2012 April 21 – Day 41 – Naples, Italy (Pompeii)

Our original itinerary had the ship scheduled to anchor off the coast of Sorrento, Italy for the day.  However the harbour was going to be closed for two days due to gale force winds and the ship’s tenders would not have been able to safely navigate the high seas.

Instead the captain made arrangements for us to dock at Naples.  Sorrento was our access to see Pompeii and I was worried when the port was changed.  However, it worked to our benefit since it was a shorter drive from Naples to Pompeii than Sorrento to Pompeii.  Therefore, all the planned shore excursions were unchanged other than the time-line, which in the case of our trip to Pompeii was an hour shorter due to reduced driving time. The buried city of Pompeii is a half hour drive from Naples and we arrived early enough to avoid the majority of the crowds.  Pompeii is the most visited archaeological site in the world with 10,000 people per day touring the city (that is 4,200 tour groups led by 800 guides).  We were very surprised at the size of the ruined city (160 hectares or 260 acres – about 66 football fields) and yet only 2/3 of it has so far been excavated. In 1595 excavations discovered artifacts at Pompeii and centuries of pillaging followed.  Several looters died when trapped carbon monoxide was released by their digging.   Archaeological work began in the mid-nineteenth century .

It is estimated the population at the time that the volcano Vesuvius erupted was 20,000, of which about half died on August 24, 79 AD at 1 PM.  Everyone had time to escape but no one understood the danger as the last eruption of Vesuvius had occurred long before anyone alive had been born.  Pompeii was a 700-year old city when Vesuvius erupted.

When the mountain exploded and blew off about 3,000-4,000 feet of its top, it was the poisonous gas that killed the people, not the lava.   The super-hot cloud of steam and mud that came in the second stage of the eruption took less than 4 minutes to flow from Vesuvius to both Pompeii and Herculaneum, a sea port about 7 km (4 miles) away.

By the time the volcano stopped belching 19 hours later, Pompeii and Herculaneum were completely buried by volcanic ash and debris.  Pompeii was under about 3 or so meters ( 8′-10′).  Herculaneum was covered by 23 meters (75′).  We entered the city through the Sea Gate. Quadriportico dei Teatri – located behind the Grand Theater.   It was a place for people to stroll between acts and later served as a barracks for gladiators.                                     Teatro Grande – the Grand TheatreVicolo dei Menandro – basically Menandro Street.Look at the ‘ruts’ in the stone road from the iron chariot wheels.  They had three different water supply systems – one for the wealthy homes, one for the public baths and one for the fountains.  If water became in short supply they shut down the systems in order of priority:  The wealthy households lost their water first, the public baths next and the fountains last.   Interesting priorities.

                                  Casa de Menandro

                           The little alcove is for the household gods. The big stones blocked chariots from the street creating a pedestrian mall. All these centuries later and the colours are still so obvious.  The Terme Stabiane – a bath complex; now used for some displays.

Archaeologists learned to fill a discovered void with plaster as it was often caused by a body.  If they broke open the space the shape would be lost.          Via dell’ Abbondanza – ancient Pompeii’s main street.Traffic is picking up, lots more people on the site by the time we neared the end of our tour.  What do you suppose was on offer in this part of town?                              Foro – the huge rectangular main plaza.                   The Temple of Apollo.

We only saw a very small part of one corner of the city.  You would need to come back many times to walk all of the excavated streets.  Still, it gave us a sense of the city and the lifestyle of the people of the 1st century.  We had a great day. We were not very late in the afternoon returning to the ship but decided not to go wandering around Naples and rested in our cabin until dinner and sail-away.  Next stop Civtavecchia, the port nearest to Rome, two hours drive away.


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