Pompeii, Italy

My Glimpse Into a Buried City


September 2005

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We arrive at the gates of this testament to the greatness of the Roman Empire. You can still see the vestiges of its splendor, even now, so many centuries later. I’m already speechless with awe as we cross the threshold hold into this time warp. My mind begins to wander and imagine the buildings not as ruins, but as they were – grand and ornate, teeming with the metropolis of life it so clearly was.

I am struck remembering the tragic history of the place I studied in painstaking detail in my books, and I can’t help but wish to weep. So many lives snuffed out in the blink of an eye. Yet, ironically there is also gratitude. This great tragedy is a treasure to us here and now. I feel guilty in some ways, but as I reach down and touch the worn stones of the street – with the grooves of hundreds of chariot wheels leaving their mark – I swear I can still feel their movement clacking over the pavement. I look up in reflex, as if at that moment one will be thundering towards me.

What an extraordinary gift carved out of such horrific events.

We wander further inside this massive living tomb – because that is what it is, a tomb for those many souls lost. The stamp of ordinary life is everywhere. We see family homes, kitchens, bedrooms, even a type of eating establishment that echoes our own fast food services of today. Pompeii is a gold mine of these cultural nuances that somehow connect me personally to this ancient time and place. I love every minute, and I somehow try to soak its splendor in through the rays of the warm September sun, as if the heat and light will transfer the city’s magic into me.

197077_503715523974_8538_nWe walk through to an open green area and are surrounded by new olive trees – of the same variety they would have grown during the city’s existence. It feels like coming full circle, using the land as it once was used and breathing new life into it. Not knowing any better, I reach up and pick an olive from a long hanging branch and bite into it. Instead of that sharp, briny flavor I love so much, my taste buds are interrupted with the blunt bitterness its uncured meat leaves on my tongue. It replaces my romantic ideas of eating olives in Pompeii in the southern Italian sun, and instead, I’m reminded what happened here. The bitterness lingers, and I keep it with me like a talisman, as we venture further into the buried city.


We’ve been walking all day now, only stopping to eat the homemade ‘paninis’ we packed away in our backpacks. I feel like I’ve been assaulted by my senses from every angle. My eyes can’t take in enough, can’t hear enough, or feel the ancient stones enough to sufficiently imprint them on my memory. But, it’s not over. We’ve arrived at the real tombs – the petrified remains of the city’s inhabitant who never stood a chance.

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They are staring back at me from the Plexiglas. They are fossils, but they are still so human, so eerily alive. A flash of the faces from the magnificent frescoes and mosaics of the city moves through my mind. Could it be them? Could their likeness have been
captured before their demise – those two lovers embracing, the mother and her child? 199725_503715538944_943_n
I secretly hope so. That they’re legacy is left in those ornately decorated walls. I wish it for them like a silent prayer for their souls long gone. I feel like somehow I know them now, after walking their same streets. They are just like me; we are no different.

Our whole group is a bit subdued now as we make our way towards the exit. There is no sugar coating what happened to the people of Pompeii. We won’t soon forget those forms that were once real people, forever petrified in their final moments. But, it doesn’t eclipse our content at coming here to see this place. It’s as if we have paid homage to them by going, like the end of a pilgrimage that began with the pages of a book.

You must come yourself to see this buried city, to worship at its magnificence in ancient modernity, and pay homage to those who never left this giant tomb so we might learn, love, and appreciate. Pompeii is a jewel among the centuries of heritage left behind in this world. Go discover the treasures that were found buried deep under the layers of volcanic ash. You will feel connected to them, as I did, and you will span space and time, uniting with cultures that came long before you.


 

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