Today was a good day. We left Hotel Michelangelo for the ancient town of Herculaneum at 9am. None of us really new what to expect of this city (besides Dr. Davis) except that it was cover by volcanic lava twice, once in 79 AD and then again in 1944. As we came to the overlook of the city we could see down into an old ship house where they found 57 dead bodies, the bones of which are still visible today. This was an eerie site to behold as we walked into the city. it makes you aware of how difficult it would be to attempt to escape a volcanic eruption.
We walked through one of the main streets and immediately there was two distinct differences between Herculaneum and Pompeii; the advanced sewer system and the significantly smaller size. Because of the Roman influence on Herculaneum, the Patrician (upper class) villas were very similar to those we have previously seen. However because of the sewer system the roofs were slanted in to allow water to pour through the center atrium into the house fountain and the vestibule is flat instead of slanted town into the street. Herculaneum was highly influenced by Greek culture before Roman rule and during the rule of the empire much of the population remained Greek which attributed to many of these differences. Many frescos had been removed and placed in Napoli's National Museum, but may of the remaining ones we saw were influenced by Egyptian art. By Egyptians I mean Roman Egyptians of Alexandria, also a Roman colony.
We saw one temple devoted to the emperor Augustus. Priests of the temple were called Augustales who were in charge of keeping the colony under control due to the Greek majority. The Romans respected the Greeks and they knew of their past military triumphs so they always worried of a Greek revolt. Greeks didn't practice gladiator games like the Romans, but in Herculaneum we saw one side of an open air theatre lined with columns which highly resembled a palestra, or gladiator training grounds. We decided this area wasn't used for that purpose, instead the palestra was probably used as an excercise area because Greeks were very competitive and active. So much work has gone into excavating Herculaneum and it was a great privilege to be able to tour it's ancient streets.
The sun was out and it was finally a nice day in Sorrento so to our surprise Dr. Davis decided to make a change in plan. Because of the weather he decided to take us to the top of Mt. Vesuvius instead of another ancient villa, which was what had been on the syllabus. We all got a quick lunch then boarded the bus and we proceeded to drive up to the Vesuvius park. As we got up to the mountain, to our disappointment it started to rain and the mountain rangers told us to wait until the rain cleared. As we waited it was amazing to see the old caldera around us, that is about three times the size of the one now. After some time had passed the man told us we were okay to go and so we climbed. We were about 3/4s the way up when it really started to come down, hail, rain, you name it. We got to a small outlook and the workers told us the weather permitted us from going any further, bumming us all out feeling like we all got scammed out of ten euros. A little time passed and eventually they said we could make out way up further to a gift shop that over looked the caldera. Zeus wasn't stopping us today. As we sprinted to the gift shop we realize we were much closer to the top, but as we got there we looked down to our left and below was the caldera the area where the lava would flow out of. When the clouds cleared a little we we able to see more clearly into the caldera and for miles over the city of Naples. Pictures were taken while it poured and hailed some of our phones and cameras might have a little water damage, but it was completely worth the trip, it made our day. Eventually we made our way down, though none of us wanted to descend, boarded the bus and made our way down the mountain.
None of us will forget this day even though it rained and we all were soaked we all boarded the bus in a good mood. I don't think any of us expected what today had in store for us, but no one was disappointed by Dr. Davis's spontaneous descion to take us up to Mt. Vesuvius.
I think Andrew really said it all. Herculaneum was fantastic and it was especially interesting after visiting Pompeii yesterday so it really allowed us to compare and contrast the two. Between these two cities we were able to get a much clearer picture o the past, but I don't think it was really complete until we went up to the volcano. As mentioned, this was not in the plan, but it was nice at the time and we had bad weather forecasts for the day we were supposed to climb it, so we made a split second decision and ran with it. Literally; we actually did a lot of running on that mountain espcially after it started hailing.
Despite how unappealing that may sound, being on top of a volcano in the middle of a thunderstorm, it was actually one of the coolest experiences of my life. To be in the directly in the middle of such great forces of nature is completely indescribable and totally awe-inducing. The more I see of this world, the more I am amazed by it. This was punctuated by the sharp contrast of the storm verses the walk down when it suddenly cleared up and the colors that emerged when the clouds cleared, especially the vibrant blues of the sea, and it was so peaceful. It is an image that will never be forgotten.
So in conclusion, it just goes to show that things don't always go as planned, but sometimes that is when you make the greatest of memories.