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Images of Rome and Pompei

Our journey began with a long flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt, Germany on a not-so-great American airline company that shall remain nameless, and then on a much shorter hop across the Alps to Rome on a much nicer European airline. 12-13 hours air-time and jetlag make for a great start, but we survived. Day one in Rome involved a few short walks getting to know the environs of our hotel a few blocks from the Colosseum and the Cathedral Giovanni di Batista. On day two, we toured portions of the Vatican, the Colosseum, and the Trevi Fountain, and ended the day with a spectacular moonset over St. Peter's. Day three was a big geology/archaeology day, as we journeyed south to Vesuvius and the ruins of on the thumbnails below for a full-sized picture.

First Day in Rome
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Arriving in Rome Rome is a large modern city, with all the normal problems of cities, but the city center is a strange amalgamation of the ancient and the new. Here, we approach the ancient city walls on our way to our hotel.
Roman Aqueduct It was so very strange to turn a corner and encounter a 2,000-year-old aqueduct towering over apartment buildings and alleyways.
Roman Aqueduct The aqueducts made it possible for Rome to grow into a huge city in Roman times. Although we could see very little geology in the city center, we were aware that the city had a plentiful source of fresh water from springs just outside the city that carried water from the Apennine Mountains to the east.
Old Arch The famed Seven Hills of Rome are actually eroded bluffs above the Tiber River. The bluffs were mantled with thick deposits of welded volcanic tuff, which was an easily shaped, but durable building stone. Tuff could be found everywhere in the city center, but nary an outcrop of natural rock could be seen!


Touring the Vatican and Rome
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Vatican Walls As noted before, geological outcrops in downtown Rome are hard to find. The famed Seven Hills of Rome were composed of volcanic tuff, but over the years, the rock was quarried, or it was covered by thousands of years of rubble. Yet, rock was fundamental to the Rome experience....from tuff bricks used in the walls of the Vatican...
Vatican Museum serpentine marble used in the modern museum of the Vatican...
Columns along St. Peter's Square the travertine (more properly called tufa) used in the columns and porticos of the Vatican and Colosseum. Tufa formed in the calcium carbonate-rich springs that surround the Rome region. The rock is porous, and therefore lighter to cut and shape, and also is not as heavy as solid rock. The patterns in the tufa are beautiful...
Michelangelo's Pieta But I will not forget one of the most beautiful renderings in stone I have ever seen, the marble of Michelangelo's Pieta...
The Colosseum Our next stop was the Colosseum, an immense structure that once could seat thousands of people. Once again, the rock of which it was constructed was most interesting. We could see the tuff and the tufa in the walls and arches.
The Colosseum The unusual pattern of the ruins is geological in origin...the structure was built across two kinds of foundation materials, including a fairly unstable river gravel that transmitted seismic waves differently. That portion was shaken more severely by quakes through the centuries, and eventually a major part of the outer wall collapsed.
Egyptian Obelisk We discovered one more kind of rock on our evening walk: granite. It came a long way, across the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt.
River Tiber at night Our evening included a stroll across the River Tiber. The lights on the river were beautiful. We could see St. Peter's Church and the Vatican in the distance. Then we noticed the thin crescent moon next to the dome of St. Peter's.
Crescent Moon Detail of Crescent Moon over the cupola of St. Peter's Dome


Pompei and Mt. Vesuvius
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Colli Albani Our journey on the third day took us south towards Vesuvius and the ruins of the town of Pompei, which was destroyed in the eruption of 79 A.D. Our first sight of the day was the Colli Albani, the volcanic hills responsible for the tuffs on which the town of Rome was built. Several beautiful lakes lie within the craters across the summit of the hills.
Vesuvius, first view Not everything on the perfect trip can be absolutely perfect, of course. On the kind of day when one would want the long-range views, the winds came out of the south, out of Sahara, bringing dust and high humidity (as the dry air evaporated the intervening sea water). So it was, our first view of Vesuvius was hazy. The air didn't clear until we were leaving at the end of the day.
Vesuvius I'm using a late afternoon picture (when it was clearer) to show the structure of Somma and Vesuvius...on the left, Somma is the remains of a caldera formed prior to the eruption of 79 AD. Vesuvius, on the right, has grown during the last two thousand years. This was our objective, to climb to the summit of the cone.
Road to Vesuvius A beautiful road climbs out of the suburbs of Naples. It has numerous tight turns and switchbacks, but Italian bus drivers are very good at what they do!
Trail to Vesuvius A short but steep trail climbs the barren slopes of Vesuvius. It was quite hot and humid, but this was our one chance to climb the mountain, so off we went!
The Somma Caldera As we climbed higher, we were treated to a spectacular view of the inner rim of the Somma caldera. The bright yellow flowers are Spanish Broom. The gray area at the base of the cliff is a very recent lava flow.
View towards Naples Near the summit, views opened up. Here we could see northwest towards Naples. Knowledge that renewed activity on the volcano could send pyroclastic flows into the town in a matter of minutes was sobering. Traffic is bad on a normal day...what if a million people tried to leave at once? Pompei was not the first town destroyed by the volcano, and will certainly not be the last...
Summit crater The summit crater was huge! It was more than 800 feet deep, with vertical walls.
Summit crater Vesuvius was made a national park in 1995, but that didn't prevent a some entrepreneurs from running a few souvenir shops on the summit. Just the same, walking about the crater rim was a humbling experience as we contemplated what happened here in 79 AD. We turned and made our way down the mountain.
Street in Pompei We drove down from Vesuvius, had lunch, and then began a walk through Pompei. Pompei was a prosperous Roman town in 79 AD when it was destroyed and buried by ash as Vesuvius erupted. Thousands perished, and the buried town was eventually forgotten.
Chariot crossing The ash, many feet deep, buried the town in moments. The people, the buildings, the artifacts were preserved in situ, a tragedy at the time, but a priceless record of the past today. Excavations (looting, actually) began in the 1700's, and many archaeological techniques were developed here during the last century or two. The streets still bear the scars of the chariots that passed through. The blocks gave access to pedestrians, so they didn't have to step in the "equestrian pollution".
Chariot tracks Little things like counter tops, graffiti, and the chariot grooves (seen here), give an immediacy to the fact that people lived their lives here. Pompei was one of the only places in Roman Italy where daily life is easily discerned by archaeological workers. Most other towns were looted or burned at some point, and the small clues to daily life were lost forever.
Side street I ran down several side streets, away from the guided tours, hoping to see some unique ruins...
Pompei avenue The most intriguing street had numerous paintings and wall frescos. It was stunning!
Store front I was impressed that such beautiful paintings could be observed on little side streets around the city. Several buildings on this block, on the north side of the avenue, had not yet been excavated...
Wall Painting Such detail....
Tile detail  
Gymnasium entryway I was continually struck by the bright colors and beautiful entryways to the various buildings. I was so distracted by the paintings on the far walls, I never noticed the tile-work in the foreground until I downloaded the photos days later.
Pompei Victim The very saddest aspect of the Pompei saga, of course, is the fates of the thousands of people who were trapped in the city, and found death. Buried quickly by hot ash, their bodies formed spaces in the quickly solidifying ash, and in time, all but their bones decayed away. Excavators eventually learned to fill the openings with plaster to make eerie statues of the unfortunate victims. A few are on display at Pompei, most are in the museum at Naples. This photo is courtesy of Amanda June.


Vesuvius looms It was hard not to continually look north towards the volcano that destroyed the city. Vesuvius has erupted numerous times in the last 2,000 years, but not on the scale of the 79 AD eruption. On the other hand, every few thousand years, an extremely violent eruption sweeps down the flanks of the volcano, burying the landscape many feet deep, and more than once destroying the small human settlements that surrounded the mountain, their locations chosen because of the rich soils formed in ash. Now, three million people live within range of the volcano.

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