I step out of the ticket booth and back in time to the ancient Roman empire, into a town that never knew what doom would befall it. On that fateful day in 79 A.D., when Mount Vesuvius erupted, all matter of life in Pompeii came to a screeching halt as people ran for their lives. And that day will forever be preserved here on these grounds.
The soil I step on is rich with volcanic ash and seasoned by the millions of feet that have walked here before me. These grounds hold the history of a society frozen in time, the most intriguing example of archaeological discovery we have. This site turns the average person into a historian, an archaeologist, and an anthropologist for a day. It makes accessible the marvels of the ancient Roman empire and brings this important discovery to the eyes and hands of visitors.
As I gaze over the plots and semi-fallen walls where houses once stood, I imagine the family that lived here. The mother cooking dinner in the kitchen with the help of her daughter, while the father tends to the fire and the son fetches water. Before lava spewed from Mt. Vesuvius, burying the town, these walls stood tall with beautiful architecture and a sturdy roof. Perhaps the son was the first to see the lava and hear the screams from victims. He raced home to warn his family, but they couldn’t escape in time. Hot lava buried their bodies, the remains of which were not discovered until thousands of years later.
We now find remains of bodies, of tools and household items, of temples and columns and amphitheaters. We find rows of jugs, which held perhaps water or wine or something else entirely. We have only hints and clues into the lives of Pompeii’s residents but not the whole story. It leaves us with questions, it leaves us guessing, and it continues to captivate our attention.
A city buried in lava, lost in time, only to be rediscovered thousands of years later. How did we stumble upon this lost city? Pliny the Younger saw the catastrophe unfold from afar and wrote about it in a letter to his father. We found an entire city because one man wrote a letter. What a lucky discovery!
I run my hand along the brick wall as I walk down these ancient streets and the rough texture against my fingertips brings me into the reality of this city. These are the same walls built by the Romans, and they are somehow still here for me to touch. I listen to the audioguide as I stroll the empty streets of Pompeii and make my way over to the amphitheater. Choosing a seat in the middle of the stone bleachers, I look down to the stage.
On that stage I can picture the competitions and games that were played. I can see the town leaders making announcements to the masses. I imagine the theatrical performances that graced this stage. In 82 A.D. there may have been someone just like me sitting in this seat, enjoying the show playing out on stage. She may have been my age but our lives couldn’t be more different. From this seat I am transported back to her day, trying to imagine how life was in Pompeii before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and I know I am lucky to have this opportunity.
Have you visited Pompeii? What moved you most about the experience?
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