Saturday, 21 November 2009


There are ruins and then there are Pompeii and Herculaneum.

History geeks that we are, we have seen a lot of ruins in our travels. But the volcano-buried towns below Mt Vesuvius take the cake. Ephesus, Paestum, Pergamon, Angkor, Luxor, Karnak, the Forum and the other ruins of Rome are all superb, but Pompeii and Herculaneum take it to another level.

Lauren and Stephen in Pompeii

With other ruins, almost always what you see are the big religious, military, cultural or political buildings - the likes of your Pyramids, baths, theatres, temples, palaces and castles. They´re splendid, but they don´t give you much of an insight into Joe Ancient´s everyday life. After all, what´s more likely to survive down the ages - Westminster Abbey or your flat? P & H were drowned in ash and mud respectively, so they were in a way frozen in time. Everyday life is there to see, from the ´pubs´ with their holes for amphoras of wine, to the ´beware of the dog´ mosaic in the doorway, to the frescoes on the walls. The pyroclastic flow that covered Herculaneum even partially preserved wood, bones and food.

Stephen in a building in Herculaneum. Note the 2000 year old charred beams.

Lauren, Stephen and I had a great time wandering around both towns, poking our heads in the doorways and bedrooms of 2000 year old houses, walking the cobbled streets with their cart ruts, doing silly jumping photos in the forum.

But every now and then we would get a reminder that a vast and terrible tragedy happened there. One house in Herculaneum is full of skeletons. In Pompeii the bones are gone, but the hollows left by the bodies remained to be filled in by plaster. Stilled in the moment of death, they are chilling.

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