Europe 2016-Day 26…Naples, Vesuvius and Pompeii

We were excited as we got to sleep in this morning as our tour wasn’t until 8:30.  The cruise shop had docked in Naples of which we didn’t get to see much of the city except to drive through.  However, our tour guide told us the following…In 800 BC the Greeks settled the area and called it Napoli meaning New City.  Volcanic activity caused the ground to drop and sea water flooded the area causing the city to be moved. During the 12th century, it was the capital of the lower kingdom in the Roman/Greek culture.  The king got sick so he moved to Naples as it had better air.  The citizens followed.  The castle was built near the port, but it was hard to defend so a new castle and monastery were built on a hill.  Naples is protected from volcanic gases as the winds blow towards the mountain and away from the city.  Naples was the most heavily bombed city in Italy during World War II so many of the buildings are 1945 or later.

There are 4 million people who live in the area and an additional 1 million who live around the volcano.  The soil is extremely rich and very good for growing lemon trees.  Combine the soil with the climate and farmers get 4 crops during the long growing season.

Our bus headed to Vesuvius.  The roads were extremely narrow with lots of switchbacks.  The road was blocked due to a bus engine over-heating, but our driver was able to go around.  We enjoyed the scenery as we climbed the road up the volcano.  From our guide we learned that Mama Mia in Italian means OMG in English, so Cindy and Jerie both looked at Jim and said Mama Mia, as he was wearing his shirt inside out.

Traffic was very congested and it was amazing that the there was enough room for the buses and RVs to pass.  The bus drove up the road, climbing 3000 feet.  It dropped us off at the visitors center.  Some people ride bikes up the mountain to this point.  You have to hike from here to the midway point where we would meet a mountain guide.

We had read before we came, that the vendors would offer you walking sticks for the climb up and when you came back down they would demand a “rental” fee.  We took our own sticks but many people took the vendors sticks and then had to pay later.  The path was steep, but the views and flowers were awesome.

We were one of the first groups to reach the halfway station and they would not be leaving with a tour for 25 minutes.  So we decided to hike to the top and join the group later.

The clouds moved in just as we arrived at the top.  The crater is fairly large with small amounts of steam coming from the side slopes., meaning it is active but it is not in an eruption stage.  The last eruption was in 1944.  A large cone had formed just prior to the eruption, but was destroyed.  Mount Soma is Vesuvius’ sister mountain.  In Greek times it was flat.  The saddle between the 2 Mounts is called Big Nose plain, as the mountain looks like a nose and 2 lips.  The 2 Mounts used to be one mountain, but the eruption of 79 AD changed that to distinct Mounts.  The crater at the top is 250 meters deep. The clouds made if difficult to see Pompeii.

And could barely see Naples.

There is a gift shop on top, that if you buy a post card, they will stamp it with a Vesuvius “passport stamp” for free.  The card was cool, but wow it shows how steep the path is.IMG_20170427_195802018

You can hike as far as the 1281 meter (4202 feet) point.  There was a little girl who told us that she would put down rocks for us to follow to hike back down the mountain.

It was time to hike back down…we say lizards, more beautiful flowers, and a bit better view of Naples.  The steep walk was tough on the knees.

We found our bus and were delayed, due to people haggling over their walking stick”rental”.    We headed toward Pompeii and took a tour of a cameo jewelry shop that was started in 1885.  We watched a video on how the design is carved on seashells. The shell is glued on a stick to be carved.  It is then removed and soaked in oil.  They were gorgeous, but very expensive.

We ate lunch…very good spaghetti and just okay vegetables.  Next to the outdoor cafe was a vendor area.  We walked over and they had very nice jewelry made from volcanic stone.  We had a very nice lady help us and we figured that it was her shop.  When Jerie finally picked out her bracelet, another lady helped us.  The first lady came over and said, “Why didn’t you buy from me”.  Okay, we felt awful, because she didn’t own the shop and the second lady got credit for the sale.  We tried offering her a tip, but she said it was bad luck to accept something for nothing.  Lesson learned.

From the marketplace, we walked to the entrance of Pompeii.  It covers 160 acres and is surrounded by Mediterranean pines or umbrella trees.  It was settled in 200 BC, but residents did not realize that the Mount was a volcano, even though they were building on old volcanic flows.

At the time of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, there were some between 11,000 – 20,000 residents in the city.  Only about 2/3 of the city has been excavated from the ash.

The world’s first amphitheatre was built here in 80 BC, around the same time it became a Roman colony.  The Romans liked to fight and conquer people, it had nothing to do with religious or political beliefs, they just liked to fight.  Gladiator fights took place in the amphitheater, but unlike in Rome, gladiators were considered slaves.  Citizens were segregated according to social standing.  Women were included in this segregation.

Pompeii was an important sea port, so some citizens were quite wealthy.  Their houses were very nice.  Marble was very expensive, so most buildings, had “fake” marble.  Seat in the front of a house, meant you were extremely wealthy.  The houses contained very erotic wall murals.

The houses of the other residents were small and not as ornate.

Most of the streets were paved.  The wagon wheels were made of metal so they created ruts in the stone.  These ruts were still visible.  There were stepping stones to walk on so that if water was flowing down the street, you could cross and not get wet.  Slaves had to clean all the city streets after it rained. An unusual feature we saw on the street, was a penis carved into the stone that pointed towards a brothel…interesting advertising.

The city had a sewer system as well as running water.  A human face on the public fountain meant it was clean water, an animal head on the fountain meant it was not clean water.

We walked to the city square.  Leading up to elections that took place in March, for 1 week candidates would walk around the city in white clothing to show how pure they were.  It was very important for them to be seen in the city square.  We thought it was quite surreal that from here, you had a perfect view of Vesuvius.

In 79 AD, Pompeii was still recovering from a massive earthquake that occurred several years earlier.  It had destroyed a portion of the city.  So an increase in earthquakes occured before the volcanic explosion, the citizens did not think much about it.  15 days before the eruption an earthquake was so strong it broke the aqueduct, so there was no running water in the city. A letter was found that was interrupted by Monks, indicating that the volcano exploded at 1:00pm on 8/27/79 AD.  However, an Emperor’s coin was found showing the harvesting of grapes and this didn’t occur until October.  Perhaps the Monks interrupted the letter incorrectly and the eruption really took place on 10/24/79 AD.    The massive eruption made the day seem like night, blocking the sun. Where the monastery is now located, this hill was created in one night during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.


12-20 feet of ashes fell on the city in the ensuing hours, collapsing the roofs of the houses and burying the citizens who were hiding inside.  People tried to leave by boat, but a massive tsunami swept them away.  About 12 hours after the initial eruption, a gas cloud engulfed the city killing everyone in its path in 3 seconds.  The Romans arrived 1 month after the eruption, saw that the town was gone, and pillaged whatever marble they could find.

The area lay undisturbed for over 1500 years.  During the reign of King Charles III of Spain, who later became King Charles VII of Naples, a large excavation project took place.  The objects that were beneath the ash had been preserved due to lack of moisture and air.  These artifacts provide a detailed view of life in the city.  During the excavation, plaster was used to fill in the voids and cavities in the ash layers that once held human remains.  This allows us to see the exact position of the person or animal at the time of the explosion.

In the process of pumping plaster into the voids, a casting of a girafee was created.  There were also skeletons of people chained in their prison cells. In one house, 1038 gold coins were discovered, which shows how fast people were trying to flee.  There were many items on display that were recovered during excavation.

Our time in Pompeii was interesting yet heart-breaking. The people had no warning. Most did not suffer, but there still is an over-whelming sense of sadness.  Due to the activity of Mount Vesuvius, an observation station was constructed in 1841, although the last major earthquake was in 1962. Modern-day plans include; a large highway that has been constructed to evacuate people.  In case of evacuation, you are not allowed to leave by boat, for fear of tsunamis.  Every city within the volcanic zone, is assigned a city to evacuate to.

We walked back to the market and while waiting for a bus, we enjoyed some fresh lemonade from the local trees.  They were huge lemons and it was strong lemonade!!

With our last view of Mount Vesuvius, we boarded the ship.20160604_160939

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