In 79 AD, an angry Mt. Vesuvius barbecued the city for breakfast, leaving behind a deathly silence that lasted nearly a millenium.
Today, thousands swarm its lanes and city squares trying to connect with the vanished people. Its not difficult , for they left behind imprints of themselves that neither the volcanic wrath of a forgotten god nor almighty Time could erase completely. The hot volcanic ash proved to be a superlative preservative that has frozen forever that last day in the life of a thriving, rocking city.
What a feisty lot those old pompeians were !
First lessons first. There's a Pompei and a Pompeii. The single i -d name denotes an ancient commune consisting of many cities and towns, among them this Pompeii and Herculaneum, both of which were destroyed in that volcanic eruption. There's modern day suburb named Pompei , functioning like any small town in the Naples- Compania Region, but "Pompeii" , the tourist attraction is actually Pompeii Scavi, i.e. the excavated site.
The nearest city is Naples - beautiful Naples ! - from where, the site can be accessed by road or train. The train line named Circumvesuviana is very convenient for it deposits visitors right at the gate of the site after a short ride.
The entrance is crowded over with the usual kiosks vending snacks, drinks and souvenirs.
Excavation is still in progress, with new structures being found often. The ruins so far excavated are remarkably well preserved and well maintained.
The tour of the city has to start from the central point, The Forum. A vast yard with impressive pillars. Lined on the four sides by the most important buildings of ancient city life - the Temples and Public Buildings. The statue of the god Apollo, in a dynamic pose, is most eye catching in the vast compound of his roofless temple. Jupiter's Temple is much smaller. Towards the far end of the Forum are the Arches, of course only partially intact.
Branching off from the Forum are the roads running into residential areas. They are neat ,paved lanes, some showing, surprisingly, the twin parallel ruts worn into the stone by chariots !
Houses are of two types. The Villas of the wealthy and the humble dwellings of the Hi-polloi.
Three villas have been preserved very well and are quite famous too. One is The House of Faun. ( and a jaunty Faun he is too ! pirouetting stylishly in the frontyard. So what if he looks a bit old !) The others are The Villa of Mysteries and The House of Vetti.
Tourists generally try to read up on a place before visiting. And Pompeii being such an exotic destination, I'm sure everybody would've seen pictures of the rich Murals and amazing mosaics uncovered by the archeologists. But , unfortunately, all those familiar images associated with Pompeii in our minds cannot be actually seen in Pompeii !. Almost all the valuable pieces have been moved to the National Museum in Naples for better safekeeping. Just as well. Because there is so much foot fall , breath and sweat in The Scavi, that had everything remained there,they'd've been ruined by now. But its not total disappointment. There are a few mosaics and murals left in site too. And they are amazing. Amazing too are the luxurious accommodations, amenities for running water, drainage , the luxurious Baths ( or Thermae) etc.
Moving away from the richie rich quarters to the middle class locality, we can see bakeries, wine houses , millstones and kilns. It is said even charred loaves of bread, nuts , grain and wine were found intact during excavation.
Some mosaic designs in the courtyards of public houses are very intricate and show high artistry.
In one parlour we see some white sculptures in convoluted poses stacked against the wall. It turns out that they are plaster casts of the people who died on that fateful day, in the very throes of painful death. The volcanic ash had covered them, within which the human body disintegrated leaving a hollow for a plaster cast. Dreadful sight.
Walking around the little town is not very tiring, as we are totally absorbed by the sights. We decide not to visit the smaller site, Herculaneum as Pompeii Scavi itself is comprehensive enough for us to get a fair idea of how those people lived.
With enough photographs to aid memory for a lifetime, we return to the train station. As we leave the Forum, we see a benign looking blue mountain in the misty backdrop, not very far away. The still active Vesuvius is only resting, i believe............