Europe 2013 – Pompeii

by Diane on 26/11/2013

Early 2010 we went to an exhibition about Pompeii at Te Papa. Looking at the exhibits I started to realise how little of Europe I had seen – especially if you keep in mind that I’ve actually lived right in the middle of it for thirty years! Fascinated by the tales of life in Pompeii and the facts behind Vesuvius’ outbreak in August 79, I started to feel like I really needed to go there. And so the seed of doing a day trip to the excavation site while staying in Rome was sown.

We had certainly learned our lesson from walking around Ancient Rome unguided, therefore I spent the night before the trip with googling “Best guide for Pompeii” and discovered Giuseppe from Visit Pompeii. He was already booked for most of the day, but offered to squeeze us in for a two hours short tour. I can confirm that all the recommendations on Trip Advisor are absolutely true: he’s a great guide who gets a sense of his audience within the first minutes, and he’s able to spontaneously tailor his tour according to the wants/needs of his group.

Giuseppe picked us up from the train station in Pompeii (just a 1.5 hours train ride via Naples), jumped the queue to get us tickets, and led us into the ancient world of Pompeii. After a quick introduction at the gates, and a few minutes of “Here’s the Forum, this is what it’s there for, you can come back later” he moved us away from the main road and touristy pathways. And while cruise ship tours and school classes checked out the main buildings close to the site’s entrance, we walked further and further off the beaten tracks, and had the buildings we looked at almost to ourselves.

Walking through Pompeii is like stepping into a different world. We were able to get a sense of what life in Pompeii was like in 79. We saw different types of houses, shops with counters out to the streets (early fast-food restaurant, anyone?), giant ovens at the bakery, the bath house, and amazing gardens with plants that are being grown with seeds they found buried in the ash.

One of my favorite things about Pompeii was their obsession with penises. A phallus was a sign of protection, and a lot of houses had the symbol right above their doors. Children would wear little penis necklaces – oh I wish I could just wear a pretty little penis necklace to keep me safe. Oh well, guess I’m born in the wrong era for that. I also loved some of the clever inventions these people made: adding small white stones to the pavement for example, to reflect moonlight and allow people to get home after dark without tripping. Or big stepping stones, just like a 3D zebra crossings, to allow pedestrians to cross the road without getting wet on rainy days, when the streets of Pompeii turned into little streams.

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Giuseppe knows everything about the site and its history, which is no wonder, since he’s an archeologist. No question was too hard for him, and everything he told us was incredibly interesting. He brought history alive for us, and I could have spent hours just walking around with him and having him share his knowledge.

Before we had to part because Giuseppe had to attend his next tour group, he told us where else to go during our stay. Sure we had to squeeze in the brothel – after all it’s one of the first things that always gets mentioned when people talk about Pompeii, it’s in remarkably good condition and helps to get an idea of prostitution all these centuries ago. But it’s one of these things you just have to tick off the list, it was the least enjoyable viewing during the whole day, since we had to line up between cruise ship tours, and it was hot, sticky & stinky, and we couldn’t even spend much time in the building before being pushed out again. We then chose to get away from the main roads again, and had a great time exploring the rest of the town.

There are still many areas that haven’t been excavated yet. It’s fascinating to see the buildings they are currently working on, when half of a wall is already out in the open, and the other half is still buried deep inside a hill. I am a bit worried though about how long this amazing piece of history will still be around for us to enjoy. Tourists keep touching frescos, stepping into fenced off areas and I even saw people spitting. It’s beyond my imagination why anyone would do that, and not treat such a special place with respect.

We’ll definitely be back to the Vesuvius region one day. And next time we’ll book Giuseppe for a full day or two, and we’ll also visit Herculaneum (another town that got buried in ash in 79), which is less famous than Pompeii, but equally well preserved.

And if I could, I would totally want to have a sleep over will all of my friends and family in one of the houses!


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