It’s not every day you get to be on top of the world, but today I was. Well, maybe not the very top, but at least the top of the Bay of Naples, towards the southern tip of Italy. Today was the day that I walked up to the crater of Mount Vesuvius. This volcano is not just a breathtaking site which gives you the opportunity to soak up the coast of Italy, no, to me it was much more than that. To me, it represents everything I love about History and the journey I’ve taken to getting here. You see, Mount Vesuvius was responsible for the destruction of the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The ash initially destroyed but then preserved these ancient sites and they have formed the very basis of my studies in Ancient History. I was first exposed to the people of Pompeii and Herculaneum through my Year 11 and 12 Ancient History teacher. Sadly he is no longer with us, but he taught me the value and importance of History and awakened the ancient cities for me. He showed me that down the coast of Italy some hundreds of years ago, the residents of Pompeii were waking up, putting bread in the oven, having their daily leisure baths, when the sleepy Mount Vesuvius started to grumble, shattering pillars and homes in its wake. As I stood on top of this once-destructive volcano I tried to imagine those final moments and how the panic and fear would have consumed many. I thought back to my days as a History student and could now completely empathise with those victims. It’s funny how travel can make History come alive, and how it can have the power to alter the way that you see the world. I thought back to my high school History teacher and thought how much I would thank him for sharing his love of History with me if he were still here.
But this time it was me telling the story of these ancient cities to my Year 11 and 12 History students – 22 of them in fact. I had helped to organise an ‘Ancient History Tour of Italy’ and twenty-two of my students have agreed to go on this adventure with me. I pointed towards the old cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum, I pointed to the spot where Pliny the Younger wrote his ‘eye-witness’ account of the eruption. I watched the jaws drop, the eyes open, the smiles widen. I had managed to share my love and passion with my students and connected travel and history for them.
Before I left I took one final look at one of Mother Nature’s creations. I leaned over the railing to look down in to the crater. How ominous and scary it still looked after all these years. On my way down the mountain I took off my teacher hat and put on my tourist hat. I purchased a 5euro bottle of wine from a vendor halfway down the mountain. Why? Well the label said ‘Mount Vesuvius’ and I just couldn’t leave without taking home a souvenir.