Tour of Italy: Pompeii and Positano

Pompeii, near the sea and in the shadow of Vesuvius, was a resort town for Romans 2500 years ago.  There were about 20,000 full and seasonal residents. The city had a two kilometer main street and covered 66 acres.

The residents likely didn’t know Vesuvius was an active volcano because it was fully covered with vegetation and had been dormant for 700 years.

The area had experienced damaging earthquakes before but on October 22, 79 AD the quaking started in earnest. Many people with other places to go left.  

The lead pipes supplying water to the city broke disrupting water availability – another reason to leave Pompeii.

Water would have been unavailable in the street water stations.

Two days later,  October 24, 79 AD,  those who remained, two to three thousand of them, were trapped in Pompeii. Within 24 hours they were all killed by blasts of pumice, carbon monoxide, and extreme heat.

Over the next three days, the city of Pompeii was covered with 21 feet of ash.

Pliny the Younger, living near Naples was a witness to the eruption and wrote about it years later.  Pompeii was forgotten until his letters were found in the 16th century.

Pompeii was discovered in 1748 when surveying engineers were laying water pipe in agricultural fields. 

Excavation began, revealing a complete Roman town.  It covered one square mile and included mansions, small homes with shops, and fast food bars. 

This was a three story mansion.

Over two hundred and fifty years later, archeologists are still present. Only 65% of Pompeii has been excavated.

Some of what is assumed about activity in Pompeii corresponds with what is similar in nearby Napoli. The L shaped fast food stand in the picture above is still common in Napoli today.

This open field would have been used in training gladiators. Like Roma, these gladiators would have been slaves trained for this purpose.

These were their quarters.

The Pompeii amphitheater seated 15,000 people. Frank Sinatra got special permission to hold a concert in this amphitheater in 1991. 

The stepping stones were to help when crossing the street during the rain.  The openings are perfectly spaced for carts and chariots.  

Heavy grooves are visible.

Penis blocks were placed to provide sailors directions to the sex district. 

Light colored stones were nestled into the main roads to help direct people after dark.  They would reflect in the moonlight.

Many buildings were shops with homes in back.  There was bread found in this oven when it was first excavated!

This was a spa area.  Spas and baths were for everyday health, not an extravagance just for the wealthy.  

Decorative carvings are still visible. 

The original mosaic floor is still intact at the entrance to this house.

Original frescoes are still vibrant after being protected under ash for so many years.

Some buildings were highly decorated.

This was the forum, or main square, in the town of Pompeii. It was the first area excavated and took 25 years to complete. The Temple to Jupiter is at the end of the square with Vesuvius in the background.

The square also included a market area, a government area, and a palace for the ruler. 

This was once a covered seating area on two levels. 

An eerie aspect to visiting Pompeii is seeing the bodies of people and animals caught in time as they died.  

The bodies were encased in hardened pumice and ash for almost two thousand years. The real bodies decomposed but when scientists injected plaster into the cavity where the body had been, these delicate casts were created.   

One hundred and three bodies were cast.  CT Scans have been completed on some of the casts and skeletal remains have been found within the casts. The results have sometimes changed assumptions about the person’s gender and age.

So far, forensics on skeletal remains, many outside of casting, indicate that 394 people died from the initial pumice reining down from Vesuvius and from collapsing buildings. Most of the others would have died from poisonous gasses and extreme heat. Lava flow did not reach Pompeii.

These are some artifacts uncovered in Pompeii.  

Many of the casts, and the best of the artifacts, are in the Naples National Archeological Museum. Naples is in the red zone for any future eruptions by Vesuvius. It last erupted in 1944.

We learned that it is possible to go up to the Vesuvius crater and that would be interesting to do. Also interesting would be a visit to  Herculaneum, a smaller town and archeological site nearby destroyed by the same eruption.

Some Italian manners advice given to us by our Pompeii local specialist: “You are allowed to push, but you need to smile.”

That same day we also visited the nearby sea village of Positano.  It is famous for ceramics, linens and individually made sandals and shoes while you wait.  

Our suitcases allowed for very few souvenirs on our five week trip – but I though a pair of flat sandals could fit.

The process took about 45 minutes.

My new sandals!

Next up: Sorrento and the Isle of Capri!

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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2 Responses to Tour of Italy: Pompeii and Positano

  1. Teri McClelland says:

    What an amazing bit of history. I can’t imagine the undertaking it took to dig all that out without totally destroying the whole city.
    Very interesting – thanks for sharing your day.

    Love the sandals. Are they comfortable?

  2. Thanks for sharing! I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii. I did not know about the penis blocks though.😮😂

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