In my retrospective reflections of the Europe trip I consistently find myself settling upon one day in particular in which Dan, Steven and I took a day trip to Naples, Italy to explore the ancient city of Pompeii. The experience is worth sharing, I think, and the following is a revised excerpt from my Europe travel journal, describing my initial reaction.
Pompeii is strange to me. Upon walking through the gates I was faced with a mixture of emotions; it’s exciting, of course, to be somewhere so famous and spend the afternoon exploring the ruins of an ancient civilization, but every now and then little things would attract my attention. Insignificant details would offer themselves as reminders that this was once a functioning city with real people.
A water-well conjured images of people collecting water; an oven of baking and cooking meals. Tables, chairs, pots, jars, all perfectly preserved acted as gateways to imagining these people’s lives – these human, feeling, breathing beings living ordinary, mundane, day-to-day lives not so terribly different from our own.
And then, as I wandered the streets of this vast city, I would turn a corner, and there, beyond the end of the road was Mount Vesuvius, rising above it all just as it always has and in that moment I’d remember how it ended.
Pompeii is a city of death, pain and tragedy. This is its legacy.
People flock to see the ashen casts of long since dead Pompeiians, twisted and contorted in ways that make it clear they suffered greatly in their last moments. A man lay on his stomach, covering his face; a woman crouched with her head in her hands; a dog lay on its back, feet in the air, kicking at the hot dirt as it was buried alive. This city represents destruction of an enormous scale, the painful deaths of its inhabitants forever frozen in time, cast in hardened rock.
And now they lay in a display case; they will not rest in peace.
Pompeii is a terrible, wonderful, hideous, and beautiful place. It stays locked in time forever, sleeping now in the open air, once again introduced to the sun. And Vesuvius sits, watching over the sleeping city, abandoned and alone, mourning for what it has lost and weeping for what it has done.