not the molten rocks or flowing lava that destroyed Pompeii nearly 2000 years
ago; it was the ash, covering everything with a layer more than 20 feet deep.
Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D., Pompeii was a prosperous city of trade and
luxurious residences at the mouth of the River Sarno in Italy. Twenty thousand
of its 22,000 residents escaped the tragedy, but their city did not. After the
eruption, it lay buried, forgotten and virtually undisturbed for 1,600 years,
until excavation of the archeological site began in 1860. It continues to the
present. Approximately one quarter of the city is still buried. Most the ruins look like half-crumbled walls,
and if you don’t know what they were originally, you’ll be seeing only the
surface and missing the significance of your visit. So, I suggest you tour with
a knowledgeable guide or listen to one of the audio guides available.
enter through the arched gates of Porta Marina, you come upon the forum.
Rows of columns define the area, which now exhibits the remains of municipal
buildings, a basilica (for secular business) and a temple. You can also view
Mount Vesuvius gleaming in the distance, ever present. Even in ruin, the city
reveals thoughtful planning.
Large, raised, circular
stepping stones, spaced so chariot wheels could pass on either side, enabled
residents to cross the street during the rainy season. As I walked along, with
my own footsteps falling into the worn ruts, I couldn't help but feel a
connection to the past. I observed
a deep pride of place: floors decorated with inlaid marble or detailed mosaics,
painted walls, and wonderful architectural details. Frescos
at the House of the Small Fountain on
Mercury Street reflect the vibrant life that once existed in this port-side community.
We know a fairly rich family owned this house, which featured running water and
An even wealthier family owned the House
of the Faun, named for the bronze statue of the mythological wood-nymph
that embellishes the garden, edged with Doric columns. With beautiful marble
inlays, 88 columns, two atriums, six bedrooms, servants’ quarters and grand
entrances, this surely was a glorious edifice.
The exedra, or dining room, floor is decorated with a magnificent
(and now famous) battle mosaic portraying the conquest of Alexander the Great
over his enemy Darius, King of the Persians. The original of both the mosaic
and the statue are in the National Museum in nearby Naples, but the
reproductions at Pompeii place these masterpieces into context and allow us to
visualize the grand lifestyle that once existed here. This extraordinary house,
covering an entire block—128 feet by 352 feet—is thought to have belonged to
Publius Sulla, an official administrator of Pompeii.
see middle class homes and poorer residences. One amusing entrance shows the mosaic
of a dog with the words Cave Canem, “Beware of the dog.” There is a bakery with bread still in the ovens,
shops with produce on shelves, and wine jugs in a bar. We see everyday life,
almost impossible to image what it must have been like to see a mountain
explode and cover your world with 20 feet of ash. Yet, because of this amazing
protective covering, we can image what life was like before the
eruption. Walking the streets of Pompeii is like traveling nearly 2000 years
back in time to find the past is not so different from the present.