Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Pompeii was one of the most incredible and surreal places I’ve been to. Not to mention one of the strangest.

Just in case you’re unaware (or have forgotten your high school history class – and there’s no shame in that), Pompeii is a city located in Italy. More specifically, it’s a city located at the base of Mount Vesuvius. That name should sound familiar.

Mount Vesuvius is the volcano that blew its top in 79 A.D. and literally buried both the town of Pompeii, and its cousin Herculaneum. The stones, ash, and lava flows killed roughly 16,000 people and hid these towns for hundreds of years.

Here’s the unassuming entrance:

But, little do you know the secrets hidden within this quaint little town.

First, there’s the sacrificial alters (for animals only):

The dog, it seems, is a brave fellow.

Then there are the bodies. The picture below is a just a cast, but you can see (in horrifying and realistic clarity) how so many of these people died. This particular person was huddled in the corner, unable to escape the hot has that descended upon the town.

Then there’s this lovely shot that I took:

It doesn’t seem like much, but I guarantee it was also deadly. The caption I put on Facebook for this photograph seems to sum it up pretty nicely:

“The Pompeiins were very smart and ingenious people…except for two things: They lived at the foot of a volcano…and they used lead pipes.”

But the biggest (and dirtiest) secret of all is put right out in the open. If you know what you’re looking for, you should have no problem discovering it. (Why do I have a feeling Natalie/Natalie’s husband is going to love this part?)

If you’re new in town and don’t know where to go, there are clues all over the place to point you in the right direction:

(And, yes, that’s exactly what it looks like.)

Then there’s the sign:

This is a sign warning of a Lupanare. That’s the Italian term. You might be more familiar with the word “brothel.” It was referred to as a Lupanare (the base of that word being “lupus,” which is Latin for “wolf”) because the women used to howl to get the attention of their customers.

Then there’s this beauty:

Imagine doing the deed on that thing.

Not sure what you want? Don’t worry. They had a menu:

The vendors outside the walls of Pompeii sold all sorts of trinkets that probably are not appropriate to bring home to the kids. Nonetheless, they were pretty funny.

And although it completely shocked me when I realized some of the places that were within the walls of Pompeii, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. History happened here. A tragic history, yes, but one that you can feel in your bones when you’re there. It was an amazing experience.

Enter a totally embarrassing five year old picture of me standing in front of Mount Vesuvius (in one of the nerdiest shirts I owned at the time, no less).

Ever been to Pompeii? Ever seen a place as explicit as this one? What’s the nerdiest shirt you own? (I’ve stepped up my nerd-game recently. Now my nerdiest one is definitely the Doctor Who shirt I ordered just the other day…)


In the beginning of the new story I just started, you meet the main character just as she’s going out into an arena – a modern rendition of the colosseum. So, it seems only fitting that today’s trip would take us to Italy, and that we would focus on the historical place that has such a long and tragic tale.

(P.S. Click on the pictures to see them REALLY BIG.)

First, let’s delve into a little backstory. It’s an amphitheatre smack-dab in the middle of Rome and is actually the largest one ever built in the Roman Empire. Work began in 72AD and didn’t finish for about another eight years. It can hold 50,000 people – which (to me at least) seems like A LOT considering the population of the world back then compared to now. But this is a modern estimation. Ancient estimations put the numbers at almost 90,000 people.

Not currently full of 50,000 people, but it seems like it could definitely hold that many, doesn’t it?

Most people know that it was used for gladiatorial fights – which is true – but it was also used for mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and theatre productions (think Oedipus).

What might be even more interesting is that during the Middle Ages, these things stopped and it was turned into a place for workshops, as well as housing for a religious order. It also doubled as a fortress and a Christian shrine.

This is one of the crosses to remember the fallen. Also, you can see the pock marks in the background where the bronze beams used to be.

The typical shape of the colosseum (as seen below) is a result of earthquakes and people who have taken both stone and bronze (part of the structure) out in order to use it elsewhere. The arena floor was simply made out of wood and was covered in sand. The two-story passageways underneath were where both gladiators and animals were kept before the contests.

Here’s a shot of the arena floor, minus the…uh…arena floor. This is the part that would’ve been covered in wooden floorboards and sand.

Here’s the same shot, but from the opposite end.

Here’s a a close-up of the passageways found underneath the arena floor.

Interesting (if somewhat disgusting) facts:

  • 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games
  • The arena was eventually converted into a cemetery
  • It has been used over the years as a symbol in the international campaign against capital punishment

    These are the vomitoria, and how people got in and out of the structure so quickly. Each arch is its own entranceway.

  • Tickets given during events were in the form of shards of pottery with numbers on them
  • People reached their seat via the vomitoria – a series of passageways that allowed the building to be filled up and cleared out within a matter of minutes
  • Vomitoria comes from the Latin word for “rapid discharge” – and yes, that’s where we get our word “vomit” from
  • Animals used in the arena weren’t just limited to lions and leopards, but included rhinos, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, giraffes, bears, and even ostriches
  • Although it’s debated by historians, there are accounts that the colosseum could be flooded to provide an arena for the mock sea battles

I really enjoyed being at the colosseum because it has such a well-known history that you can’t help but be in awe by the fact that you’re standing in the same place literally billions of people have passed through over the course of the years.

And that’s actually one of my favorite things about Italy: you walk down the road and see modern buildings and modern technology and modern people, then BAM. You have this 2,000 year old structure right there in front of you. Italy is a great example of the modern and the ancient colliding every day and yet still surviving.

20th century lamp post and 2,000-year-old arena of death? No biggie.

Have you been to Italy? Seen the colosseum? Have you ever been in a place where “our” world was so clearly juxtaposed next to the ancient world?

This is a new series that I’ve decided to start called “Wandering Bard.” I’ve been to a few countries outside of the United States, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit some pretty spectacular places. I wanted to combine my love for travel with my love for history and art. Thus, “Wandering Bard” was born. In this series I’m going to pick one place or artwork per post and give you a little history on it, some cool facts, and my personal experiences. I know a lot of people hate learning about history and art, but I’ve always loved it. I hope I can keep these posts short, fresh, and fun, and that’ll you’ll be able to appreciate things you never thought you would!

So, in your mind why don’t you hop on a nice comfy plane, lean back, and envision your destination: Italy. When I was a freshman in college, I was lucky enough to find an opportunity to visit Italy and Greece. This was (and still is, in a way) my dream trip. For someone who is obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology, classical art, and Renaissance art, these two countries were THE place to go. I had to do a whole lot to get there (like, nabbing the absolute last two spots for me and my best friend, borrowing A LOT of money, and then taking an entire summer to repay the debt), but it was worth it! This remains my favorite trip.

Okay, we’ve landed! Quick trip, huh?

Let’s start off with one of my favorite places in the world and one of my favorite pieces of art. We’re standing in St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City right now:

This is the dome of the Basilica, found in Vatican City

And we’re staring at this beauty:

It's a little blurry, but I had to take the picture standing behind a crowd of people while holding the camera over my head. Good thing I'm so tall!

This is called La Pietà (“The Pity”) and it was created by Michelangelo. It shows the Virgin Mary holding Jesus after he has died. Now, this is not an original concept – it has been used over and over again in paintings and sculpture from all sorts of artists from before and after Michelangelo’s time. Most of these are also titled La Pietà. But, in my opinion, this is the best example of this subject. (I’m biased. Michelangelo is one of my favorite artists of all time.)


– The overall pyramidal shape represents the Trinity (pyramid = triangle = 3 sides = 3 members of the Holy Trinity)

– Michelangelo depicted Mary as a young woman, instead of the mature mother that was the norm. This represents her purity as the Virgin Mother.

– Both Jesus and Mary are serene. They don’t symbolize the pain of death, but the acceptance of death.

Cool Facts:

– Michelangelo was 23 when he made this.

– It took one year for him to finish.

– This is made out of a single piece of marble.

– This is the only work he signed – and he signed it because no one believed he had made it.

– Mary and Jesus are actually disproportionate to each other (she’s much larger than he is).

Why I Love It:

There are a lot of reasons why I love this sculpture so much. The most obvious one is the beauty – this is just incredible to see in person. You forget that it’s made out of solid stone, and that he had to chisel it away in order to create what you see before you. The fluidity of the rock and exactness of the anatomy are breathtaking.

I also like this because it just goes to show that amazing people know no limitations. Who cares if he was only 23? He was talented, and this was just the beginning of an amazing career for him. It makes me sit back and realize that there’s nothing holding me back but myself. If Michelangelo can carve this thing at 23, can’t I publish a book at 23? I think so!!

So, what about you guys? How do you like the series so far? I have a lot of material to choose from, so I hope you stick around for this one. We’ll be jumping all over the place and I’ll try to put in a little something for everyone.