If you take one look at Instagram posts under the hashtag “#vacation”, chances are you’ll see photos of people surrounded by palm trees, tanning beds, and beachside pool service in some far off tropical paradise. In my family, the idea of a vacation is different. With a history geek for a father and ancient architecture lover for a mother, our trips tend to fall far out of these comfort zones. When my father revealed to my mother, sister, and I that we’d be flying four thousand miles to explore the magnificent country of Italy, we instantly realized that there was one place in this land that could quench our undying thirsts for adventure: the historic ruins of Pompeii. For us, this was the perfect travel destination as it blended together incredible history, a fascinating story, and a chance to learn something new. The story of Pompeii is so intriguing that it nearly seems unreal; I’d heard it countless times in history classes and travel magazines, but nothing had done it justice until April 2014 while I stood, at a loss of words, right in the middle of this Lost City.
Entering through the Porta Marina, I was greeted by what most might consider an unimpressive sight: dust, debris, and rock. What is not immediately visible to the naked eye is the story behind Pompeii’s beauty. Two thousand years ago, the deadly volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the ancient city in lapilli which consisted of pumice, ash, and dust. As the lava solidified across Pompeii, it stopped everything it touched right in its tracks, thus eternally freezing the city in time.
When visiting Pompeii, the most important thing you must bring is your imagination. Standing in the anfiteatro, I closed my eyes and imagined the magnificent gladiator fights and theatrical shows that would have taken place right where I was standing. In the foro which was now empty, I pictured the chaotic hustle of shopkeepers and buyers who’d come to visit the heart of the city. The spot which appealed most to my emotions, however, was the Garden of the Fugitives. Here, we were able to get a glimpse of the bodies of residents in their final moments as they attempted to flee their inevitable death after the eruption.
Although the city was built nearly in an era where technology was unheard of, Pompeii was far ahead of its time. Bursting with shops, theaters, restaurants, brothels, churches, and homes, the ruins provide us with countless spots to see. Exploring all of them was equivalent to several miles of walking on rather unpaved surfaces, so comfortable shoes, several bottles of water, and loose clothing were essentials. By allowing at least five to six hours to explore, we were able to appreciate and understand the history of Pompeii without completely exhausting ourselves. By the end of the day, my mind was overflowing with awe, incredulity, and a newfound fascination with the story of Pompeii.
As we made our way to the exit, I took one last look at the dark silhouette of Mount Vesuvius boldly standing under the setting sky. It was hard to believe that a formation so peaceful and innocent today was the culprit for such devastating chaos thousands of years ago. The discovery of Pompeii significantly evolved human understanding not only of an ancient civilization but also of archaeology and history itself. And here I was, fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of it all. Now this was a #vacation I’d be remembering for thousands of years to come.