*Warning – this post contains images of bones and plaster casts of remains. Please skip this post if those things might upset you.
On August 24, 79 A.D., Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in ash, pumice, and waves of volcanic mud. These ancient cities sat frozen in time until they were re-discovered in the 1700s. Since then, archaeologists have been working to excavate and learn about ancient Roman life with each item they uncover.
On our tour of Italy we visited both of these sites, dedicating a day to each. Even for someone who is not particularly interested in history (like Cathleen), walking the ancient streets and using our imaginations to envision how life might have been so long ago was incredibly interesting.
At the time of the eruption, the city of Pompeii was buried in feet of falling ash and pumice, whereas Herculaneum was flooded with waves of volcanic mud. This gradual filling with volcanic mud caused Herculaneum to be better preserved (including mosaics, frescos and natural wood) where Pompeii was pummeled with ash and pumice and sustained significant damage before being completely buried.
This difference is also important when it comes to remains. In Pompeii, victims were buried in ash, likely dying of suffocation and heat. When archaeologists found the voids left by the long-decayed remains, they filled them with plaster and created casts that show remarkable, and heartbreaking details of the victims’ last moments. At Herculaneum, the volcanic mud left nothing behind except bones, many tragically trapped in the boathouse, likely awaiting evacuation boats.
On a much lighter note, we learned that ancient Romans loved their snack bars. There seemed to be at least one on each block, each with the same large clay food pots.
Ancient Romans also loved their wine (Cathleen’s kind of people). We found several wine shops, including this one that still had a menu visible on the wall outside.
Another interesting find was a brothel at Pompeii, also known as a Lupanar or “wolf den”, that contained small rooms with stone beds and a “menu of services” painted in picture form on the wall. Let’s just say it wasn’t one of those vague menus where you have to ask for additional information.
Now that we’ve visited both Pompeii and Herculaneum, it’s clear how they compliment each other and why others said that we must see both. Pompeii helps you imagine a big, booming city, where Herculaneum helps you visualize the details of every day life. Seeing the city of Erclano looming over the border of the excavated remains, the old and the new, puts it into perspective how these ruins sat underneath the surface, undetected for so long.
This will be my last history lesson for hopefully some time; I’m ready to get back to writing about animals, the beach, and how much pizza Christopher could eat in one day.
Love from Greece,
Cathleen & Christopher