Oh, where do we begin? Today was one of the highlights of the trip so far for many members of our group. We finally made it to the Bay of Naples yesterday and got to visit Pompeii this morning. A city buried by Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., Pompeii was preserved under a blanket of ashes following the eruption of the volcano. Pompeii is a treasure to tourists and archaeologists alike, since it allows visitors to see the layout of an ancient Roman port city in near-pristine condition. Needless to say, many of our students had a field day finally seeing a Roman city as it was described in our textbooks.
We started off the day by picking up our tour guide, Eugenio, and making trek via private bus to the site. As soon as we got through the gates and to the forum, the umbrellas went up to keep us dry against the chilly Italian rain. We got to stroll through the stone streets of the ancient city as Eugenio pointed out various villas and other buildings on our left and right. The city was full of bath houses, businesses, bars, and brothels, all of which fit the typical Roman lifestyle. The city was so much larger than those we’ve seen before, including Ostia, so we still didn’t see all of it even after a full day of exploring. One of the most amazing things about Pompeii isn’t its size but the large amount of preservation that the volcanic ash allowed. They even were able to make plaster models of bodies that had been found in the city in chilling positions depicting their last breaths of air as the toxic gases from the volcano attacked their bodies.
The number of frescoes and mosaics that had survived through the centuries was incredible. The vibrant reds, yellows, and blues were still visible on the walls of the House of the Faun, one of Pompeii’s most impressive homes. The house was filled gorgeous mosaics and frescoes, with the name of the house originating from a statue of a dancing faun that was found near the entrance of the house. One of the most notable mosaics in this house is the Alaexander mosaic, featuring a confrontation between Alexander the Great and Darius, and was created using over 1.5 million tessarae, which are small colored tiles. While the actual mosaic is now located in the Naples National Museum of Archaeology, the copy that they placed in its original position in the villa is just as expansive.
However, despite the bone-chilling rain and cold, our group loved our tour around Pompeii! We finished it off by dodging rain puddles around the Villa of the Mysteries, one of Pompeii’s greatest attractions. One of our very own seniors wrote her senior paper on the frescoes that decorate the interior of the villa. Even though the Villa was closed for restoration, Callie still gave the entire class an education on what she and others hypothesize to be an initiation of a woman into the Cult of Dionysus depicted on the walls. After some extensive peeking through the slats that covered the windows of the Villa, we then trekked to the first amphitheater ever created, and finished our sodden but successful tour around Pompeii back around to the forum. The night was topped off with another amazing three course meal provided by our hotel chef, a heap of laughter and good conversation, and some of MTV’s greatest hits playing over the dining room speakers.
I honestly don't even know where to start or even what exactly to say about today because it was just so... wow. This is kind of what this whole trip as been leading up to, the big climax of the trip. This is the closest we can come to knowing what it would have been like to live in the Roman era, especially when it comes to learning about the lives of the common people who we don't necessarily have a lot of textual material about. This particular city is so important to us because of the wealth of information its preservation has provided. There is just far too much to even attempt to talk about it all, it would take several weeks to cover, so I won't attempt to write it all here (for my sake as much as yours).
Unfortunately we didn't have the best day to explore it in. First off there was lots of rain. We have been super lucky so far and it hasn't seriously rained yet, a few sprinkles here and there, but that changed today. Thankfully it let up after a while, which was much more conducive to exploring the city as our views were no longer hindered by umbrellas and raincoat hoods.
Our other bad timing was also seasonal. Since it is winter, this is off season for tourism, so now is the time to do any restoration or other work on all of the sites. Sadly, we found that this was the case for the Villa of the Mysteries. Berit mentioned that I wrote my senior paper on this house, specifically the frescos in Room Five, and I was beyond pumped to actually get to see the images that I have spent the last two years of my life researching, so it is putting it lightly to say I was BEYOND crushed to see it was closed. I stood at the window and looked through the slats in the shutters for a significant amount of time.
I can't complain though, I am so happy that I was able to be even that close. I am so thankful that I am able to be on this trip and see all these things that I have studied for so long because you can read about things all you want, but there is really no comaprison to actually being there and physically experienceing them. So this is my plug for studying abroad. If you can, do it. Travel. Get out there. Learn things in the places that they actually happened. Discover a new culture. Make friends and connections. Just go. You will not regret it.
(Even if your Villa is closed. But hey, just an excuse to return someday!)