After unsuccessfully spotting Sophia Loren — who is still glamorous at 84 — on the streets of the historic city where she grew up and having our ample share of Neapolitan pizza for snacks, we opted to leave the city of Naples for a day in Ancient Pompeii amidst ruins and remnants, ravages and wraths.
Toward the end of an easy 30-minute ride by the picturesque southern countryside of Italy, we gradually noticed the imposing silhouette of Mount Vesuvius, a dormant volcano, much like the sweet little lady turned femme fatale in the year 79AD that totally destroyed and demolished the entirety of the peaceful and prosperous town of Pompeii.
We kept within the 65-hectare wide fields veiled in ash and pumice-covered, then home to some 11,000 citizens. After all the diggings and excavations, it revealed a truly open-air museum and, today, is an often-visited UNESCO World Heritage Site.
At the oldest Roman stone amphitheater, we found ourselves surrounded by grand sculptures that harkened to its former opulence and grandeur. In fact, the open-skies architectural wonder served as the revered blueprint for modern-day stadiums and coliseums.
The Pompeii Forum, where we marveled at the impressive colonnades, proudly enveloped the courtyard — perhaps as a boundary of its majestic territory. It was the center of religious, social, civic and economic pulse of the town. The many massive structures now in desolation, we would only theorize were temples and basilicas, fervent prayers rooms, government workplaces, public halls, recreational stations and even busy markets.
Apollo, god of music, poetry and the arts, had his very own dedicated temple, which served as the center of worship. We were informed that these ruins used to be an enclosed four-walled complex which has been brought to collapse by earthquakes. The everlasting, resilient reminder of its former glory is the magnificent Statue of Apollo, which has magically stood the test of time — and a string of severe calamities.
We had a sly peek through an iron fence into The House of the Cornelii, which had an unassuming marble sculpture of its owner, the mysterious Caius Cornelius Rufus.
We then headed to the Stabian Baths, a spa of muraled rooms for public and private baths for the citizens. The separation of men and women were strictly observed during those times as seen by their reinforced architecture. There were advanced-for-their-time piping systems which ensured there was always hot water for those who needed a thorough wash.
Other must-sees included the dedication to the Egyptian God the Temple of Isis, the newest discoveries stored in the Casa della Venere, the lavish abode of the wealthy merchant House of Menander, the masterful frescoes in the middle-class property House of the Vetti, and the eerie Street of Tombs.
A truly memorable yet grim experience was the stroll around the Antiquarium, where we encountered frescoes, furniture and fixtures, rare silver dining sets, amulets, jewelry, precious objects, vessels and urns and other remnants of the infamous Vesuvius incident.
We observed firsthand how this tranquil community instantly stood still on that fateful day. We gasped at our face-to-face encounter with over a hundred preserved plaster casts of unfortunate individuals, such as parents shielding their children, lovers holding hands, persons in fetal position, a lonesome boy and pets seeking for refuge.
Physically numb, we froze in sheer disbelief. Only when we had whispered prayers for the victims and for the continued silence of the volcano did we feel a strong wind that finally spurred us into motion, but in complete silence.