Day 69: Sorrento/Pompeii
I left my hostel around 8:30am and took the Circumvesuviana train to Pompeii. I got there around 9:00am, about 30 minutes after they opened, and had to wait in a line about 50 people long. I decided not to get a guided tour because they provided pretty detailed maps along with a booklet guide, which had a page for every important site, along with a number which matched up to a number on the map.
I walked through the entrance and quickly realized I made a good decision to spend a whole day instead of just the afternoon. I never realized how big Pompeii is; the city had a population of 20,000 and you could easily spend eight hours walking around and seeing everything listed in the booklet. Because the city was covered in ash when Mt. Vesuvius erupted on August 24th 79 AD, the city remained largely undiscovered until the 16th century. Because of this, it’s one of the best preserved Roman cities with many important sites still intact.
The people of Pompeii had no idea what was happening when Mt. Vesuvius started erupting – as far as they were concerned, it was just another mountain. There is no Latin word for volcano. People didn’t know whether to leave or stay, decisions that would ultimately decide the fate of their lives. Many people who stayed were killed by collapsing buildings; the Roman buildings were built to withstand rain water, not hundreds of pounds of volcanic rock. Those who fled were also killed also by the falling rocks, as well as the poisonous gas. It was the worst natural disaster in Roman history.
I saw the main sites (the forum, the basilica, the great theatre, the public baths, and the amphitheater where gladiators would fight) and many of the minor ones. Most of the sites were open, with a few exceptions due to renovation. I also saw the Garden of the Fugitives, which displayed casts of the victims. In the 1860s, Giuseppe Fiorelli introduced the plaster cast method in which liquid plaster was poured into the cavity left in the bed of ashes by the gradual decomposition of the victim’s body. As the plaster solidifies, it reproduces what the body’s shape was at the time of death.
I ate lunch at the on-site cafeteria, and visited more sites in the afternoon. The weather turned out to be nice, with sunny skies and a nice breeze sweeping through the ruins. After visiting a small museum, I took the train back to my hostel at St. Angello. While walking to my hostel, I tried viewing some of the pictures I took at Pompeii but my camera wouldn’t turn on. The red busy light that shows when the camera is writing to the card stayed on and wouldn’t go off unless I took out the battery. I played with it for awhile back at the hostel, but I could only get the autofocus and flash to work; the LCD screen wouldn’t work and it also wouldn’t take any pictures. After 2.5 months of traveling, I’m pretty sure my camera is dead. I’ve had it since January ’09, and because it will cost about $250 to repair it, I’ll probably buy a new one instead.
When I buy a new camera, I’ll probably buy an updated version of mine instead of buying the same one, probably the Canon 550D. I thought about buying it in Italy, but I only have a week left and it would be much more expensive than buying it in the US ($1000 compared to $800). Also, the manual would be in Italian and the charger would have a European plug on it, not to mention the warranty likely wouldn’t carry over. It looks like I’ll be spending the last week of my trip without taking any pictures.
Luckily, the pictures I already took turned out to be fine, but I’m still left with a broken camera. I messed with my camera for a couple more hours and tried to update the firmware, but I gave up and fell asleep around midnight. Tomorrow I am taking a train to Cinque Terre and spending three nights there before taking a night train to Paris.