Very sad yet special, Pompeii

Post for June 15

On June 15, my plan was to cycle away from my campsite on the Amalfi Coast and spend the night in Naples, possibly stopping by Pompeii if I had enough time. I did stop by Pompeii, and the sights were much more than just another tourist attraction. Some were very sad, even harsh, yet they’re still special.

I’ll still start with some cycling. After all, it’s what brought me here, in a few ways. The previous day, I cycled on the south side of the Amalfi Coast, which had a lot of traffic and very nice sights. On June 15, I cycled on the north side. It also had a lot of traffic but fewer nice sights.

I had just enough time to stop by Pompeii. You may have heard about it, but I’ll give a short summary. In AD 79, it was a wealthy town with 11,000 people. Agriculture helped the town prosper partly due to the fertile slopes of a nearby mountain. On an autumn day, the citizens of Pompeii learned the mountain had more than fertile slopes. It was a volcano, Mount Vesuvius. The eruption lasted two days. Little or no lava reached Pompeii, but rolling  volcanic ash and other matter flowed over the city at 60 MPH, 100 Km/Hr. The flow was about 480 degrees F, 250 C. It buried much of the city in 20 feet (3 metres) of ash and other volcanic bits. Some of these facts may be off. I got them from Wikipedia’s description of Pompeii, but as I sip coffee in a nice Café, I didn’t double-check the numbers.

Much of the city has been excavated. At first, I thought it would be an impressive archaeological site. It’s more than that. It’s an archaeological city. I started by wandering around a main city square, what might have been an early piazza. After that, I took about an hour wandering down a single street in Pompeii, and there were many streets I missed.

The saddest part of Pompeii showed up in an on-site museum. There are plaster casts of bodies, of the people buried in the volcanic ash. For what it’s worth, they died instantly from the 480F degree heat, instead of suffocating. The casts were made when archaeologists found human-sized cavities as they dug, many of them. The cavities had bones inside, and the archaeologists realized the cavities were made by ash burying people. Over 1,000s of years, the organic matter broke down, but the imprint of the bodies remained. Archaeologists made plaster casts of the imprint. The result is an eerie image of people the moment they were buried in volcanic ash, in AD 79.

Of course, there are many ways to react to the images of Pompeii. Like most, I feel sadness, respect, and more. But with my cancer, a familiar feeling returned. Life can suddenly become short. For me, exploring this wonderful world, in the cheapest way you can tolerate, has become very important. Rick Steve’s describes this better than I can in his Travel Philosophy, hope you check that out.