Hooray for Pompeii: the horrific history of this Italian city will have children swooning
The 20 years since my last visit to Pompeii seems like a long time, but is less than the blink of an eye in this city’s storied history. I was younger, single and childless. Now I’m older, married to Bridget and here with our two children, Laila, ten, and Ezra, five.
Everywhere we go feels like stumbling onto a movie set – from the bustling streets of Naples to the low-key glamor of the island of Ischia, where The Talented Mr Ripley was filmed.
But nowhere does it feel more cinematic than Pompeii. Two thousand years ago, the city, which is 14 miles southeast of Naples, was a bustling city of about 15,000 before it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, AD 79.
This is believed to have killed 16,000 people in Pompeii and other cities in the region, making it one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in history. The ruined city remained frozen in time until its discovery in 1748. Today around 2.5 million tourists visit the city every year.
Sarfraz Manzoor and his family were exploring the pictured ancient city of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 AD
Experience had taught me that when traveling with children, it’s always a struggle to cram in as much as possible before their attention wanders. The secret is not to overdo it – and to be selective. We were based in Naples and would do Pompeii in a morning. We had three hours to explore the ruins and called in help in the form of Umberto, a guide who was engaging, informed and most importantly infinitely patient.
We started on the south side of town, where Umberto pointed out one of the oldest sites – a 6th century BC Greek temple. “The temple stood nearly 700 years at the time of the eruption,” Umberto said.
Even before its destruction, Pompeii had a long history and I wanted to share it with our children, but they were already angry with me. Ezra was upset because I refused to buy him a replica wooden sword from one of the souvenir stands, and Laila was unhappy because so many other tourists were cooing at how cute Ezra looked.
Pompeii is 14 miles southeast of Naples pictured, which was Sarfraz’s base for his voyage
Sarfraz admired the “understated glamour” of the nearby island of Ischia, which is pictured where The Talented Mr Ripley is set
The ruined city of Pompeii stood still in time until it was discovered in 1748
Umberto bravely tried to tell a few details about the gladiator barracks, but the children ran ahead. He explained how important culture is to local people as we went to the Odeon or small theater. He pointed out where the performers would have stood.
The stone seats are remarkably well preserved. “There were three different seating levels,” Umberto explained. “The noble classes got the best, while the slaves and women were at the back – women were just ahead of slaves.”
Pompeii stretches over 164 hectares and it’s hard to understand that it wasn’t created for the benefit of tourists – but predates them by a few thousand years.
I was starting to worry about the kids’ attention spans, but Umberto came to my rescue. “Did you know that in Pompeii they clean clothes with pee?” he told them. That piqued her interest. It was true: human urine was used in the laundromats of Pompeii to remove grease from clothing.
Sarfraz’s “dedicated, informed and endlessly patient” guide, Umberto, took him and his family around the city. Pictured are the city’s public baths
“Umberto bravely tried to share a few details about the gladiator barracks (above), but the children ran ahead,” writes Sarfraz
Sarfraz and his family – his wife Bridget and their two children Laila, ten, and Ezra, five – in Pompeii
Laundromats, gyms, theaters – it was amazing to see how much of what we call modern services existed in ancient times. At the ruins of a bakery, Umberto showed us how flour is made by grinding wheat. “The ovens were closed at the time of the outbreak,” he says, “so the bread is still good.” This silenced the children.
The eruption of Vesuvius corresponded to the detonation of two atomic bombs. Men, women and children were buried under volcanic debris.
Their bodies decomposed, leaving cavities which were pumped out with plaster in the 19th century to produce plaster bodies, 13 of which are on display in a showcase. I watched the children. I could tell from the expressions on their faces that they were deeply moved and I was reminded of the miracle of Pompeii and how it catapults the ancient past into the present.
“I could tell from the expressions on their faces that they were completely moved,” says Sarfraz of his children’s reaction when they saw plaster models of those who lost their lives in Pompeii
Citalia (citalia.com) is offering a seven-night trip to Naples and Sorrento priced at £1,655 per adult and £959 per child, flights included. Tours of Naples, Pompeii, and Mount Vesuvius are also included.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/escape/article-11522079/Hooray-Pompeii-horrible-history-Italian-city-children-raptures.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 Hooray for Pompeii: the horrific history of this Italian city will have children swooning