say it's a matter of time before it unleashes its fury again and a particularly violent explosion could wipe out the city of Naples and other towns in the surrounding area. As this region is more heavily populated than in 79 AD, the mountain is very closely monitored by Vulcanologists at the Osservatorio Vesuvio: a scientific center established for the observation of the region's three volatile volcanoes and the oldest of its type in the world.
Vesuvius had given Pompeians plenty of warning: a series of earthquakes rocked their homes and temples; wells dried up - vaporized by heat building below; areas of the sea boiled. As tremors were commonplace and the remaining precursors simply mystifying to a people without scientific knowledge we have today, they chose to ignore the omens until it was too late. Interestingly, the eruption occurred a day after Vulcanalia, the annual feast day of the Roman god, Vulcan, whose forge deep under the earth was believed to be the source of smoke and fire emitted from active volcanoes.
Here is the mountain that destroyed and preserved Pompei at the same time. In 79AD, an abrupt 3 day eruption emitted a cloud of ash and toxic gas that quickly covered the cities of Pompei, Herculaneum, and Stabia. Unlike an eruption that consists of mainly lava, the ash is far deadlier because it travels fast, and it is impossible to breath when in the ash cloud. This would be similar in a way to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in the United States. In prior years to the most famous eruption, an earthquake was recorded. Perhaps this was the only warning the people would get. Many of the citizens were still involved in repairing earthquake damage when the eruption came. The dense cloud of ash and volcanic material eventually covered what was left of the city. Vesuvius was quiet when we visited, and not even a plume of smoke was visible from the mountain. There had been at least one eruption in the 20th century, however it has for the most part remained dormant. There is a road that goes up to the mountain, and it is possible to peer into the crater of the most famous Vesuvius. Similar to Mt. Etna, many farmers take advantage of the rich volcanic soil to grow crops. Some wines are made from grapes which were harvested from the volcanic soil.
The mountain which is responsible for the destruction of Pompeii is on the Northern side of the town. The mountain is 1270 meter high and still poses a threat to the entire region, though it has not erupted since the 2nd World War.
Almost every other ancient urban site is simply the remains of a ghost town, long ago deserted by its citizens who carried away with them everything of value. Prior to the eruption of Vesuvius, Pompeii was a thriving city. Then it was buried with so little warning in 79 A.D. that Pompeii was literally frozen in time.
Pompeii with in the distance the Vesuvius.... the volcano that buried Pompeii.
I travelled to Pompeii by train. I used Sorrento as my 'home base' for my daytrips in the region and that was an excellent choice. It's not hard to get by train to Pompeii and it saves a lot of hustle and bustle to get everywhere by car. Normally I tend to take my car when travelling around, but this time I made an exception. The roads are quite busy here and the train is an excellent alternative. There is a regular train service from Sorrento to Pompeii. The station is just a walking distance from the historical site; so it's very convenient.
Pompeii was destroyed by an eruption of the Vesuvius in 79 AD. About 3 meters of material fell on Pompeii, burying everything except the roofs of some buildings. Most of the inhabitants of Pompeii were killed not by the collapsing buildings or the volcanic shower of stones and ash, but by the poisonous gases.
The city was abandoned after that and everyone forgot about its location.