Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hidden History

Day 81

I still wasn't feeling 100 percent when I woke up this morning but I simply wasn't going to sit around and do nothing for another day. I got my act together and headed to Herculaneum. Ercolano, as it is called in Italian, was buried in 79 AD when Mt. Vesuvius erupted just as Pompeii was. Herculaneum is not as big because most of it is sitting under the present day city. I had wanted to see this since I went to Pompeii during my first trip to Europe.

The train ride was worse than any subway ride I had ever taken. It was a holiday and there were about a million teenagers all headed to the beach. Some of them were sitting on the train floor and some were even smoking. Later in the day I heard that the window's had been kicked out of some trains.

When I was at Pompeii I had been on a guided tour. I was looking forward to seeing this city at my own pace. However, I was glad to have had the guide before. The cities look quite similar and I was able to figure out on my own what most of the buildings had been.

It took some time for me to stumble upon anything more than ruined buildings. The mosaics I found were stunning, if only in pieces. Many of the buildings were completely open to exploration. It was fun trying to guess what each room was used for and who may have lived here. Still, it was sad knowing that the people who were here died pretty horrible deaths.

Apparently the early archaeologists were more focused on retrieving the most beautiful mosaics and didn't care if they destroyed the other bits around it. This left a lot of things damaged and the context of many objects difficult to understand. Some of the structures had roofs built on them to help preserve them. A lot of research and conservation is being done on the site right now. Some of the mosaics were just amazing and I wonder if they will ever be able to dig out the rest of the city. Who knows what they might find.

When I went to grab my ticket for the ride back the man behind the counter blew kisses at me. I was glad that there was glass in between us.

After having seen both Herculaneum and Pompeii I decided to visit the Archaeological Museum where all the stuff that was found at the sites is kept. This museum was something else. I had thought that the mosaics at the sites were good, but they were nothing compared to what the museum had. Most of them are thought to be copies of Greek originals. Still, I think that some of them must have been the perished Romans. I kept wondering if I had intruded on one of their homes.

In the back corner was a room called the secret room. You were meant to book ahead, but I just walked in and no one said anything. This room was filled with naughty statues, mosaics and other decorations. Most of it apparently came from brothels and taverns, but some of it was from rooms for rent and private gardens. This stuff was dirty.

Along with the mosaics I also really enjoyed the statues. Many of them were made out of the black rock from the volcano. Some of their eyes were painted blue and the stares were piercing.

In the basement was the oldest Egyptian collection in Europe. It wasn't big like the British Museum, but it was still quite nice. I especially like the mummies. They reminded me about the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum. When they were killed by the ash their decaying bodies formed a space in the rock. When these molds I guess, are found they are filled in with plaster so that the people can be studied. I asked if they were there, but apparently they are on tour someplace.

I was done at this point and headed back to the hostel. I didn't notice the setup at first, but Giovanni had cooked dinner for everyone. We even had watermelon for dessert. After we had eaten he pulled out his guitar and started singing easily recognizable songs, mostly by the Beatles. He also made the Aussies sing a song about vegimite. Giovanni tried to get someone else to play guitar but no one else could. One girl mentioned that she played the violin. Giovanni disappeared for a moment and returned with one. He even passed out lyrics to Italian songs and we did our best to not murder them. After the second round of Funiculi Funicula most people turned in for the night. This really was like visiting Giovanni and not just crashing at a hostel.

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