November 28, 2014

Rome: Part Two

 photo custommark_zpsc175fff6.png
When I was a child, my dad received an amazing book from my mother: A National Geographic anniversary edition; A perfect gift for my curious father, and a welcome treat for his like-minded daughter. I spent hours poring over that book, reading its words and delighting in its photos. I explored the Amazon, traversed the arctic, and plunged to the depths of the ocean. 
But the story that entranced me the most? 
The tragedy of Pompeii. 
I read that article so frequently as a child, that each time I revisited that yellow book over the ensuing years, its overly-worn pages naturally fell open to my favorite story.
I had dreamed of Pompeii since since childhood, and my dream was finally becoming a reality.

On the agenda for today?

Pompeii was a bustling trade city on the Gulf of Naples in southern Italy. It, along with Herculaneum, served as a destination spot for Romans seeking to escape the confines of the stifling metropolis. Both cities sat in the shadows of a not-so-friendly neighbor: Mt. Vesuvius, and in 79 AD, its most famous eruption claimed the two cities. They were encapsulated by layers of ash and debris that kept them protected from the elements for well over a thousand years. In 1748, Pompeii was rediscovered, and excavations began. While the stories of Pompeii and Herculaneum are tragic indeed, their preservation has provided priceless insight into everyday Roman life. Time literally stopped, and we are able to look into life as it was almost 2,000 years ago.  
The boy and I had planned one "out-of-town" excursion for each of the cities that we visited, and our choice for Rome HAD to be Pompeii. We took the Frecciarossa train from Rome's Termini station to the Central station in Naples, and then caught the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii. We immediately hopped on a tour right outside the train station, and were escorted to the front gates. Our tour guide, a delightfully sassy blonde-haired Italian woman, led us through the streets of Pompeii, revealing the mysteries and juicy tidbits of Pompeiian history. 
Our first stop was the theater, where perfect acoustics meant that sound could reach even the patrons sitting in the nosebleeds. Historians are able to determine how many Romans were able to fit in the theater by the roman numerals and hash marks that can be found on the remaining marble-faced seats. Theater-goers received "tickets" that gave them a section and seat number, much like our theaters today. But the similarities between then and now end there. As you can see by the picture of Graham, the average Roman was much smaller than the average American. The hash marks that Graham is pointing to show the boundaries of his seat. He doesn't fit too well, huh? Our tour guide informed us that they still have plays there today, but while ancient Romans could fit four to a bench, modern Italians can only fit two comfortably. 

The streets in Pompeii provided other interesting factoids about the city. Raised stones served many purposes. A single stone indicated a one way street, a pair of stones a two way, and three stones let all travelers know it was a busy thoroughfare. They also served as stepping-stones for pedestrians. Pompeii had a nasty habit of flooding, so the raised stones kept its inhabitants dry. Look closely, you can also see ruts in the stone from centuries of wagons passing through.

Average citizens in Pompeii lived in cramped homes without kitchens, which meant that they often bought all of their meals. This photo shows a "thermopolium," where Pompeiians could purchase hot-and-ready food at the world's first fast-food restaurants. These little establishments dotted the city, and can still be seen today.

The wall paintings, mosaics, and architectural features of Pompeii were also remarkably well-preserved, including some rather risqué ones inside one of the city's many brothels.

Pompeii, like Rome, also had its forum. This was perhaps the least well-preserved section of the city, but it was still incredibly fascinating. We enjoyed our daily picnic in the forum (which wasn't technically allowed), and speculated about the people that had once walked its streets.

And of course, we had to see the plaster casts of those who had perished in the blast. During excavations, archaeologists would often find hollow sections in the debris which had been formed by the decomposed bodies of Vesuvius' victims. To preserve the forms, they carefully poured plaster into these hollow pockets, and when the ash and debris were cleared away, the forms remained. These tragic casts are placed throughout the city, capturing the final moments of those who didn't escape Vesuvius. 

After wandering the city, we eventually made our way back to Naples, where we enjoyed the most delicious pizza I have EVER had. I'll be honest and say that the small glimpse we had of Naples was not very positive, but the pizza made up for it!

On the agenda for today?
Vatican City

Vatican City:
The day had come. It was our final sightseeing day in Europe, and I woke up DEPRESSED! I didn't want it to end. It had gone too fast, and I hadn't seen everything. But I was not going to let my negativity ruin our last day.
So, we got up, got ready, and caught the bus to Vatican City. Luckily we had purchased our tickets beforehand, and so we skipped right to the front of the line where they asked us to check our bags in.
Um. No.
So, being the rebels we were, we held our bags down low, and melded into the crowd, and got ready to shuffle our way through the museum. Many people sail through the Vatican merely to get to the end result: The Sistine Chapel. Not this girl. I wanted to enjoy it all, and see all of the wonderful artifacts that I had learned about in my art history classes.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Laocoon and his Sons

A mummy (duh).

The School of Athens (my favorite Renaissance painting by my second favorite Renaissance artist, Raphael).

Then we finally made our way to the jewel of the Vatican and craned our necks to take it all in. Photos are strictly prohibited in the Sistine Chapel, and I was a good girl and followed the rules. But man, did she impress! Graham was especially moved, and we just sat there until our necks screamed in protest. Many people suppose that Michelangelo (my favorite Renaissance artist) painted the Chapel while laying on his back. This was not the case. He did it while standing. And after only thirty minutes of standing with my neck bent backwards, I couldn't imagine doing it for four years.
We finished our day with a visit to St. Peter's Basilica, where the light was so perfect it made me cry. We toured the basilica, marveling at its size. Everything in St. Peter's is done on a grand scale, and to demonstrate, I had to take a photo with the human-sized cherub. Our last stop in St. Peter's was Michelangelo's Pieta. Wow. That's all I can say to that one.

We ventured outside as the sun was beginning to set, and took in the views.

The night ended with (you guessed it) more pizza and pasta, and our nightly gelato tradition. We made our way over to the Pantheon where we enjoyed our sugary treat under its portico, reveling in the experience of our entire trip. Late into the night, we reluctantly made our way back to our flat in Campo di Fiori.

The next morning, we packed our bags, and dragged them through Rome's cobbled streets as we began our long day of travel. 
Rome to London and then back home to San Diego. 
We were looking forward to big beds, big showers, and big cars.
We were not looking forward to real life.
By the time the plane touched down in our beloved city 21 hours later, the trip had already taken on a dream-like quality. It didn't seem real; these experiences that we had lived through had been too magical. Too life-altering. 
I had lived my dream. 
How many people get to say that?
 photo signature_zps2991df21.png

No comments :

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...