The best way to see Pompeii
Exploring Pompeii with an awesome guide. All around us, tourists began to run for the exits. In the distance, a low grumble poured over the valley between us and Mount Vesuvius. As infrequent yet massive drops of water left craters in the dust at our feet, Pompeii emptied out. Our guide, Ilaria, showed no signs of panic. She told us that the storm would pass without hitting us.
She was completely engrossed in the columns at the end of the square. They framed a marble head of Zeus, which gleamed brilliant and white against the dark-gray shroud of the volcano in the background. A few steps closer to the altar and she stopped us. “This truly is my favorite spot in all the world.” She spoke with a hushed tone. The air around us thickened as another blast of thunder rolled down the valley and echoed through the walls of Pompeii—a city we had almost exclusively to ourselves at that moment, except for the plaster-coated bodies of those who died almost 2,000 years earlier.
“The volcano is still active, of course,” Ilaria told us. “It hasn’t erupted since 1944, but we always had the sirens growing up.”
Born in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Ilaria grew up with Pompeii as her backyard. As a child, she knew with characteristic certainty that she would become an archeologist. She had a little cut on her left hand from excavating that she wore like a wedding band to the ancient city. As she raised her right hand to make a sweeping gesture, you could catch the outline of Pompeii tattooed on the inside of her wrist. She wore a straw fedora with a bright candy swirl of colored fabric around it, and her eyes were framed with peacock-colored eye shadow. Guiding us through the perfectly preserved city streets, she pointed out ancient storefronts and community wells the way someone would point out their local coffee shop.