Written by Peet Banks
I’ve always had a theory about past lives. If past lives exist, I believe that those times and places in your current life that you’re most fascinated with is a time you have lived in. If my theory bares any truth, than I died in the horrible volcanic eruption that smothered Pompeii, because I have been truly fascinated with it for as long as I can remember.
So naturally, when my sister and I planned our trip to Italy, Pompeii was at the very top of the list of places we had to visit. So much so that when we got off the plane from Germany, it was the first stop!
We hired a car, and my daring sister braved the Italian highways as we made our way to Pompeii. The car ride itself could be a whole other article, but I will spare you the details...
The plan was to check in to our hotel, clean up, change, then wander down the road to the ancient ruins. Our plans were ruined (pardon the pun) when the hotel wouldn’t let us check in for another five hours, so instead we used the lobby bathroom to change into summer clothes (it was about 42 degrees), and then spoke to the concierge about how to get to the archaeological site.
In my mind Pompeii was a ruin in the middle of nowhere. I envisaged that you would drive to the ruins, park in the parking area, and then make your way in. Therefore I was very surprised to find suburbia and a shopping district completely surrounding it for miles. Seriously. It’s smack bang in the middle of the town. I don’t know why this surprised me so much, but it did.
The concierge told us the best place to park, and we followed her directions. This ended up being a bad decision. We thought all was going well because we found a spot in the car park, and the entrance was only a five minute walk away. We entered the gates and saw a queue of people, lining up to purchase tickets. On either side of the lines were dusty, glass buildings, and inside those buildings were the plaster casts of the people they found in the ashes.
We took photos while lining up in the heat of the day, and assumed all was well – until we got to the ticket office. No audio guides. No English maps. I had not travelled half way around the world to not know where I was or what I was seeing. We asked the attendant where we could get an audio guide and they told us at the entrance around the corner, so we decided to set off and find the correct entrance.
We walked. And walked. And walked. Forty-five minutes later we saw an entrance that had busload after busload of people heading through a gate.
“This must be it!” we thought, already exhausted from the long walk in the midday sun.
We followed the crowd like two ignorant sheep, and it wasn’t until it was too late that we discovered that once again we had come to the wrong entrance.
By this stage I didn’t care about the audio, I just wanted to go inside. Therefore, our visit to Pompeii was not everything I had hoped it would be, but it was still magnificent.
The ancient Roman city of Pompeii was completely covered a thick carpet of volcanic ash in the year 79AD. Mount Vesuvius, a volcano close to the town, erupted. The first thing to happen was the explosion. The Volcano ejected a large amount of debris at least 12 miles into the sky. To put it in context, that was more than double the size of Mount Everest. This covered the township in volcanic ash 16 feet deep.
After that hot, deadly pumice and volcanic ash (at an estimated 704 degrees Celsius) came rolling down the mountain at 112km per hour. Those who may have survived the initial blast could not survive this. Nobody could survive that kind of heat. That’s four times hotter than your average cooking temperature for a roast lamb!
The eruption lasted for 24 hours, and it was estimated over 2,000 people died.
The eruption, and subsequent devastation turned the land into a time capsule. Those who died remained in the position they died in until 1748 when a group of explorers rediscovered the site and were surprised to find that underneath a thick layer of dust, the city was mostly intact!
Archaeologists recovered art, clothing, pottery and of course, the famous casts of the bodies of those who died.
But is it haunted? HOW COULD IT NOT BE?
The weirdest thing that happened to me was the heatstroke I got. I started to get a migraine, which quickly turned into “I’m going to vomit” feelings. My sister dragged me to the first aid centre, much to my reluctance, and convinced the medics to give me drugs.
“You like paracetamolo?” I was asked in broken English. By that point I would’ve taken their first born child had the offered it, so I said yes.
They put one tablet in my hand, and I thought that it would do exactly nothing. WOW... so Italian Paracetamol is a lot stronger than the stuff you buy at the chemist for $1.00 a packet! Twenty minutes after taking it I was bouncing off the ruins, having the time of my life and seeing stars!
The Pompeii ruins close at dusk, but we waited until the very last minute before saying goodbye and heading back to our hotel. It was an amazing experience, and I hope that by the time Mount Vesuvius erupts again (which WILL happen, it is long overdue), scientists have managed to discover an early warning plan to enable the hundreds of thousands who now live in that area to evacuate!
More photos from Peet's Pompeii visit