Towards the South of Italy, the ancient city of Pompeii is found, nearby the infamous volcano that is Mount Vesuvius. Both have become massive tourist attractions since the city was discovered and excavated around 250 years ago. Each year Pompeii is visited by approximately 2.5 million visitors, showing just what a massive impact its discovery had on the world. These sites are so popular in part because they offer a doorway into the past and a glance at what it would have been like to have lived in the Roman Empire around 2000 years ago.
Mount Vesuvius towers above the city at about 1281 metres in height, and based on scientific research it is believed that the famous eruption of 79AD would have created ash clouds and fumes that reached a height of 33 kilometres, eventually devouring the city. Today, the volcano is dormant, so it is open for tourists to climb up, though there is a small charge for going right up to the summit. From up there you can glance down inside the massive opening at the peak, and a surprising view awaits. With mostly just gray rock and some plant life growing around the edge, it is hard to imagine the destruction that this volcano once caused, and what it would have looked like as an active volcano all those years ago. Perhaps even more impressive than looking inside the volcano is the view out over the rest of the land as you climb up, which feels impossibly high, and makes for a stunning picture. By the time you’ve reached the top, the view is mostly gone, as you find yourself above the clouds, which is a strange feeling when outside of a plane. A word of warning however, you do have to keep your car parked about midway up the volcano, so it’s a long walk uphill for this landmark.
Back down in Pompeii, you’ll find yourself wowed by the sheer scale of the ruins that remain and it’s incredible to imagine the Roman’s building the city such a long time ago. What’s even more impressive to me is the amount of knowledge that historians and archaeologists have managed to build up about life in the ancient city, and even names and life stories of individual people that lived there. I particularly enjoyed the old amphitheatre part of the city, where you could go and stand at the centre and look up at the seats all around you, picturing the crowds of Romans that would have once been seated there. The baths were also interesting, and there is a fascinating mosaic outside of one of the houses, with a picture of a dog and a Latin inscription reminding visitors to ‘Beware of the dog’. How amazing to think that life in ancient Pompeii was so similar to modern day, where this phrase is still used. As well as this, some of the bodies of the Romans who once lived there have been preserved in ash, and this acts as a sad reminder of all the individual lives that were lost in the tragic eruption.
Also in the surrounding area, is found Herculaneum. The leftover ruins of a small fishing town, it is quite similar to Pompeii, however the buildings have been preserved better, since the way they were covered during the eruption of 79AD was different. Though this town is less famous and smaller than Pompeii, it should not be underestimated, as the remains of the city are far more visible, with even some of the original woodwork still standing, and it gives you a much better feeling of what the ancient world would have looked like. Amongst some of the ruins, plant life has been able to grow, and this too makes for a pretty sight.
All of these landmarks offer a distinct insight into the Ancient Roman Empire, and are must see attractions, but be aware that Pompeii and Herculaneum are also active historical excavation sites and so are constantly going through restoration, meaning you should make sure to check in advance if there’s anything particular you want to see in order to make sure it will be available. Here you will have the unique chance to look through a window into the ancient past, and connect with the lives of people from long, long ago, reminding us just how much times have changed, but also in some ways how they definitely haven’t.
Image from: http://www.bible-history.com/resource/mount-vesuvius-eruption-pompeii.jpg