The Christmas holidays are always a special moment during the year, especially for teachers and students, who get some time off from school. Here in Italy, our schools usually close for Winter break around the 23rd of December to re-open after the Epiphany which falls on January 6th. During this break parents are faced with how to keep their kids entertained and/or busy, because their jobs just don’t stop when the kids are out of school. My wife and I were faced with the same dilemma, with the only difference that being a teacher my self, I’m always home to take care of the kids even when she’s not.
December 26th is an Italian national holiday, Santo Stefano (St. Stephen), not sure why, but usually it is the day where Italians gather for the third day in a row with their relatives to, get this, “eat light”. Usually, Christmas eve is a fish dinner, Christmas day a meat lunch and Santo Stefano a soup day in most houses. Of course it varies from city to city and from region to region. In my family, usually it’s minestra day (meaning greens in soup with sausages and all sorts of meat goodies, which make it everything, but a light lunch).
This year though, cause: “the warmest winter ever”, temperatures in and around the 20°C/68°F mark, my wife and I decided to take the kids out for the day instead of sitting down at the table once again (boy Italians never stop eating on holidays, such great food though, but beware of your waistline) and took them to the ruins of Pompeii, just 28 minutes away.
See, for us living in the area, Pompeii is in our DNA, we tend to forget about it eventually not because we mean to or because of the tragedy it represents for us, but because anyone who comes by for a visit wants to go to Pompeii, so we end up visiting Pompeii very often to make our friends happy.
When children go to school here, they visit the ruins many times around on school trips, so in the long run we kind of get sick of it and forget about it. Years later when it’s your own kids studying Pompeii, then you think, maybe it’s time to show them what they are studying with a hands on field trip. So it was our turn this time around and the arena was there waiting for us as we entered the site.
After a hearty lunch at the local McDonald’s restaurant, yes you got that right there is a MacDonald’s in Pompeii, we went towards the entrance and dished out €22 euro for the tickets, kids enter for free (thank God right?). Still, I thought it was a bit expensive for what we ended up seeing. Many so-called “Domus” latin for house, were closed for reconstruction, some were dangerously falling to pieces or crumbling down and not because of their ruins status, but because the Italian state government spends almost 0€ to safeguard what UNESCO and everyone else on the face of the globe considers to be, part of the world’s cultural heritage.
As you can see from the photo above, not taken to remind myself that in 79 AD a great civilization lived here, but to show you how, such a great treasure is so badly kept. Broken front protection, barely covered so that when it rains, water pours along the wall like a river during a storm, washing away day by day whatever trace the Pompeians left for us. It is just absurd to see how poorly the Italian government, who spends billions to keep its political caste in place, does so little to protect one of the world’s most precious archeological sites.
My family and I were just left in awe when walking in one of the few “domus” open to the public. We saw fragments of thousands of years there on the ground, pieces of terracotta amphoras, left there for anyone to just grab and carry away. I’m not sure, but at one point I heard on the news a few years ago that someone realized that many pieces from Pompeii were being taken away, stolen. The question I have, is did they do something about it? From what I had a chance to see, I do not think so. Incomprehensible how such treasures are just left there, as seen in the photo, with no protection, no cameras, no guards, just nothing. There is no bag check in and there is no bag check out, so what an invitation for thieves to just come on in and take what they can away, destroying what memory is left for future generations.
As we moved through the ruins, everything seemed so much worst than when my wife and I had last visited the site. Walls of many houses crumbled to pieces under the heavy downpours of the past years and months, humidity attacking all the wonderful frescos. Breath taking paintings that are completely out in the open so that anyone can put their fingers on it not only once, but a billion times. Thousand year old frescos disappear and no one seems to notice or care enough to do something about safeguarding them.
What is wrong with this “picture”?
Nothing, if you take into consideration that these beautiful frescos date back to 79 AD. What is wrong, is the complete absence of any form of protection from people’s curiosity, but not only. How can you not protect something so precious without taking proper steps in making sure no dirty or oily fingers can touch it; how can you not protect such treasures against rain, wind or any other unforseen natural event?
I just don’t understand.
In the end though what a wonderful experience it was to re-visit the site with our kids and seeing their faces light up with curiosity. How did the Pompeiians live? Everything was looked at with great interest and followed by a million questions. What a surprise it was indeed. We under estimate our children, we think they’ll get bored or be completely uninterested, but they shock us all the time. They thanked us for taking them, they loved being out and about in Pompeii for the day, the sun was out almost until evening, truly a gift, at the beginning of Winter.
The day could not end without a visit at the local pasticceria (bakery), where we enjoyed some sfogliatelle, a zeppola and some ice cream. Neapolitan pastries, once tasted, will surely bring you back for more.
So all in all, Pompeii was a great field trip, just sad to see how badly it was kept. I have a hard time believing that the ruins will be there for years to come, unless something is done soon enough to make sure that they do. What a pity it would be to see Pompeii lost in time because of carelessness.