Today we left Sorrento by coach to visit the archaeological site of Herculaneum. Progress was slow in the Italian morning rush hour traffic. And then we stopped. Stuck on the narrow mountain road. It took us close on an hour to get through a road blockage caused by tree cutters at work.
Sitting there helpless in a traffic jam, with Vesuvius dominating the horizon, we gazed out to sea to the volcanic island of Ischia, made of tufa, surrounded by green waters, and Procida, with its volcanic spas and mud baths. In 79 AD the people of Herculaneum looked out to sea, and waited for boats to escape the volcano which was threatening to destroy them. Initially the smoke and ash spewing from Vesuvius blocked the sunlight, but did not fall on them. But then volcanic mud, loosened by torrential rain, poured down the mountain and engulfed the town of luxury villas and bathhouses. The accompanying fireball carbonised everything in its path, including the inhabitants.
When our coach eventually arrived at Herculaneum we toured the remains of the town. Painstakingly uncovered, dug out of the volcanic mud which had solidified 2000 years ago, the houses contain beautiful mosaics, and amazingly preserved wall frescoes.
A spa town of its day the mud bath it received was fatal, and we saw the poignant skeletons of victims huddled in the boat arches on the shore. No rescue came for them. They were trapped. It was fascinating and sobering to see evidence of the sophisticated and glamorous life of the Roman Herculaneum, and its sad end.
Thankfully we did not get engulfed in the flood of traffic on our return journey, and escaped to the luxury and comfort of our hotel.