Pompeii and Herculaneum
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It is hard to imagine that you are standing in the very same spot that a chariot passed by in the days of Ancient Rome. But the clearly discernible groove in the road beneath your feet is a testament that you are stepping into history - almost 2,000 years of it to be exact. The discovery was made on a guided visit to Pompeii in southern Italy, which my wife and I reached via direct flights from Birmingham to Naples. The week-long trip was centred on the beautiful and charming coastal town of Sorrento. But as welcoming as Sorrento undoubtedly is, our main focus was on the region's devastating historical past.
Most people will surely know that the ancient town of Pompeii was destroyed in AD79 when the volcano Vesuvius suddenly erupted with devastating consequences. But to actually walk around the amazing, preserved ruins is to truly get a feel of what happened. Not far from Pompeii is the no less spectacular ruins of Herculaneum, which was similarly destroyed by Vesuvius on that fateful day. But Herculaneum is very much the unsung historical site, as evidenced by the title of our trip - Pompeii, Capri & the Bay of Naples.
The streets of Pompeii wonderfully preserved
Pompeii was the first port of call on our Italian journey, and it was quick to see the astonishing state of preservation of this devastated town that was buried in feet upon feet of red-hot ash and cinders. The first excavations took place in the 18th century, but it wasn't until many years later that archaeologists focused on uncovering the streets and houses to reveal how Pompeii would have looked 2,000 and more years ago.
A map is helpfully provided for visitors to follow where their guide is taking them, but a lot of the impressive houses and other buildings have information outside them to explain what it was used for. A number of the buildings in the wealthy town of Pompeii were decorated with colourful frescos and mosaics which have happily been preserved and restored despite the destruction. Visitors can also get a close-up view of how many of Pompeii's inhabitants died. And, as well as the many houses and shops, the site is also adorned with many buildings vital to everyday life, including temples, two main theatres, the Basilica, and the Forum Baths.
One of Pompeii's lost inhabitants
After a couple of days spent exploring Sorrento and the island of Capri, further historical pleasure came in the form of Herculaneum. And, in some regards, this ruined smaller town is even more impressive than its more famous neighbour. Maybe that is due to the fact it was buried beneath waves of boiling volcanic mud which seemingly resulted in greater levels of preservation once the mud solidified into a form of concrete some 20 metres deep.
Certainly Herculaneum, which was discovered by chance during the digging of a well in 1711, is graced with fabulous colourful frescos, paintings and mosaics that look as if they were only completed yesterday, in particular the Hall of the Augustals with frescos depicting Hercules among others. Poignantly, a skeleton was found on a bed in the adjoining caretaker's room, presumably choosing to carry out his duties to the last.
One of Herculaneum's colourful frescos which have been wonderfully preserved
Herculaneum also boasts a number of other fascinating features which the knowledgeable guide is only too eager to tell visitors about. They include a boat storage area at the entrance to the sunken archaeological site where more than 300 inhabitants sought rescue by sea before being engulfed in seconds by a burning gas cloud followed by volcanic mud. Their valuables, which were found on their person or in bags or boxes, are on display on the site.
Other interesting features in Herculaneum include a taverna, or pub, with a marble-covered counter in which jars were inserted, as well as a sauna with a delightful large mosaic depicting various sea creatures. Herculaneum also has a number of statues that survived the volcanic eruption and can be seen around the site.
Herculanean in all its historic glory
These two fabulous sites, Pompeii and Herculaneum, should be on the must-see list of anyone remotely interested in history.
76257 - 2023-03-20 22:37:58