When you see the mountain of Vesuvius, draw a mental line up each slope until they meet at that imaginary intersection point in the sky. Vesuvius was once a cone-shaped mountain, and this will show much of it was blown away by the eruption on August 24, 79 A.D. – the day after the feast to Vulcan, god of fire and volcanoes.
Across the bay in Misenum, Pliny (the elder), the Admiral of the Roman Navy and close personal friend of the Emperor Vespasian, watched the eruption in horror from the balcony of his sister’s villa and realized immediately that the Pompeiians didn’t stand a chance unless they were rescued. He ordered the entire fleet stationed there to push out in a massive rescue attempt. He was in the first and fastest ship, leading the fleet onward, while his sister and the young nephew who had been named after him (Pliny the younger) watched until they were out of sight.
When pumice and rocks began to fall on them, his crew begged him to turn back, but Pliny famously said, “Fortune favours the brave,” and ordered them onwards. The ship was filled with people rescued from Stabiae, the village next to Pompeii, but Pliny himself collapsed on shore and was left behind.
Several years later, the young Pliny wrote down the memories that were seared into his brain that day and sent them in a letter to the famous historian Tacitus, and that is how we know what happened.
It used to be thought that most of the people of Pompeii were killed by suffocation from the ash, but recent studies show that the 2,000 who stayed behind (out of a total population of 10,000) died of heat – temperatures up to 300 degrees celsius, from a pyroclastic surge, for a ten mile radius. They didn’t have time to suffocate.
This time we saw the theatres, a large one and a much smaller, more intimate one. Either would have been a great place for a concert or a play. The acoustics were great.
While sitting way at the top, we could almost make out the low conversation of some tourists down on the stage. If they had been facing us and projecting their voices just a bit, I have no doubt we could have heard every word. Amazing in its design and history.
Adding to the noble history of plays like Oedipus Rex, I could not help but pause as we crossed the stage and singing out, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow” (which I once heard is the most favourite song for singing auditions), just to hear how it sounded.
It sounded great.
Alfio took us back inside the bath house once we had finished our lunch and showed us how to photograph in low light circumstances. It was the first time I noticed the ancient sculpture of a face, just below the window, looking down on all the visitors, most of whom never saw it.
Because Alfio told us to “tell the story” with our photos, I chose several that depict the People of Pompeii – tourists, workers, and one original inhabitant.
This fellow came out of one of the archaeological dig areas to freshen up a little in the heat.