I was always the kid that would learn useless and dead languages, like Latin when I was in senior and junior school. So it should be no major surprise when I say one of the things I had always wanted to do was visit the ruins of Pompeii. It probably comes from having learned quite a bit about Pompeii and Roman culture over the years thanks to my Latin classes, but I was absolutely excited when I discovered I would be taking this Pompeii tour, which was set up for me by my close friend Julie as a birthday present.
Now of course I know plenty about Pompeii, but for those who don’t it is most famous for being the city that was swallowed by lava and ash from a volcanic explosion just into the AD era. The city is actually near Naples in Italy, which means many tours will start there and head to Pompeii, but this one I took started in Rome went to Pompeii, then up to Vesuvius (the volcano that destroyed the city), before ending in Naples with a nice lunch.
These days, access to Pompeii is mostly through tours or at the very least with a fee payment, almost like it is an amusement park for archeologists and anthropologists. Though there is a section of still modern city that is free to explore and get food and drink or souvenirs.
During my time there the first thing I managed to realize was how ancient the roads were. They are still the same old stone-cobble roads that the Romans built originally. This means doing anything on those roads besides walking can be a pain, and even walking can get exhausting fast. Since I had done it during the summer there was the added issue of the heat pelting me on the stone road, luckily I was smart enough to wear running shoes otherwise I probably would have given up on what was only about two hours of walking around Pompeii to see all the sites of the half-buried city.
Because my tour was only a few hours, we didn’t get to explore the whole city; it is really the kind of place you need to take the whole day for. But we managed to avoid most of the main tourist traps, like the current excavation area, while still taking a stop at the temple of Apollo. There wasn’t much left of it obviously, but you could see the structure and design was definitely Roman, rather than Greek, thanks to the stairs leading up to it. I particularly enjoyed being able to actually touch the Apollo statue, though I later found out from our guide, Samantha, that I was able to because it was just a replication of the real one in the Naples Museum.
We got to see some of the houses as well which included the house of the faun, called such because of the statue of the mythological faerie-like creature. It wasn’t the statue that caught my eye though; I was more enthralled with one of the mosaics on the floor of this house which was like a giant welcoming mat. The mosaic had ‘Have’ written on it, which is a variation of the Latin word ‘Ave’ meaning ‘Hail’ like a hello. The most common use of Ave is with the song Ave Maria which literally means Hail Mary. This particular tidbit didn’t require knowledge from my guide.
Once we were done with the city, with further investigation of the amphitheatre, we moved on to the active volcano. Our trek was actually with a bus most of the way, but eventually we got to a point where we stopped and had to climb up the rest of the way into the mouth of the volcano. When we made it to the crater, we dipped inside the rim of the crater only barely to take a look at some of the steam vents. The vents were great, but the most incredible thing was the view, both toward the crater and out toward the city from the top.
We weren’t allowed to go lower in the volcano, simply for safety concerns, since the rest of the way down would have been mostly straight falls down and not exactly the easiest for climbing down, even with good rock climbing equipment.
All I can say about that trip up that mountain was that you could definitely feel that the world was alive; particularly that mountain. The heat of the vents, clouds breezing past you and, since I have returned multiple times since, the pathways being changed and different just load you with an awe that is hard to grasp. It was simply an amazing experience that I recommend to anyone interested in seeing the world.