You probably all know the story of Pompeii: a thriving Roman town is buried in it’s tracks by ash and rock after a big volcanic eruption from nearby Mt Vesuvius. That’s the short version, but the longer version has a lot more to be learned. Buckle up, kids. It’s time for homeschool.
Wandering around the ruins of Pompeii, you realize the ruins are only a little bit about the day the volcano erupted, but a lot about how Romans built amazingly modern cities. In fact, at the time the volcano erupted in 79 AD, Pompeii was already 600 years old and was a busy Roman trading city. It had quite a thriving metropolis with running water, bath houses, brothels, fast food snack bars, theaters, streets that were logically laid out and even crosswalks to keep your sandals clean from water on the streets and animal poop from the carriages.
We headed to Pompeii after a day wandering around Naples. We were well fed and we were prepared for heat, dust and getting lost. We loaded ourselves down with comfortable shoes, water, sunglasses, a guide book, a map, an audio guide from Rick Steves and a splitter for 2 headphones. It was challenging to get 4 hard-headed family members to agree on one system of learning the stuff from all these various educational resources, so we split up. Haley and I hung out with goofy Rick Steves and Zoe and Daniel worked on the book and map. We stayed in the same general area and would meet back up again and swap facts. Honestly, learning all this stuff is hard work! But our system worked pretty well. I’m not too embarrassed to admit that Haley is a better auditory learner than I am, so it helped me to discuss what we heard with her, and then we would both relate it to Dan and Zoe and vice versa. Lots of layering needed for us to get it all.
When Rick Steves started his guide, he warned us that it was easy to get lost and he was not wrong. Pompeii is really confusing, there are few discernible landmarks, most streets look the same, it’s easy to lose your bearings and it’s just… BIG. It’s even bigger when you are deep in some remote part and your youngest child has to go to the bathroom after all that water. I half-jokingly suggested she go into one of the old Pompeii homes but she was not doing it. “I’m not peeing in Pompeii, Mom!” Geez, sorry. Just trying to solve a problem!
Despite being hot and lost and somewhat overwhelmed with info, we had a great time. It was not crowded, which was just awesome. Every once in awhile we’d run into someone looking at the same stuff, or the map, or looking lost. But most of the time we were pretty much on our own. That was really nice. And so, we enjoyed it immensely. I won’t repeat all of Rick’s audio guide (believe me, I’m tempted) but I will share some stuff with you via pictures.
We refer to our system of education as “layering”. We like to “layer” on information, like frosting a cake. You have to put the layers on one at a time, and wait for a bit before the next one goes on. So a few days after Pompeii we decided to climb up Mt Vesuvius, the volcano that caused the demise of the busy Roman trading towns below.
It was more of a hike than we had expected but the less-than-fit Shermans knocked it out of the park and got all the way up and back down with no issue. Well, there was one. At the beginning there was a guy with some oranges and I thought that might taste good so I asked for one. He picked up two, cut them in half, then made orange juice. Oh! OK! He wasn’t selling oranges, he was selling orange juice. I like orange juice so that’s all fine. The cost was 2.50 Euro and Dan gave him 3, but refused to take the 50 cent coin in return. Anyone who knows Dan knows his intense aversion to anything sticky. Well, this OJ-making guy had VERY sticky hands and Dan was having none of it. So the OJ guy got a nice tip. He was all smiles. I’m not sure he knew that Dan would have given him a 100 Euro tip if it meant not receiving change back from a sticky-handed Italian guy.
The last layer on our Pompeii Homeschool Cake was Herculaneum. These are some ruins in another part of the area, but were affected by the same volcano. The day that the eruption happened, Pompeii was buried in ash. The folks in the neighboring vacation village of Herculaneum probably saw it all happen and went “Wow. So glad that was not us.” Well, little did they know that the initial eruption created fissures along the flanks of the volcano, which quickly filled with water over the next day or so. When the water reached the magma… BOOM, an explosion occurred out the sides of the volcano. This then started a pyroclastic flow of clay and mud directly toward… you guessed it… Herculaneum. This clay can travel up to 100 MPH so they probably didn’t have a lot of time to flee.
The ruins are underneath the current city of Ercolano. The ancient city is only 1/10th excavated, but there are no plans to excavate any further, because it’s just not worth it. They would have to move all the residents and their homes after generations of people living there. Also, with modern science they know that building new stuff within the “red zone” of future eruptions of the 10th most dangerous volcano in the world, isn’t the wisest thing to do.
But we got to explore a little piece that has been excavated. Herculaneum was much wealthier than Pompeii and filled with really big, lavish houses, stores, baths and what was once beautiful views of the ocean. This was a great vacation town. It was fascinating to walk through it, see how people lived, the ingenious way the Romans captured, moved and saved water and how they spent their leisure time. We had a guide this time and enjoyed our tour immensely. Because the clay came on ground level and filled all the houses, it preserved them better and maintained much of the height of the original structures. But it also meant it was much harder to excavate.
And so, that’s a wrap on the Pompeii homeschool lesson. The layering is complete and the sprinkles are on the cake.