Villa Vergiliana: a most volcanic day

Today was once more a wonderful day, and I enjoyed every last bit of it, not in the least due to Francesco, the amazing bus driver. He got me safely and without getting sick up the winding road to the summit of the Vesuvius, which is not a mean feat, believe me. But behind every turn there was another fantastic vista, and he was more often grinning than not, when he saw me taking in every single view of the Naples bay.

As for Mount Vesuvius, now there’s a pretty impressing volcano! It took me quite some time to get up the long and steep road from the parking to the actual rim of the crater, due to my lack of breath and overal fitness, I’m pretty ashamed to admit. But finally I made it, thanks to the verbal support and patiently waiting of Wietse and Juliana, and oh lemon (inside joke), what a view! And not only the very strong gusts of wind were responsible for the goose bumps I got up there: Wietse read out some lines in Latin from Plinius, where he describes the eruption of Vesuvius, and Leon provided us with a very liberal and exhilarating translation of them. You know, standing on the edge of the crater, at one side the actual crater with the fumaroles, at the other side the beautiful view over the Bay of Naples, while listening to Plinius being read out: it doesn’t get any better than that.


Slowly we made our way back down again, only to arrive in Herculaneum around midday. We had our picknick there and went inside. And yet once more, I was baffled. The city is actually in a pit, and I never even considered why. But when in 79 AD the Vesuvius erupted, the entire column of rocks, dirt and ashes collapsed onto the city, burying it in a layer of at least 25 metres of volcanic debris. The locked vaults which were situated at the coast line, were now quite some kilometers inland, and the whole excavation – taken litterally in this case – is indeed a pit. But what a pit!

We slowly made our way through the exquisite little coastal city, looked into the houses, at the frescos and mosaics, and did our photo assignment. Divided into three groups, we had to ‘die’ in Herculaneum: three pics, first about the very moment we discovered the eruption, then the fleeing, and at last the dying in the city. While our pictures might not have been the best, we really had fun making them. And I think the dying one is pretty neat, mostly thanks to Daan.

On the trip went, to Oplonti, the Villa Poppaea. My students in 6th grade now her by now all too well, Nero’s mistress and eventually second wife, who got kicked to death by her violent husband. He gave her (or so we think, at least) this villa, and it’s a beautiful specimen of a rustic villa. There we had another assignment: we paired up and took a ‘Grand Tour portrait’ like people used to have their portrait painted in the 17th century when travelling through Europe. I teamed up with Geert, we borrowed an ancient volume of Vergilius and used my coat (I especially brought it for this assignment) and we had great fun making the portrait.

Last but not least, we drove back to Cumae, only to visit another volcano, the Solfatara. It’s still quite active, with a bubbling pool, very hot spots, a Bocca Grande (a large fumarole) and an ancient kind of sauna devised for health reasons by the Romans. It was hot there, and very smelly due to the sulphur.

We drove home, had some nice spare time, went for delicious dinner,


and then did our frescoes. The first night – while I still was on a plane – everyone made a base structure for a fresco. Luckily they thought of making a spare one for me, as I was arriving late. Today we all got our moulds with a fresh layer of plaster, and got a lot different colours to work with. I thought I’d keep it easy, and went for the mount Vesuvius which had made a tremendous impression on me.


Anyway, this was another glorious day that I won’t forget easily. Lucky me!

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