There comes a time when you finally get to go to one of those places that has been RIGHT ON TOP of your bucket list since you could remember. I was so happy to cross off Pompeii when I went to visit. It was an absolutely incredible experience, enriched with history, culture and a lot of delightful cuisine. What really took my breath away was being able to see the ruins, filled with gorgeous mosaics, insights into Roman life back thousands of years ago, and the understanding that actually, there isn't too much different about us today as they were back then.
We started our trip in the town of Pompei (that's with one "i", distinguished from Pompeii, the site of the Roman ruins), it was charming, though with the presence of many international brands, interestingly! Our first stop was the gorgeous Shrine of the Virgin Mary of the Rosary of Pompei which was from the exterior, a pretty building at first, but when you entered, that was when the "wow" factor kicked in.
As you can see, the level of detail and intricacy of the interior of the Shrine is spectacular. Everywhere, you can see delightful Renaissance/Antiquity-inspired influences as well as gloriously angelic images. The amount of gold, when viewed in person, was a tantalising delight for the eyes.
Once you were able to see the interior of the dome, you can see a gateway to heaven. How beautiful is this storytelling, with such gorgeous and full colours? Sad that my camera was a little shaky to really make out the full details and of course, do this justice. However, absolutely stunning to see. It was a nice surprise to see something like this when we were mainly interested in coming for the Roman ruins. That's what I absolutely love about travelling, you never know what you'll come across next.
Another thing we got up to, on our second day, was reach the peak that was Mount Vesuvius. It was intimidating at first to be staring down at an active volcano. Well, if you're going to go, you might as well go by way of volcano. That's a pretty awesome death if you ask me. We walked part of the way, but it would have been impossible to reach the top. Resorting to hitch hiking, we were able to jump on board an Italian tour bus, pay our fare and get safely to the top.
As you can see (or rather not see, because my camera did not do this justice at all!), the view was absolutely incredible. Unfortunately, it was a little smoggy though. Han (my other half) and I were surprised to learn that this region of Italy was quite polluted. We did find at times the air could be quite choking. Hence, it's advisable not to visit during peak season, where people come in drones to see the historical wonder that is Pompeii. It was just humbling to think that when we were staring at gigantic Mount Vesuvius, this was where everything happened - where an entire city was buried under ash.
The next day, as the Roman sites tend to close quite early, we made our way to Herculaneum (a lesser known site) and the infamous Pompeii itself. It was phenomenal being able to compare the two, where Herculaneum was sort of a resort town for the extremely rich, and Pompeii being a powerful centre of commerce. We were overwhelmed with wonder at the charming Herculaneum, which was a much smaller site, but nonetheless had many treats in store. It was also much easier to see more of everything than it was at Pompeii.
Pompeii on the other hand, we spent hours there. I would definitely recommend going on a guided tour, which are unfortunately very expensive, but worth it. We splashed a lot of cash hiring a university student who was studying archeology - it was great because we were able to get a context of everything we saw. We saw the red light district, the intricate poet's mosaic (the renowned image of the dog, which sadly I took a horrible picture which I am ashamed to reveal), their version of McDonald's (thermapolai, fast food restaurants where Pompeiians would grab, eat and go) which were everywhere, I think the guide mentioned that there was literally around 200 of them littered through the city, and the "Pompeii for the future" still underground.
"Pompeii for the future" is a marvellous and incredible concept. Large sections of Pompeii still remain hidden to this day, and why? It's being preserved for the future. Pompeii suffered quite a bit of damage during the Second World War, and in realisation of this, Italians made a conscious decision to keep part of Pompeii for the future, should anything similar happen in the future. History is something so sacred and important, to know where we came from, and also to understand the progression of civilisation and from where we have inherited aspects of our modern life.
I revelled in seeing the amphitheatre and thinking of all the classical and powerful plays that audiences would have watched. What was really impressive was seeing their version of the coliseum which was so beautifully preserved and scale-wise, formidable. What I loved most, however, were the delicately painted frescoes, depicting everyday life and the divinities, as well as epic stories. We hardly saw a fraction of what Pompeii offered, given it was 170 hectares of land that it covered. It was easy to get lost, and just get overwhelmed by the scale of things - I just cannot wait to go back again to explore even more.
I only wish we had more time to visit the Museum of Naples, which I heard has so much to offer by way of art and relics from Roman Pompeii.