Italy

Eruption and Ruin – Mt Vesuvius and the Fate of Pompei

We arrived in Naples, full of excitement, as the next couple of few days had planned stops at Mt Vesuvius and Pompeii. Fire and brimstone lay ahead. Wow, this was going to be awesome!

First Stop – Mt Vesuvius

Visiting the top of Mt Vesuvius (elevation 1280m), above the Bay of Naples, had been talked of for sometime. This volcano last erupted in 1944 and to this day is still considered an active volcano. We chose a camperstop in Portici, called Bellavista (coordinates N40.82765 E14.35101), so we would have easy access to Mt Vesuvius.

View looking down upon a large town close-byfrom a red-ish brown volcano
Naples is only 10 kilometres away from Mt Vesuvius

All prepped for Mt Vesuvius, we left the camperstop walking 15 minutes to the Portici Bellavista train stop. From here we caught the Circumvesuviana train to Ercolano Scavi at a cost of Euro 1.30 per person, one-way. On arrival at Ercolano Scavi, we then had to plan the trip to the Mt Vesuvius summit.

Trail to Mt Vesuvius Summit

Walking there is definitely one way, but with the high probability of rain that day, we chose to consider other options. Right outside the train station, a travel agent offered us a round trip by bus which included the volcano entrance fee. Perfect! This also guaranteed 1.5 hours at Mt Vesuvius summit and a chat with a guide, all at a cost of 20 Euro per person. It was a pretty good deal so we paid up and were on the bus 15 minutes later.

The bus trip took around 45 minutes. We soon found ourselves a good way up the mountain with the final drop off point in a dirt car park (our altitude was around 1000m above sea level). Stepping out of the bus, we were blasted with freezing cold air. Ok, we knew it was winter but we weren’t prepared for that sort of cold. We quickly realised we had vastly under catered our needs to combat this temperature but with dogged determination we took to the trail. 

We picked up the pace the path towards the summit and 10 minutes later found ourselves at the guide’s hut. This comprehensive explanation took about 5 minutes from the guide who was also a Volcanologist. This covered all our questions by explaining the whereabouts of the original old volcano sited nearby and covering the history of Mt Vesuvius.

Looking back toward a hit along a brown pathway used for walking up the volcano
Looking down the volcano trail back towards the entrance. About 1000m altitude at this point.

Show Time

After the talk, we had an hour to walk the path of a few hundred metres length around the crater rim. Envisioning lava spurts, bubbling mud and drifts of sulphurous fumes, we soon saw that we had none of that. It was a dry crater but nevertheless still impressive with a diameter of 700m and depth of 200m. 

An invertedd conical shaped crater with redd-ish brown and grey earth coloured stones with a hint of green near the bottom
A dry Mt Vesuvius crater but is still considered an active volcano

The cloud base was at times quite low and rising air currents caused them to drift upwards and spill over the crater rim.  Actually, much like liquid nitrogen poured from a beaker. Quite eye-catching!

Steep brown crater walls with white clouds spilling over the rim
Clouds spilling over the crater rim

We captured some good photos even though our hands were aching from the cold.   True professionals at work I believe! Our time the summit was soon up so we set off back down to the car park below. This time we halved the walking time on the return trip.

So then it was just a simple process of backtracking the way we had come earlier that day: bus to Ercolano Scavius train station, training back to Portici Bellavista and ending with a brisk walk to the camperstop. Job done. A great start to our adventures! 

 

Pompeii

Driving south from Naples towards ancient Pompeii, we found a camperstop, Camping Spartacus (coordinates N40.74683 E14.48393). It was perfectly situated right opposite the ruins. Locking up the campervan, within a few minutes we were at the ruins entrance parting with 13 Euro each.

Entering the Pompei ruins, one could see the mighty Mt Vesuvius looming in the not too distant background. In AD79, following the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, the town was buried and the remaining inhabitants of Pompeii perished under tonnes of ash and mud (4 to 6 metres deep). Most of the town’s inhabitants (estimated at 18,000 people) had already fled at the first sign of eruption, leaving about 2000 people still in Pompeii when the town was buried.

Old ruins of Pompeii in the foreground with the dark mountain of Mt Vesuvius in the background
Pompeii with Mt Vesuvius looming in the background

Pompeii of Old

Ancient Pompeii was estimated at that time to have a population of around 20,000 people. You begin to get a feel for this number as you walk the many streets of the town, through the different commercial, public and aristocratic areas, where people lived and worked. The excavation and restoration work has been extensive, so you walk the streets as did the original people so many, many years ago. A surreal feeling!

Finely fitting cobbled stoned roadways extending down a street with stone buildings along the pedestrian way
Well-fitted cobble stone roadway on a street in Pompeii

These stone-covered streets, with large protruding stepping stones and high side-walks were designed so that people could walk above and step across the road without having to muddy themselves. Long ago, these streets were regularly flooded to wash away the dirt and debris. 

Cobble stones with ruts carved into them along with large stones on the road for people to walk on to cross the road
Ruts in the stone to maintain a cart’s distance from the pedestrian area

With the narrow roads, ruts were cut into the road to guide the carts and chariots wheels to ensure a safe distance was maintained from the people on the footpaths … ingenious!

Restoration Period

In 1748, the restoration of Pompeii began. There was a remarkable state of preservation of the artefacts and buildings due to the lack of exposure to air and moisture. To date, approximately two-thirds of ancient Pompeii has been excavated.

One can see the thought that was put into the different exterior designs. The town must have been a visual masterpiece in its day.

The stone walls were built in multitudes of criss-cross and arc-like patterns
A multitude of patterns were introduced during the building of the stone walls

Within Pompeii, you do have free reign to wander wherever you like. Access to some of the ancient relics and frescoes is restricted access with rope barriers and sometimes glass enclosures. At some locations guards were keeping a distant but watchful eye on the tourists but this was to be expected and didn’t at all from the whole experience.

Frescoes with colours of light blue and ochre adorned the internal walls of a home
Frescoes adorned the internal walls of a home. This one shows a shrine to Aphrodite.

We spent a good half day gazing at the many ruinous homes, structures and gardens. 

Stone statue of a man with stone columns in the background
The replica Roman bronze sculpture of Apollo

Exploring Ancient Pompeii

Being out of tourist season (January), we walked the quiet streets with only a few tourists visible to the eye. By the end of the visit, we had covered about fifty percent of the town. We saw some recommended sites including temples, a brothel and a myriad number of fresco ordained buildings.

Stone bed within a stone building with a stone pillow
A tiny stone bed in a room of one of Pompeii’s brothels. The brothel hallway walls sometimes depicted scenes of erotica to encourage the customers and also showcase the services on offer.

This house of pleasure, using slaves as sex workers, was just one of many brothels within Pompeii.

Mummified casts of a father with his son on his knee and two other young people
Casts including a father with his child on his knee

 

Person covered in white / grey ash sitting on the ground
I wonder what this person’s last thoughts were?

Casts of people who had died at the time of the devastation were on display.

Stone amphitheatre with a large performance area at the bottom with surrounding stone columns on the perimeter
The Grand Theatre

Oh, and let’s not forget the Grand Theatre where up to 5,000 people could be accommodated. 

Green shrubs throwing colour into a drab landscape
A place of tranquility amongst the drab ruins

Well, it was a great day of exploring and we left with a real sense of what life must have been like in early Roman times. Ancient Pompeii ranks as one of the must-see places in Italy. Definitely a most memorable experience. 

 

Lars

Author: Lars

Being an Australian boy brought up in the country, I learnt at an early age to enjoy the freedom and beauty of nature. Leaving Australia at the age of 20, although I didn’t know it then, would be the beginning of a life of adventure. So join me here on our travels and see the world through my eyes.

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