Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius: Photo © Michael Fisher 2012

Patrick Comerford’s blog today from Vesuvius and Pompeii reminded me of my visit there last August. I wrote about it in April, mentioning the exhibition that is running in the British Museum on “Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum”

Patrick Comerford: Walking beneath the clouds of Mount Vesuvius:

Looking into the crater on the top of Mount Vesuvius (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

For most of Thursday [4 July] Mount Vesuvius was wrapped in rain clouds, pouring rain down intermittently on Pompeii below. The clouds spread out over the Bay of Naples, and this afternoon blocked the view across the bay as we climbed Mount Vesuvius.

But we began the day with a morning walking through the streets, houses, theatres, temples, baths, the forum, the markets and the open areas of Pompeii, the city destroyed – and preserved – by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on the afternoon 24 August 79 AD.

Walking through the paved streets of Pompeii (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Pompeii attracts about 5,000 visitors a day, or about 2.5 million visitors each year. There almost 50 people on this tour group, and for some it was an interesting reminder that Pompeii too was a holiday or weekend destination for many wealthy Romans almost 2,000 years ago until the city was buried under 4 to 6 metres of ash and pumice that fatal day.

Time has stood still in Pompeii ever since. It was good to be reminded too that apart from some modern inventions such as the internal combustion engine, the railway, electricity and the internet, many of the 20,000 residents of Pompeii lived very much like us, with two-storey houses, a clean water system – and a problem with producing too much domestic waste.

The walls of a house in Pompeii Pompeii (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The mosaics, frescoes, gardens, rooms and domestic shrines could only begin to tease our imaginations about life in Pompeii. Everyone says a morning there does not do it justice.

Throughout the morning, as we walked through the town, Vesuvius, wrapped in clouds, loomed above us in the distant background.

After lunch below the town in Lucullus, we continued on to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. From the car park it was a 20-minute climb to the rim of the crater at the top, and most of us managed the steep ascent in about 20 or 30 minutes, but the clouds still blocked a complete view of the Bay of Naples and the islands.

It was quicker coming back down the mountain path. There were no burns or injured limbs.

Back at the Grand Hotel Moon Valley, the pool also has a perfect view of Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano in Europe. They say Vesuvius should erupt every 30 years – but it has not done so since 1944.  PATRICK COMERFORD


Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

My summer sojourn for a fortnight on the Amalfi coast in Italy enabled me to visit Mount Vesuvius near Naples and to see the ruins of Pompeii, or at least part of the large site. Time did not permit a trip to nearby Herculaneum. But I watched with interest tonight a documentary on BBC2 about “The Other Pompeii: Life and Death in Herculaneum. Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill from Cambridge and Director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project presented the programme.  In it he follows the scientific investigation that aims to lift the lid on what life was like in the small Roman town of Herculaneum, moments before it was destroyed when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.

Ten miles from Pompeii, twelve arched vaults at Herculaneum were found to contain the skeletons of over 340 people, just 10% of the local population, killed by the volcano. The finds included a toddler clutching his pet dog, a two-year-old girl with silver earrings and a boy staring into the eyes of his mother as they embraced in their last moment. Those found inside the vaults were nearly all women and children. Those found outside on the shoreline were nearly all men, in what appeared to be a selfless act on their part.

The documentary based on the research unravelled a surprising story of resilience, courage and humanity, with the local population going to their deaths not in the orgy of self-destruction often portrayed in Pompeii’s popular myth, but, much more like the passengers of the Titanic, it seems the ancient inhabitants of Herculaneum put women and children first.

Carbonised wooden cradle: Pompeii Exhibition: © British Museum

Carbonised wooden cradle: Pompeii Exhibition: © British Museum

The BBC programme and another related one broadcast last Wednesday on “Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time” coincide with the opening of a major exhibition at the British Museum. “Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum” will run until the end of September and the normal admission price is £15.

Gold Bracelet in form of a coiled snake: Pompeii Exhibition: © British Museum

Gold Bracelet in form of a coiled snake: Pompeii Exhibition: © British Museum