Past vs. Present. History vs. Actuality (Part I)

‘Bad things do happen in the world, like war, natural disasters, disease. But out of those situations always arise stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’

– Daryn Kagan


After spending two weeks in a small city, far away from civilisation, the following few days seemed chaotic to me. Leaving Santa Caterina dello Ionio (Calabria region), our next stops were Taormina (and other small cities in Sicily), Capri Island, Naples and Pompeii (Campania region). As mentioned before, I have only visited a bit of the Northern part of Italy (long time ago) and what I knew about the places we were about to visit was from the history lessons or general knowledge – so, I did not know what to expect. I assumed that Sicily, Naples and Capri Island were going to be fancy and Pompeii, a bunch of ruins. Before telling you about my experience, I would like to mention that I will take Sicily and Capri Island together and Naples and Pompeii, accordingly. Why is that? Because I felt that the two islands are similar, while Naples and Pompeii, even if they are next to each other, represent two different worlds. This being said, in what follows, I will try to summarise my impressions about the second part of my Italian experience.

As I was expecting, the islands were warm, sunny and extremely shiny. Besides being touched by the sun, both Sicily and Capri Island were shiny because of the beautiful architecture and luxurious houses. There was actually a combination of old and new, but taken together, everything seemed very present and to be honest, quite expensive. On the one hand, Taormina – the Sicilian city we spent most of the time in, hosted both ancient attractions (i.e. the Greek Amphitheatre, offering a lovely view of the sea, Mount Etna and a great part of the city) and newer, commercialised ones, taking you back to the 60s and 70s, as they were portraying footage/pictures/music from La Dolce Vita or The Godfather. On the other hand, Capri Island seemed to me like a more touristic place, being way smaller than Sicily and really easy to get from one side to another. Here, again, there was a combination of old buildings and new, shiny ones, plus many many exquisite hotels and extravagant decorations. Attractions that date back from the ancient times can also be found on this island; for example, the Blue Grotto (Italian: Grotta Azzura), which was discovered in the 1830s and is believed to have been the work of an underground tunnel, and later, a bathing spot of the Romans. I found two aspects that were really exciting about this Grotta Azzura; first, the historical features and second, the geographical ones (and by this I mean the way the grotto/cave was formed and positioned). Because of the way it is positioned, the light and the sand make the water look blue, but a very special shade of blue – which made me reconsider my favourite colour.

Leaving behind the beautiful islands, the last two places we visited were Pompeii and Naples. Arriving in Pompeii, not too long after parking the cars, a lot of locals started guiding us towards the archaeological site, but also hoped to sell us some of the city-related products. We surrendered at one point and we accepted to hire some audio-guides, as we wanted to find out more about the story of Pompeii. As I was saying in the beginning, we didn’t know much about the city besides the fact that it was buried in lava and almost fully destroyed after the eruption of the Vesuvius Volcano in 79 AD – so we were expecting ruins and archaeological sites, as we were informed at the entrance. But after we went inside the site and got to listen to the story of Pompeii, a lot changed, at least for me. With every step I took and every information I heard about the great disaster, I saw everything with different eyes. I kept thinking that hopefully, thanks to today’s technology, a tragedy like this could never happen again; and I am not talking about nature itself – I am talking about the many lives that were lost, the pain, the screams and the chaos that has happened when people did not even know what they were experiencing, given that no one could have predicted the eruption and the fact that people of those times did not even know that Vesuvius was a volcano. Contrary to these heart-breaking feelings, it was impressive to acknowledge that more than 2000 years ago (when great machineries and technologies were not even invented) people were able to build and organise a city that is still standing (of course, very little of it) after such a cataclysm.

by: Ioana-Alexandra Tache



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