Walking in a buried city

When Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 (CE), Pompeii, a vibrant city of around 20,000, as well as nearby Herculaneum and Stabiae, were buried in volcanic ash. We have an eyewitness account of what must have been an experience terrifying beyond measure. Pliny the Elder, who was commanding the Roman fleet stationed in the Bay of Naples, saw it happen. Alerted by his sister to — as his nephew writes several years later to Tacitus — “a cloud of unusual size and appearance,” Pliny decided to set sail with the fleet for a closer look and to rescue as many people as possible. In fact he, himself, perished on the shore. “When daylight returned on the 26th, two days after the last day he had been seen,” writes Pliny the Younger, “his body was found intact and uninjured, still fully clothed and looking more like sleep than death.” The cities remained buried until excavations began in 1748.
I’d seen pictures and documentaries, looked at Web sites, and read the guidebook. I’ve stood on Hadrian’s Wall. I’ve seen the stunning Pont du Gard. I’ve seen Roman remains and amphitheatres in England, France, Yugoslavia, and Italy. But nothing could have prepared me for the reality of Pompeii. You’re not seeing just one building or structure (however impressive); you’re walking along the streets of what was once an entire Roman city. You’re going into houses people lived in and shops where they bought food—complete with intact mosaic counters and deep tubs that would have held olives. You’re seeing the sidewalks they walked on and the public water fountains, fed by an aqueduct system that is surely one of the wonders of engineering, that they used on a daily basis. You’re touching stones they touched and looking at frescoes they commissioned as decoration for their villas.
And everywhere you look, you know that you are seeing what was, for so many terrified people, the last thing they would ever see. I found it breathtaking and very moving.


8 Responses to Walking in a buried city

  1. Dan says:

    Great photos & stories! I remember visiting Pompei when I was a kid and being fascinated by the whole concept. Thanks for bringing the memories back!

  2. Elisabeth says:

    Another place I must visit. Italy is getting to the top of my list.

  3. Kirk says:

    Thanks again, not only for beautiful pictures but for information packed with feeling. This is a lot of work for us, Passante.

  4. Cyn says:

    I LOVE Pompei! I have been there twice and still havent seen everything. I went last year with my parents and we were there for 7 hours! We only left because it was time to close. Great photos.

    Thanks for checking out my blog.

  5. Transall says:

    Hello Passante,

    Pompéi est un sujet toujours aussi fascinant… notamment l’idée selon laquelle tout s’est figé en un instant et que nous avons en quelque sorte un “cliché” de ce qu’était la vie à ce moment précis.

    On ne s’en lasse pas.



  6. I am tres jealous…as an avid fan of ancient history, I have wanted to visit Pompeii for a very long time. Maybe one day I will be so lucky! Great photos!

  7. passante says:

    Thanks to all of you for stopping by. A month of so before I visited the excavations, I read Robert Harris’s novel Pompeii. (He’s the man who wrote Enigma). It chronicles the last two or three days before the eruption of Vesuvius. It seems to be well-researched, as far as I can tell, which is admittedly not very far. (I have ready Pliny, so I know that bit is correct.) Anyway, it did bring Pompeii alive for me and I recommend it as a good read. It also made me want to know more about acqueducts, which I knew were a brilliant engineering feat, but exactly how brilliant hadn’t come home to me until I read the novel and went on to do some more research on them.

  8. Kate says:

    Off topic: Just read your comment on Run Around Paris re. Stephen Clarke’s books. If you haven’t read Paris by Julian Green, do so because it is a classic in my estimation. Also just finished reading Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (dont’ have the accent marks!) which I think is a remarkable book. Check Amazon for the description. I’m sorry I finished it and I’m sorry that she died before she had a chance to finish the other 3 planned books. Have a good day!!

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