One of our main reasons for staying in Naples was to use it as a jumping off point to visit Pompeii. The boys and I had visited the special ROM exhibit: Pompeii, In the Shadow of the Volcano, in Toronto the summer prior to our trip. We had the chance to view “over 200 objects excavated from the ancient site, which gave you a glimpse into the daily lives of the people of Pompeii immediately prior to the great eruption, and the overwhelming toll paid by those who decided to stay”. It was an excellent exhibit and we were keen to see the actual location where these objects had been found.
When I was researching about Pompeii, a number of people commented that it was better to visit Herculaneum, another smaller city nearby which had also been buried by Mt Vesuvius. People argue that it is a smaller sight, and more interesting. This is largely due to the fact that, whereas Pompeii’s destruction was drawn out, Herculaneum’s was sudden and decisive. This is why furniture, food– even window and door frames– survive in actual, rather than cast form in Herculaneum.
We decided we would begin with a visit to Herculaneum and determine after that if we still wanted to visit Pompeii.
So, what did we think? Well, it was definitely interesting but I don’t think any of us were blown away. And before you curse us for saying that you need to understand why! I find it challenging to really appreciate looking at ruins, unless you understand what they represent. What was life like in Herculaneum and how do we know that from these ruins? I didn’t feel we’d done enough background work to truly appreciate what we were seeing. And since all artefacts had been removed and transferred to the museum, we needed to have a better idea of what we weren’t seeing as well. To help us get our heads around this, after our visit we stopped at a museum, a short walk from the sight. Here we learned a little more about the town prior to the eruption. Still, it felt more like something we had ticked off of our “to do” list. However, when I asked the boys if they were still eager to visit Pompeii they said they were. I think this was because they had heard it was so amazing and I just wasn’t certain they were going to be as interested as they thought! I decided I needed a way to make it come alive for them.
That evening we watched a couple of documentaries about Pompeii, which were really interesting, and I located a tour guide who catered to tours for kids. She came highly recommended on Trip Advisor. I hoped this would help to make our visit to Pompeii more meaningful for the boys.
The next day Roberta greeted us with a big smile as soon as we stepped off the Circumvesuviana Train from Naples. I was hoping she’d have a big Mary Poppins-style bag filled with tricks to keep the boys engaged throughout the day, but she carried a simple shoulder bag. She led us toward the main ticket station and we purchased our tickets for the day. (The boys were free.) As we started walking into the archaeological sight she shared with us that her family had been in this area for many, many years and she had come to Pompeii since she was a small child.
Once we were inside, Roberta said she would give us a little bit of background so we would better understand what we were going to see. She brought out her iPad to show us pictures, then she said there was going to be a contest between the kids and parents. Well, she had the boys there! They were keen to “outsmart” us on all of the questions. I personally felt she was a little biased to their answers but I won’t hold it against her!! (They seemed to get a candy even when they got close!)
For three hours we marched from one place to another learning about specific sights, what happened there and how archeologists know that. She had one of those amazing books that showed you what the ruins look like now and what it would have looked like back in 70 AD. We visited a bakery, the bathhouses, the theatre, homes, and various other places. But at each location she had a story to tell us that brought it to life.
At our final stop Roberta asked the boys one final question and said that they would receive a big prize if they could answer it correctly. Of course they did, and she handed them the amazing Pompeii Reconstructed book that she had been using on the tour with us.
I felt the boys (and Clay & I) got so much more out of our visit thanks to the tour. Rather than simply checking it off our of “must see list” we all felt that Pompeii and its story is something fixed in our long term memories.
To add to the excitement of our visit, we were thrilled to meet up with some friends of ours from Canada. They were chaperoning a group of students on a trip to Rome and their trip happened to coincide with the time we were there. We even managed to sit and have pizza with them another day!