When visiting the ruins of Pompeii, our advice is to watch your step.
Pomeii’s excavated streets are narrow, with massive cobblestones waiting to trip the unwary.
But then, the city is thought to date back to at least the First Century – and the streets were made ruggedly to withstand heavy traffic from the nearby sea port.
In places, the roadway is also astonishingly rutted with wheel tracks made by ancient carts and chariots.
However, if you are mobile enough to safely make your way around the excavations, a visit to Pompeii is unforgettable.
It’s quite sobering to wander among the ruins of a city utterly destroyed by a massive fire storm of molten rock and gases?
Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum were cities under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, near modern-day Naples in the Campania region of Italy.
Already well established before the arrival of the ancient Romans, the area became prosperous in part because of its location around a seaport and on the fertile slopes of Vesuvius.
However, something of a premonition of tragedy occurred in 62 AD, when an earthquake left large parts of Pompeii and neighbouring Herculaneum in ruins.
Reconstruction was still underway on August 24, in 74 AD, when all hell let loose.
The mountain unexpectedly awoke, submerging much of the surrounding countryside under a hurricane of ash and cinder.
The eruption was apparently so violent that the top of the mountain collapsed, sending deadly rivers of lava and mud down its sides.
After the eruption, Pompeii remained buried under a layer of ash more than six metres deep.
This suffocated the city, but also protected evidence of life at the moment of the tragedy – evidence that came to light more than two centuries ago.
We entered the excavations through the Porta Marina or Sea Gate, which faces towards the sea. There are two stone arches at the gate, one apparently reserved for people and the other for animals.
In front of us unfolded the Forum Plaza, an open area from which narrow streets lead off in a grid-like pattern near the sites of the temple of Venus and Apollo.
From here we wandered past the area where the Basilica stood to signify the centre of the city’s economic life.
Many of the excavated pillars of these former substantial buildings are quite eye-catching and hint at the glory that once was Pompeii. So do the Forum and Central Baths and the many residential areas.
As we toured the various sections of the ruins, from time to time, we came across plaster casts of victims of the volcanic eruption.
These remarkable casts were created by excavators who poured liquid plaster into the spaces left in the layer of ash by 1,100 human bodies, as well as trees, animals and wooden objects.
This ingenious method of excavation – which worked for just about everything organic that was imprisoned in the ash – apparently began in 1860 and continued into the 20th Century.
Our all-too-brief visit to Pompeii showed not only public buildings and breathtaking villas, but also humble town block with houses, shops, and the bits and pieces of everyday life at the time.
The darkness that descended from Vesuvius may have snuffed out an era in Pompeii, but it also preserved a slice of Roman life for people to explore.
The buildings, art, artifacts, and bodies forever frozen offer a unique window on this ancient world.
Pompeii is close enough to Rome to be reached in a day trip. See details.
We wholeheartedly recommend a visit.