Friday, 5 July 2013

Walking beneath the clouds of Mount Vesuvius

Looking into the crater on the top of Mount Vesuvius (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

For most of Thursday [4 July 2013], Mount Vesuvius was wrapped in rain clouds, pouring rain down intermittently on Pompeii below. The clouds spread out over the Bay of Naples, and this afternoon blocked the view across the bay as we climbed Mount Vesuvius.

But we began the day with a morning walking through the streets, houses, theatres, temples, baths, the forum, the markets and the open areas of Pompeii, the city destroyed – and preserved – by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on the afternoon 24 August 79 AD.

Walking through the paved streets of Pompeii (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Pompeii attracts about 5,000 visitors a day, or about 2.5 million visitors each year. There almost 50 people on this tour group, and for some it was an interesting reminder that Pompeii too was a holiday or weekend destination for many wealthy Romans almost 2,000 years ago until the city was buried under 4 to 6 metres of ash and pumice that fatal day.

Time has stood still in Pompeii ever since. It was good to be reminded too that apart from some modern inventions such as the internal combustion engine, the railway, electricity and the internet, many of the 20,000 residents of Pompeii lived very much like us, with two-storey houses, a clean water system – and a problem with producing too much domestic waste.

The walls of a house in Pompeii Pompeii (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The mosaics, frescoes, gardens, rooms and domestic shrines could only begin to tease our imaginations about life in Pompeii. Everyone says a morning there does not do it justice.

Throughout the morning, as we walked through the town, Vesuvius, wrapped in clouds, loomed above us in the distant background.

After lunch below the town in Lucullus, we continued on to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. From the car park it was a 20-minute climb to the rim of the crater at the top, and most of us managed the steep ascent in about 20 or 30 minutes, but the clouds still blocked a complete view of the Bay of Naples and the islands.

It was quicker coming back down the mountain path. There were no burns or injured limbs.

Back at the Grand Hotel Moon Valley, the pool also has a perfect view of Mount Vesuvius, the only active volcano in Europe. They say Vesuvius should erupt every 30 years – but it has not done so since 1944.

Mount Vesuvius looms in the background behind Pompeii (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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