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Europe Week Five: Pompeii + Mt. Vesuvius

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Hello! Last week we took a class trip to the Campania region of Italy. Just south of Rome, Campania is home to Naples and historic cities like Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Paestum. We got to learn architecture and history standing in the middle of it all. Again, I still can't wrap my head around how crazy that is.

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Our first stop was just an hour away from Rome. We arrived at Fossanova Abbey, a peaceful Cisterian monastery, and sketched components of its beautiful Gothic architecture. Not too far away stands Terracina, a town that has evolved throughout history, from a temple complex, to a medieval town, and now a modern seaport city along the Appian Way of ancient Rome. Remnants of its development throughout the centuries still remain.

We stayed at a hotel in Ercolano, located at the foot of Mt.Vesuvius and overlooking the sea. An 18th century Baroque villa turned hotel, it was posh and charming, with a fairy-tale garden full of fountains, well maintained lawns, and a sparkling pool. I kicked myself awake at sunrise to go explore and photograph the enchanting grounds. 

We visited Herculaneum, the ancient Roman city buried by the same Mt.Vesuvius eruption that destroyed Pompeii in 79 AD. It was excavated from twenty meters of mud lava, revealing two-story houses, fresco-filled walls, and huge public baths. The ancient Romans, magnificent architects and planners at the time, even created nice sidewalks in their towns, something the modern city above desperately lacks.

Hiking to the top of Mt. Vesuvius was the highlight of my trip. Being able to set foot on a volcano that affected so much of the history around the area was quite the experience. Despite the drizzle and crazy winds from the crater, I loved feeling so powerful being high above the world. It was a blast. (Ba dum tss.)

Our next stop was, of course, Pompeii. I explored the grounds on my own and found it to be surprisingly well-preserved and full of life. The greenery amidst the ruins made it feel like a real town, one teeming with village people and chariots 2000 years ago. The site was like an amusement park for history lovers. 

The last day of our trip was spend in Paestum, an ancient Greek city later conquered by the Romans. The ruins are notable for the three ancient Greek temples, some of the most well-preserved in the world. The serene archaeological site reminded me of the National Mall in Washington D.C., a welcoming space for visitors flanked by major monuments at both ends. A nearby museum features tomb paintings, pottery, preserved artifacts from the temples, as well as a photography exhibit I fell in love with. 

It was a fun, though tiring, week traveling with the class. Seeing history come alive is definitely the best way of learning. I couldn't be more blessed to be studying abroad. As the week ended, a few of us decided to take advantage of the fact we were already down south, and took a trip to the Bay of Naples. Check out my blog post featuring the Amalfi Coast!