Buried alive and lost for centuries

In Italy, Travel on May 8, 2009 at 10:23 am

I remember, somewhere in the darker recesses of my mind, learning about Pompeii in a classical studies lesson at school. I’d probably forgotten altogether, not thinking I’d ever visit, but when the opportunity to visit a city that was consumed by a volcanic eruption, and then forgotten for 1700 years presents itself, you have to go and see the evidence for yourself.

It was a blisteringly hot day when we visited the site close to Naples. But the heat didn’t prevent the chilling feeling and the goosebumps I experienced on visiting the site. Inside the city walls, away from the bustling souvenir vendors, restaurants and ice cream sellers, there is an eerie calm, which intensifies as you realise that this entire place was a hive of activity with wine and oil merchants, bars and a brothel – where the faintly pornographic frescos remain, tame by today’s standards – until Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying Pompeii beneath 60 feet of ash and pumice and leaving it destroyed and dead, undiscovered until 1748.

While the frescos, the walls and even the giant storage jars used for oil and wine remain intact in some areas, what I wasn’t prepared for was the casts of dead bodies.  When the volcano erupted, the first sensation that gripped the ill-fated residents of Pompeii was the smell of the gases. Though the bones and remains have long since disintegrated, the casts of the bodies, set in pumice, remain. Some face-down on the floor, seeking to protect themselves, others hunched, knees to chest, with their hands over their mouth and nose to shield them from the gases.

Cast of a victim of Mount Vesuvius

Cast of a victim of Mount Vesuvius

To die that way is terrible. But for people to forget about the tragedy for centuries is worse.

The Archaeological Museum in Naples houses more casts of bodies. Anyone who has ever uttered the words “Sometimes I wish I could just curl up and die” when the going gets tough should maybe pay them a visit and be thankful for the luxury of life and of being cared for, for making a difference to someone else’s life.

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