You wouldn’t expect a city that was buried in 20 feet of ash and pumice nearly 2000 years ago to be making headlines today, but Pompeii has proven that it still has a few surprises waiting to be unearthed.
Thanks to what must rank as the world’s oldest TripAdvisor review–“I had a great meal”—scrawled on the wall of an ancient Italian villa in October 79 AD, we now know that the volcanic explosion that destroyed Pompeii took place two months later than historians have always thought. The graffiti was recently unearthed during new excavations in the ill-fated city, where an estimated 16,000 people perished when Mt. Vesuvius blew its lid.
Previously, the cataclysmic eruption was dated to August 24, 79 AD, according to a letter written by a witness named Pliny the Younger (which would actually make a great name for a rapper). Experts are now chalking the discrepancy up to medieval monks (who were notoriously fond of their mead) who transcribed Lil’ Pliny’s letter. Apparently, they didn’t know their August from their October. Whoops!
Here are five more facts about Pompeii–touching on everything from phallic signposts to quirky personal hygiene–which your high school textbook never revealed…
Every year, 2.5 million tourists make the pilgrimage to Pompeii, to walk among the ruins and tread the same cobbled streets as this city’s ancient denizens. They come to touch the two-thousand year-old bricks and marvel at the wealth of recovered artifacts, including casts of many of the volcano’s victims, frozen in time as they drew their last breaths.
The man who made the city come to life for me is Salvatore Spano, a guide who has been leading tours of Pompeii for more than 40 years. He’s a walking Wikipedia, a master of historical minutia, but I’ve boiled down his wealth of knowledge to a wee list of “Top Five Entertaining Facts,” which you can whip out at your next cocktail party to amaze and delight your friends…or bore them into a hasty retreat if they overstay their welcome and threaten to empty your liquor cabinet.
I’ll let you be the judge. Read on. (more…)
I’m soaking up the warm Italian sunshine on a terrace at Villa Jovis, a Roman villa built for the Emperor Tiberius more than two thousand years ago on the isle of Capri. A lone cloud mars an otherwise faultless blue sky, hovering theatrically like a whiff of smoke above Mount Vesuvius, which towers over the mainland Amalfi Coast.
“That was put there by the tourism office,” quips a French tourist, who fell into step alongside my husband Scott and I on our arduous trek to the ruins. Considering all the huffing and puffing we had to do to reach this impressive maze of crumbling walls and archways, I wonder if there’s not a nimbus of steaming perspiration rising from my sizzling flesh, as well. (more…)