Our day in Pompeii was to be the splash out (pardon the pun) day of our cruise. I organised a private tour of the ruins because I really wanted the children to appreciate this place – and for us to be able to go at our own pace.
Our guiding company – Lello & Co – organised a driver to collect us from our ship in Naples, then Lello himself met us at Pompeii. I can highly recommend him. He is funny, charismatic and, being an archaeologist, very knowledgeable. He had Master and Miss Gallivant transfixed for a full two and a half hours – no mean feat!
That one morning probably brought the Romans to life for the children in a way that years of studying books cannot. Lello thrilled them with his tales of life there – which seemed pretty damn cushy… well, until AD79 that is.
We started to get a real feel for these people – civilised, educated, sometimes barbaric and… highly sexed, judging by the brothels – which we steered clear of on this time as I remembered the incredibly explicit pictures on the walls from my last visit.
We walked along broad, cobbled streets scarred with rut marks made by chariot wheels and visited houses, including one belonging to a wealthy family. Vividly coloured frescoes still cover the walls and there’s a beautiful courtyard garden.
The huge Forum was the economic, religious and political centre of the city, and surrounding it there are streets lined with shops and restaurants where residents could stop by for a bowl of soup or a pizza – a big wood fired oven and terracotta counter sunk containers are still there to see!
There is a gladiator training ground, surrounded by the small cells that the unfortunate chosen ones lived in.
The public baths were also an important place for the locals to gather – both to socialise and get clean.
Amphitheatres here pre-date the Colosseum in Rome. The one we saw had a ‘sweet spot’ where the acoustics were perfect. We all experimented with standing a few feet away from it and saying ‘1, 2, 3’ and then standing on that spot and repeating it. The difference was incredible – as if you were holding a microphone. Mr Gallivant, deciding to show off, gave us instead a rendition of Italian opera, to the amusement of other tourists. Master Gallivant, at the awkward age of 14, looked at him as if he wished Vesuvius would strike again!
We learnt about the great innovations. Underfloor heating? They had it (and actually under the walls, too) as well as underfloor drains to remove dirty water and sewage from the city. As Lello said, ‘Madam, we invented nothing!’
Life was brought to a halt in this beautiful city when Mount Vesuvius expoded – according to Lello with a force greater than that of the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.
Many escaped but around 2000 perished. Perhaps most poignant of all was our view of two ‘bodies’ in glass cases. They are just a couple of many. They are, essentially, plaster casts surrouding real skeletons. The ash, that covered them for so many years, hardened around their forms. When they were found, the flesh had long gone, so plaster was poured into the hollows created, providing a perfect model of them as they died.
It was all a long time ago, I know, but it still brought a tear to my eye!
* Private tours of Pompeii with Lello & Co cost €140 (around £101) for up to four people, excluding entrance fees. We did a longer trip, which included transfers from Naples, the Pompeii tour, transfers to Vesuvius (you climb the last 25 minutes up to the crater), followed by transfers to a vineyard restaurant. This costs €450 euros (around £326) for four people, excluding entrance fees and lunch. Visit www.toursofpompeii.com or www.facebook.com/toursofpompeii