Postcard 33: Pompeii, Italy

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It’s one thing to read about history in a high school textbook. It’s another to see it with your own eyes. Pompeii was one of those of those elusive places that I could only visualize from the photographs in my history books but had no idea what it could possibly feel like to be there in person.

Lucky for me, Pompeii was on our Trafalgar itinerary as one of the last stops on our tour.

The main attraction of the city is the archaeological site of Pompeii, which, upon setting foot on the property, literally feels like taking a trip back in time.

Let’s rewind to 79 A.D., when a catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the entire Roman city of Pompeii under volcanic ash and literally baked the bodies of the entire population. The town had been practically wiped away from the face of earth.

It wasn’t until 1748, when a group of explorers arrived in the region and began to dig. Underneath all the ash was Pompeii, which appeared virtually the same as it had been 2,000 years before: Skeletons were frozen in place, and even everyday objects littered the streets. Today, centuries later, the excavation of Pompeii continues, and roughly a third of the city remains buried.

Pompeii is dubbed the city frozen in time, and that’s exactly what it felt like touring the archaeological site.

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Following our tour guide, we made our way to ruins of an amphitheater, the earliest known permanent stone amphitheater in Italy. Examining some of the pieces of stone that composed this theater, I was flabbergasted at how I could be standing on something built so long ago, in a time period that I couldn’t even comprehend.

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Our guide then led us through the town, pointing out buildings that were once homes — all while cautioning us to watch our step as the uneven cobblestones made for a precarious tightrope walk.

Turning a corner, he led us into a separate open-air space that housed what everyone had been anticipating since we started the tour: a plaster-covered human body encased in glass.

Unclear of whether this particular body was of a man or woman, one thing was for certain: Its position — lying face down with its arms shielding its face from the ash — epitomized the final, agonizing moments of the eruption.

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The room went nearly silent as members of the group circled the glass encasement, analyzing and taking photos of the body.

Our group continued on through the town, where our guide showed us everything from a brothel — with illustrated depictions of sex acts on the walls … scandalous! — to a simple outdoor fountain.

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Finally, we arrived at the Pompeii forum, the main square of the city, where there was a clear view of Mount Vesuvius in the background.

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It was surreal. Just seeing how close Mount Vesuvius was to where I was standing, I couldn’t even fathom the destruction and devastation the town went through after that infamous eruption of 79 A.D. If an eruption happened today, it would be nearly impossible to escape it.

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Seeing Pompeii for myself was an eyeopening experience that I was beyond grateful for. Sure, I learned a lot in my history classes, but there’s nothing like seeing with your own eyes some of the homes that the ancient Roman citizens lived in or stepping on the actual cobblestone installed thousands of years ago. It was history right before my eyes.

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