I recently returned from vacationing in Italy. Of course, as a geoscientist who teaches about natural disasters I felt obliged to make a day trip to Pompeii. The site is visited by thousands of tourists daily, but is still worth the trip. To see the remnants of an entire city entombed in ash underlines the power of the eruption in a way no powerpoint presentation can convey. I wish I could bring my entire class.

From an historical viewpoint I was also impressed by the innovative technology of the Romans. Modern highways have reflectors in the road to help drivers stay in their lanes at night. Two thousand years ago Romans embedded chips of white marble in their roads to reflect torchlight for the same purpose. Their roads endured for millenia. Ours develop new potholes every year. Progress?

After visiting Pompeii, my family and I went to have dinner in Naples, and that was perhaps the most sobering aspect of the trip — once again we have an entire city living in the shadow of the sleeping volcano.


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