GDST Travel Scholarships: Exploring Pompeii

In the second of our reports written by recipients of a GDST Travel Scholarship, this week we learn about Elise Johnson, a student at Birkenhead High School Academy, who travelled to Pompeii last Summer.

Over the summer of 2016 my two friends and I went on a trip to Pompeii. We planned this trip ourselves, including arranging accommodation, transport and the itinerary for when we were there.

Firstly, we decided to organise our trip to Pompeii as we were really interested in experiencing what life in Ancient Italy was like. This was extremely beneficial to myself as I am commencing a degree in Ancient History and Archaeology this September. For this reason I was very excited to be given the chance to go and visit these historical sites that are so important to my higher educational programme. We spent nearly two weeks in Pompeii and loved the whole experience immensely.

Our first outing was walking up Mount Vesuvius and witnessing the volcano that caused so much devastation throughout Pompeii and other regions. We were able to do this by getting an organised bus tour that went from the centre of Pompeii half way up Mount Vesuvius, and then walked the rest of it ourselves.

This was an amazing experience because the crater of the volcano was not anything like we imagined! We enjoyed this very much even though it was extremely hot when we were walking up! Venturing up the side of this Volcano really made us eager to go and visit the ruins of Pompeii, so that we could witness the devastation caused by the eruption of the volcano. Therefore, the next day we went to the ancient city of Pompeii and brought a three day destination pass so that we could visit all of the ruins on offer and making the most of the experience.

The first item on our tour of the remains was the ancient city of Pompeii. This was an incredible experience and I was overwhelmed by the scale of the city. There was so much on offer to see, meaning that we actually decided to expand this trip over two days, so that we could make the most of this ancient city. One of the most memorable of the sites was the ‘House of Menander’.

This was a large house which was a typical example of a home for a high- ranking family. From walking around this amazing structure it was evident that once, long ago, the art on the walls of this magnificent house would have been superb and full of colour and design. Some of the mosaics were still visible in the house even today. The House of Menander included scenes from the Iliad and the Odyssey. This was extremely interesting to me because I had studied both of these epic poems in my Classical Civilisation course at A2 level.

Another example of the great art still on offer, many centuries later, was included within the ‘House of Venus in the Shell’. This was an amazing piece of art work as it had been preserved so well that you could still witness all of the details and colours that had been used to create it. Many think that this exquisite picture was on display in this house due to the fact that Venus was the protectress of Pompeii. The Amphitheatre was also another site that could be marvelled at.

The amphitheatre in Pompeii is actually the oldest among those known in the Roman world. This was a magnificent site to see as it was so easy to imagine all the activities that used to go on in the huge arena. Moreover, the Forum is also one of the most memorable sites in the ancient city of Pompeii. The Forum was a huge area with so many different things to see in it, for example the Temple of Jupiter, which dominates the north side of the forum.

This is a remarkable site because also in the background you can see Mount Vesuvius. This temple is thought to have protected the public treasury of the city. Furthermore, the baths were also a very important and memorable site. The main baths are divided into two, one for the women and one for the men. This was an extraordinary site because it really gave you an insight into the daily life in ancient times.

The next day we visited Herculaneum. This is another wonderful ancient town to visit. Herculaneum was a lot smaller than Pompeii which meant that it was a lot easier to walk around and therefore could be done in one day. Herculaneum is a spectacular site as it is extremely well preserved. This may be due to the fact that Herculaneum was a wealthier town than Pompeii so a lot of the material used to build the houses was stronger and therefore more resistant, making it an impressive sight as so much of it is still there to see today. This is very evident when walking around Herculaneum as much of the art and architecture is still intact meaning that you, as an observer, are really able to imagine what life was like for people who lived in this town.

Also on display are skeletons of the people who once lived in the town. From viewing these remains we found out that many of these skeletons were found on the beach. This was due to people waiting for transport to get away, but unfortunately didn’t manage to escape in time. Moreover, other skeletons were found in underground basements which gives us an example of what people did to try and escape the erupting volcano. This sight is quite shocking, as there were so many bodies on display and from looking in these groves you can almost see how scared the people were as a lot of them are huddled together as they simply didn’t know what to do.

On our trip to Pompeii we also decided to visit two other ruin sights these included Stabia, which was an ancient Roman town. This sight is quite a famous one, as it is where Pliny the Elder travelled to and rescued citizens, trying to observe the eruption more closely. Unfortunately Pliny the Elder died on the shores of Stabia from the violent pyroclastic plume from Mount Vesuvius. Stabia is also an extraordinary site to witness because it is made up of many villas which have been preserved very well, meaning that it is easy to imagine how the upper classes lived in the ancient times.

The villas which are located in this small town are extravagant with huge garden areas, some of them even containing pools. Finally, the last ancient ruin sight we visited was located in Oplontis and it was called Villa Poppaea, which is an ancient Roman seaside villa. From visiting this sight we learnt that evidence has been collected proving that this villa was owned by Emperor Nero as his second home; due to this the Villa was extraordinary. The art and architecture was very well preserved and from visiting this sight, even after all these centuries, it is easy to see why this would have been a very grand and astonishing house to live in; one fit for an Emperor!

Finally, our accommodation in Pompeii was located very conveniently near a train station. We made sure that this was the case as we knew that we wanted to visit many well-known cities and sights, including the city of Sorrento. This was an incredible city, so beautiful and very easy to access. This is due to the fact that we were able to get a train straight into the centre of the city.

During our day trip we went around all the shops and tried to see as many of the stunning sights on offer before we had to retire to the beach because of the immense heat of the day. My friends and I had a fabulous day in Sorrento allowing ourselves to relax as well as see all the amazing seaside sights that were on offer.

Another day trip we were able to go on was one to the island Capri. We were able to visit this island as boats went from Sorrento, so therefore it was an easily accessible place to visit. Moreover, the ferries from Sorrento only took about thirty minutes therefore it didn’t take up most of the day. During our day trip to Capri we went on a boat trip around the island.

This was a great way to discover more about the island and see everything it had to offer. While we were on this trip we also learned that Capri too, had a historical background as it had been a resort since the time of the Roman Republic. This included going through the islands cave; a magical experience as it was like being transported into another world. On this boat trip we were also able to see Capri’s natural arch. We learnt that this was nicknamed ‘lovers arch’ and we were also able to journey underneath it. Also while on our day trip to Capri, we were able to visit all of the shops and the gardens of Augustus which were spectacular, before going back to Sorrento by boat and grabbing a bite to eat.