I have wanted to go to Pompeii since the 4th grade when I created a "volcano" for a class project. (I did not know at the time that "the volcano" was a pretty common class project.) Anyway I created the volcano, saved up my money in order to buy the chemical to make the explosion and on the day of class project presentations I had the curtains drawn and I put in the chemical and my paper mâché volcano exploded and I told the story of the great eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD.
Yesterday I saw the remains of the real Vesuvius. We had seen Herculaneum a week earlier, so we were ready for the experience, but it was better than I expected.
Pompeii was a big city at the time of it's death. It had paved streets (with ruts made by ancient wagons). Under the streets was a sewer and water system. The houses had running water and most had a cistern that caught rainwater for uses other than drinking. Painted on walls of some of the houses were frescos and then wax was applied to the fresco to preserve the masterpiece. The color was still vibrant after being buried for over a thousand years.
The houses we saw were quite large with a vestibule, a small temple to pray to the gods (they were pagans), living area, bedrooms off the main living area, and an outdoor garden or peristyle where folks ate with rooms off the peristyle. These folks lived well.
We walked the cobbled main street and saw houses that had shops in front and living quarters either in the back or upstairs. Did you know there were 100 bars yet only 34 bakeries in Pompeii? We did not learn how many shops there were. We saw the "red light district" where the frescos described what happened in each room.
There was a forum, not as large as the Forum in Rome, but good size. In addition there was a gymnasium with an attached outdoor stadium that had a retractible cover (similar to that of the Coliseum in Rome) for sport, and an indoor auditorium for plays.
Pompeii was a city with religion, government, sport, culture, commerce...and in a heartbeat it was destroyed. We saw a few of those haunting plaster bodies. The plaster bodies fascinated me as a child...now they held a different type of fascination...they told of the painful death of a person. With mouths open they were gasping for precious air, but the noxious gases from the explosion left the air poisonous. There was no escape.
Pompeii was an interesting experience. I'm still amazed we had a chance to see both of the cities that Vesuvius destroyed almost 2 millennia ago. Tomorrow we are in Florence for another type of culture.