Ancient ruins give a lecture on their history. Will we learn the lesson?
|The Walls Can Talk
We had been buried for such a long time. We died that day, my sisters and I, on August 24, 79 AD. Together we all suffered a terrible death with the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Lots of people are more familiar with the wild child of the family, Pompeii. Everyone knows that Pompeii was a party town. It was known for its “Red Light” district. For those that are not familiar with that term, you might want to consult with your parents. I think that they would be more suited than I to explain that fact to you. Suffice it to say, her reputation and ruins are the more popular destinations for present day tourists. My other sister is Stabiae and I am Herculaneum.
I was uncovered first. I don’t want to say discovered, because our locations had been known for centuries. My exact location was found by accident. A farmer was digging a well for his orchard and artifacts were brought up with dirt from the well shaft. Some artifacts had been found over the centuries, but the well shaft led to the excavation of old Roman villas and eventually ruins that can be seen today. Most of present day Naples, or Napoli to the Italian locals, is situated directly over my location. The juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern is quite a sight to see! We were not so different from you. Maybe we did not have the modern inventions of electricity and neon and your automobiles and such, but we were quite modern for our times.
I was a destination resort for the elite of the Roman populace at the time. My sister Pompeii, catered to everyone, especially those looking for a rowdy good time. Stabiae was the quietest of the three of us. She was home to the farmers of the time. Olive orchards, farms, grain storehouses, wineries and mills were her claim to fame. I also have to say, she seemed to suffer the least of us. The ash left behind was actually a good thing for her. It helped to improve her soil. Her peoples were wiped out in the eruption, but her region recovered much quicker. No such luck for Pompeii and I. The funny thing though is, Pompeii and I have retained our name. Stabiae is now known by another name, Castellammare de Stabia near Sorrento. She has become the vacation destination that her sisters once were.
I see how you are looking at me. You see the stone buildings and cobbled streets, but look closely at those structures. There is the gymnasium. The floors are lined with mosaic tile. There is a changing room and spaces for the users to put their clothes. Everyone seems so surprised that my people could be neat. They were quite civilized for ancient peoples.
Further down the street, there are a few places to get something to eat and drink. As you can see, the counters are made of marble and those holes there? They held pots that would cook your food to order. That building you see across the street with the list of prices for wines? My inhabitants could go there to have a drink and to meet with friends or business people to catch up on the news of the empire.
The last shop on the street is the local laundry. Do you see that big wooden machine in the center that looks like a big screw with handles? That was used to press the clothes of the people who used this service. I have heard people say over the centuries, that they will never complain about using an iron ever again. I have absolutely no idea what an iron is, but I can assure you, the slaves that had to turn this press day in and day out did not like their job either. They just never, ever let anyone know that they hated it. They preferred life to death.
Further up the streets, you will be able to go in and see some of the homes and villas that the inhabitants lived in. Take note of the floors and the walls. Mosaics tiles were the way most floors were covered and the walls have the remains of some of the murals that graced each home. Most of the homes on this side of Mt. Vesuvius have their second floors preserved. Visitors are always are surprised to see this, especially since there are no second floor structures that survived at Pompeii. My sister was destroyed with the hot gases of the pyroclastic flows of the volcano. Those gases blew away a lot of the higher structures. What was not blown away with the gases was destroyed by the weight of ash as it settled down on the town. Those same gases killed her inhabitants, but the ashes preserved the agony they suffered at their ends.
I did not suffer the indignity of the hot gases. Volcanic mud and lava was my destroyer and preserver. Some of my people were able to escape. I was a port town at one time. My excavators found the area that used to be by the shoreline, and the boathouses that were there. Unfortunately, they also found the remains of the inhabitants that were waiting for rescuers that never came. My excavators left them there as testimony to what can happen again.
When the tourist season is over, many scientist and scholars work on this site. There is more to me than what can be seen today. Most of my city lies under Napoli. I despair of my former glory ever seeing the light of day again. The current city would collapse and we might both be lost to history. But even if they never fully excavate my remains, there is still the chance that both of us will be lost forever.
Vesuvius is dormant, for now. She has rumbled to life as recently as the 1990’s. It was a mild eruption to be sure, but the men of science are worried. The city of Naples continues to grow and expand. Land is quite cheap on the sides of her mountain. Most people think that there will never be another massive eruption on the scale that killed the three of us. The scientists know otherwise. They monitor the volcano constantly. They also know that the next eruption could destroy the mountain altogether. They have tried to spread that message to people, but to no avail.
I do the same. I just hope that by touring my city and seeing the results of that destruction, you will understand that my people were not so different from you. That what happened to them can happen again. Maybe not in your lifetime, but it will happen. It is not a matter of if, but of when. I just hope that there is enough notice before hand that there will not be people waiting in vain for help that never comes. Like those skeletal remains in the boathouses on the old shoreline. Remember them.