The tragic story of the destruction of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii is one most people have heard at some point in their lives. This prosperous port city, once a Roman conquest, was outfitted with state of the art infrastructure and housed thousands of people. Inhabitants were not strangers to the rumbles felt below the earth. Indeed, earthquakes happened with some regularity and caused severe damage to Pompeii in AD 62. Citizens rebuilt parts of the city after that earthquake, but when tragedy struck in AD 79 none of that mattered.
The day started like any other. Streets were bustling with people. Merchants were selling their wares. Mount Vesuvius, situated only a few miles from Pompeii and Herculaneum, sat watching over the land in silence. That changed when the sleeping giant roared to life, spewing ash, rocks, and hot gases soaring into the heavens. Some of the panic stricken inhabitants choose to flee. Others stayed. Were they thinking it was like other eruptions and would soon pass? I can only wonder what they were thinking. When Mount Saint Helens erupted it was a scary spectacle. I cannot imagine the terror they felt. What made them stay?
Mount Vesuvius continued erupting. Ash continued to fall softly like snow over the town, followed by a pyroclastic flow, until many hours later the city was covered and the remaining townspeople were buried in a moment frozen in time. Pompeii and Herculaneum, a sister town in the region that was also destroyed by the volcanic eruption, became a distant memory and eventually they were forgotten.
Rediscovered in 1748, this time capsule contained a well-preserved moment in time that showed the world a snapshot of a 2,000 year old Roman city. It captured a day in the life better than any modern day photograph ever could.
My first thought when I walked through the turnstile at the entrance of Pompeii was how “modern” yet ancient this city appears. The streets are well organized. Red poppies carpet what was once the interior of a house or business. It is amazing how well preserved the structures and frescoes are within.
I am writing this after the tragic earthquake that struck Italy last week, killing hundreds. Although the weeks we were in Italy were calm and peaceful, clearly that region is still a hotspot of seismic activity. Juston and I wandered through the worn stone streets and courtyards of wealthy merchants and politicians. Mosaics gleamed under sunny azure skies. Colorful, bold frescoes of nature and erotic scenes adorned walls. We were there for hours and only touched the tip of Pompeii’s secrets. There is nothing I can say that hasn’t been said by experts already. I can, however, share my photos of what I saw on that peaceful day, far removed from the tragedy over 2,000 years ago. What I think about most, after walking in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius is that the volcano is still active. Millions of people live in the region surrounding one of the most dangerous volcanos in the world, even now. What will happen if there is another eruption?