Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Italy Day 3: Pompeii

Going to Pompeii was definitely one of those bucket list things for me, especially when you're often hearing about it crumbling away due to lack of funds, too many tourists (oops) or mismanagement. So, similar to my trip to Venice a few years ago, I was happy to tick this one off sooner rather than later, in case one day it is no more.

After getting there and being led astray in the wrong direction by ticket touts (turn right out of the train station, not left, no matter what they say), we managed to find the entrance and decided to hire one of the official guides. This turned out to be a very good decision, since Pompeii is much, much bigger than I imagined, and there's not much in the way of explanatory materials. I think if you went with no guide you'd probably be in for a confusing trudge in the hot sun with not much idea of what you were looking at. Our guide was perfectly adequate on the level of the explanations he gave and so on, but had the slightly bizarre habit of getting in to shouting matches with every single other guide we came across. According to him, he was a true-blue old-timer who knew Pompeii like the back of his hand, but the place was now crammed with upstart newcomers, since the Italian government massaged unemployment figures by just handing out guide licences left right and centre. I don't know about that, but one might say that if you're arguing with *everyone*, it might just be that you're the problem.

Anyway, that was more amusing than anything else, and didn't take away from the roughly two-hour tour. We only saw a fraction of the city in that time, but it was very interesting. I'm afraid to say I've forgotten most of the details in the month since the trip, but it definitely made me want to read up more about Pompeii, or watch a documentary. It was just amazing really to see everything as it was on the day of the eruption (obviously, ruined buildings and removed artifacts aside). You feel much more that these were real people when you can actually see their houses and baths and brothels and gambling dens, and even sometimes their faces.

I didn't really get how the "mummified" bodies of the Pompeiians worked before. Basically, they were suffocated by the gases coming from the volcano, and then their bodies were covered with ash which set like concrete around them. Over time, their flesh decayed inside these ashen tombs, but because it had already set, it preserved the outline of their bodies (and the bones). When Pompeii was rediscovered, some smart person figured out that it essentially made a mould, so you could pour plaster in and make a cast of the person. So they're not preserved bodies, but they do accurately reflect the image of the person.

Me at the amphitheatre

A person frozen in time, trying to shelter from the eruption

You can see the man's skull sticking out of the back of his head

The forum

Room filled with archaeological finds, including a body

Oo-er, it's Priapus, god of fertility who brought good luck

Ruined temple

A mosaic-filled villa

Me and Mum in the amphitheatre. I was wearing my glasses but taking them off in the photos, so I'm perpetually squinting in the sunlight in nearly all of them. My glasses do that auto-tint thing though, and I look like a blind person

Strange and somewhat ghoulish to see the face of someone who died nearly 2000 years ago

I get the same feeling of looking through the past at a real person from this painting (even though it's a bit fuzzy)

The culprit. The guide said the sides used to join up in a peak, so you can imagine the size of the explosion!


  1. Have just watched the documentary. It was so interesting to watch after having been to Pompeii, and it also made me want to visit again, as well as to see more of Naples.

    1. Yes, I watched it after I wrote the blog post. It was cool to see different places we'd been or paintings we'd seen etc. She also wrote a book (linked to the documentary I think), I might check it out :)

  2. Your guide sounds... spirited.

    1. Seriously, we hadn't even got inside before a rival guide shouted at us all not to tip our guide. Craziness!

  3. I wish we would have hired a guide, even a spirited one! Instead, we made the mistake of buying a guidebook from one of the stands at the entrance. It was complete rubbish full of incorrectly labeled maps, etc. Thanks for linking to the video. I'll watch it and see what we missed!

    1. I'm extra glad we got the guide then, sorry you missed out!


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