Travel: Vesuvius and Pompeii

Today, I finally achieved my goal of hiking along the side of an active volcano, and exploring a two-millennia¬†old roman village. We will get to the emotions ignite later. Getting there was a challenge, however, because they shut down the metro system without any notice. I was forced to cram myself into two different buses (transfer) so that I could reach the train station. What should have taken a mere half hour, ended up in consuming an hour and a half of my morning. ūüė¶

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Finally, I arrived on Mt. Vesuvius, after getting to the Ercolano Train station, and hopping a 20-min shuttle drive up the side. I won’t lie, it was a little¬†anticlimactic¬†for me. The 30-min hike up the rim was steep, but riddled with gravel and dust, and no protection from the¬†beating¬†sun. The rim of the volcanic crater slopped off into this massive hole with disproportionate sides, sparse vegetation, and nothing close to an imposing atmosphere.

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The volcano is best known for it eruption in AD 79 that completely smothered and buried the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The activity ejected a sprawling cloud of stones, ash, and fumes to a height of 20.5 miles; Molten rock and pulverized pumice were spewed at a rate of 1.5 million tons/sec, releasing a 100,000x the thermal energy released by the Hiroshima Bombing.

Today, it is on only volcano on the european mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. It is regarded as one of the most dangerous in the world due to the dense population of 3,000,000 people and its tendency towards explosive (Plinian) eruptions.

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Descending from the volcanic slopes, I hopped a train to reach my next destination. Unfortunately, the signage was not clear, and it took a bit longer due to having to hop off and go back in the former direction. I did meet two british teachers who were on holiday for the season, and we enjoyed a very nice chat about employment and careers. Somehow I always manage to converse with kindly middle-aged people; I just have that kind of personality.

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Arriving at the Pompeii Scavi, it is difficult to describe how much square footage this city encompasses. It is believed that the town was founded in 6th or 7th century BC and was captured by the romans in 80 BC. When it was destroyed 160 years later, the population had exploded to 20,000 with a complex water system, amphitheatre, gymnasium, and a port.

Evidence indicating the destruction comes from a surviving account from a letter written by Pliny the Younger. He saw a firsthand account of the eruption from a distance across the bay, and described the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder, an admiral of the Roman fleet who tried to rescue citizens. The site was then lost for 1500 years before being rediscovered in 1599. Buried objects have been well-preserved for thousands of years due to the lack of air and moisture.

The  Pax Romana civilization was extremely intelligent in their urban design:

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White Marble to reflect the moonlight, so citizens could walk the streets at night.

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Raised stones, so citizens could cross the streets above the much of animal refuse and garbage.

 

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The first documented brothel in the world. (Okay, maybe not innovative, but certainly a historical achievement).

 

At the end of the day, I just couldn’t get over the fact that it was these humble two feet, that traipsed across the streets of a centuries old city riddled with heritage and tragedy.2013-05-28 10.50.57

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Travel: Roman Ruins of Provence

I just finished the France part of my trip, so I am back-posting amid a week of spotty WiFi. I legitimately had to get something at McDonald’s every night so that I could coordinate the next leg of my trip, leaving not so much time to keep my posts regular. I spent a few day’s traipsing the Roman Ruins in Provence.

Provence’s history dates back to the Roman Era in which it was the first province they established beyond the Alps. The outstanding architecture that still exists today is best attributed to the Pax Romana, a movement initiated by¬†Caesar Augustus¬†that was seen a period of peace and minimal expansion by military forces. It lasted from about 27 BC to 180 AD, a length of two centuries.

It is not hard to see the distinct culture of this heritage-filled region, and the lasting impact that the Romans have had; from the Aqueducts, to the Temples, to the¬†Theaters¬† their construction methodology is precise to a tee, this has enabled the structures to last thousands of years with little weathering. This is in sharp contrast to the asian-style of construction, if you’ve ever been to the Great Wall, the rocks are jagged,¬†disproportionate¬† and merely thrown together in a pile, some of the slopes require you to hike up an 80 degree grade!

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Arena of Nimes

Just imagine when this immense arena was used to proclaim the glory of Rome through the battles of gladiators versus beasts!

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BullFighting

Interestingly enough, I did not get the opportunity to watch bullfighting when I was in Spain, but the Nimes Arena is now a popular attraction for it, and we managed to watch the youngsters take on ferocious bulls. We did not expect, however, that they would actually slaughter the poor creatures, it turned out to be a pretty gory experience