Wednesday, June 9, 2010

THE Mt. Vesuvius

When I was a kid, my hero was dashing and daring archaeologist Indiana Jones. My dream career involved tearing through ruins respectfully while swinging from vines and having lots of bizarre encounters with crazy foreign characters as a dramatic, award-winning score played in the background. I suppose that isn’t too far off from how my life actually turned out…
Moving on... the other inspiration that lead me to dream of a life wearing dusty khaki from head-to-toe was my Childcraft Encyclopedia set. One of the volumes featured tales of ancient wonders, myths and legendary destinations from the Pyramids of Egypt to the Blarney Stone in Ireland. The section on the sudden destruction of Pompeii and the discovery of its miraculously preserved ruins years later was always of particular interest to me because, science-loving dork that I am, I have an odd fixation with all things geological, including explosive volcanoes, earthquakes, plate tectonics… magma. 
Please keep reading, I have a point! My childhood dream of visiting Pompeii came true during my European adventure by way of the most fantastic guided tour of the ruins. Antonella was in her element as she lead us down the cobbled streets, waving her hands wildly as those fabulous Italians tend to do. When I whipped out my notepad to scribble down everything she said, Celia asked, “Do you always take notes on vacation?”
 Just in case you didn't read Childcraft Encyclopedias as a kid, here’s the 411 on Pompeii. In AD 79, Mt. Vesuvius (see why I was so pumped to see THE Mt. Vesuvius?) erupted suddenly and buried the thriving Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii was covered in more than 20 yards of volcanic ash, killing everyone in the town, and was forgotten completely until its accidental rediscovery in the late 1500s.
Can you imagine your entire town going about its business one minute, then becoming completely covered in volcanic rocks and ash and forgotten within hours? To this day it still boggles my mind!  
Pompeii’s excavated and well-preserved ruins give us a glimpse into what Roman life was like in the decades after Jesus’ death. There are huge amphitheaters for gladiator fights and concerts, shopping forums, public baths and fountains and rather large homes lining the stone streets. 
You can still see the scars in the streets from carriage wheels, and if you look up, Vesuvius looms ominously in the background. It is the only active volcano on the European mainland and with 3 million folks in the immediate area, it's definitely one to keep an eye on.
The most powerful images from Pompeii are those of its terrified residents at the moment of their deaths. During the excavations, archaeologists came across empty spaces in the hardened ash, and ultimately determined that the empty space was actually a void left where humans and animals had died following the eruption. They injected plaster into the spaces, thus giving us a realistic depiction of how scary those last moments were.
 For more information on Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius, click here. 


Next up... When in Rome, Eat Gelato!

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