With over 2 million visitors a year, Pompeii is listed as one of the main tourist destinations in Italy. Being a Unesco World Heritage Site, Pompeii is at present day one of the best preserved archeological roman sites in the world.
Pompeii was founded around the 7th century BC by the Oscans and came into Roman hands in 80 BC. The nearby presence of Mount Vesuvius was very important to Pompeii and the surrounding cities, as the slopes were an important natural defence against neighbouring tribes. Also, the fertile soil of the slope played an important role in the economical boom of the city. Traces of cultivation of cereals, vegetables and also vines and olive trees were found.
Pompeii became a flourishing holiday resort for Rome’s most distinguished citizens. With various leisure facilities available, such as a theatre, amphitheatre, brothel, public baths, bars and shops there was enough to do for the rich and wealthy. At its height, around 20 000 people inhabited the ancient city and its surroundings.
Mount Vesuvius, the force of nature
Mount Vesuvius was important to the people of Pompeii. Unfortunately for them, on August 24th, 79AD the volcano erupted and entombed the whole city. Buried under a thick carpet of volcanic ash and pumice, the everyday life of Pompeii became frozen in time at the height of its power. Most of the inhabitants managed to flee, although it is estimated that 2000 people died during the eruption. From that moment, Pompeii became a lost and forgotten city.
In 1748 Pompeii was rediscovered under the thick layers of debris that were preserving the city. What was left can now be visited, which can teach us a great deal about the everyday life back in ancient Roman times.
When visiting the the old city of Pompeii, it feels like you are taking a step back in time. The ruins are very well preserved, so that when walking the ancient streets it feels like a surreal experience. It’s as if you can still feel the ancient vibes of the city and the terror that took place.
Pompeii is located south of the modern city of Naples and a few kilometres away from Mount Vesuvius which is towering like a gatekeeper over the ancient site.
The official site of Pompeii shows you all the current information about opening hours and entrance fees. You can rent an audio guide and walk around by yourself at your own pace, or if you want a live human guide, you’ll find one at the entrance, but only the official ones with badges may be used. They charge fixed prices, so no negotiation possible.
We visited the site by ourselves with a free map (extremely useful in order not to get lost) which we got at the entrance, and a good guide book, which we got somewhere else. The site is big and there is a lot of information to capture. We prefered to walk around by ourselves at our own pace. We did not get all the detailed information, but for us it is more important to have a good and proper look at all the remains, and to let our imaginations run wild.
At the entrance, you’ll find an ATM, which is useful, as the entrance fee to the site is CASH only. But feel free to bring some Euros with you in case that machine is not working.
Pompeii is only visited on foot. However, do not to underestimate the vast distances. Count at least half a day, or if you can, the whole day, if you want to explore all corners of the site. Make sure you are wearing comfortable and sturdy footwear. Platforms or high heels are NOT advised. The cobbles on the streets are uneven, which makes it a challenging stroll.
It can get very hot in this part of Italy, so make sure to carry enough water with you and wear a hat and sunscreen. Even outside the hotter summer months you should be prepared for warm weather. If you run out of water, there are a few water fountains around to fill up your drinking bottle and there is a cafeteria with snacks and cold drinks.
There are not many present day useable toilets around, so be prepared and use every opportunity when you see one.
What to see in Pompeii
Since the remains are so well preserved, there is a lot to see. We’ll just highlight some of the major attractions for your visit:
Streets: Paved with large and uneven cobble stones. You will see that the side walks are much higher than the streets. You will also see at various places stepping stones from one side to the other. The reason is that there was no modern day drainage system, or gutters, so rain water would flood down the streets together with waste water from latrines and others sources. With these stepping stones, people could easily cross the street without getting their feet wet. You’ll also notice 2 parallel tracks. These were for horse carriages, allowing them a slightly smoother ride.
Bodies: When archeologists were excavating the ruins, they found empty spaces which they filled with plaster. What you can now see are the bodies of the ancient people of Pompeii, showing very clearly the features and facial expressions.
Amphitheater: It is the oldest surviving Roman theatre, its construction dates back to 80 BC. Pink Floyd recorded their documentary concert film “Live in Pompeii” in this amphitheatre in 1972.
Forum: The Forum was the centre of Pompeii in its early days. This principle square was the political, religious and economical centre of the city, located near the main city gate,
House of the Faun: Archeologists think it used to be a very large villa. The name was giving due to a little statue of a faun at the centre of the house
Frescoes and Mosaics: A lot of nice frescoes and mosaics were preserved extremely well. In most of the bigger villas these frescoes and mosaics can still be seen.
Houses and Villas: Most of the smaller houses were built very close together and right on the edge of the streets. You can enter some of the houses where you can have a good look at their layouts.
Bakeries and Bars: Pompeii had its own bakeries where the ovens can still be seen. Also the bars are very obvious. The 3 to 4 holes you will see in a counter were used for the beverages they sold.
Public Baths: Romans were famous for having baths, and so as well in Pompeii. There were a few public baths in various locations. The remains, complete with mosaics, are well preserved and can be visited.
The great city of Pompeii
To say it with the words of the song Pompeii from the band Bastille:
And the walls kept tumbling town
In the city that we love
Great clouds rolling over the hills
Bringing darkness from above
The ruins of Pompeii are definitely worth a visit. I have seen many ruins around the world, however, I was most overwhelmed by the beauty and grandeur of the remains of Pompeii.
What did you feel during your visit? Is Pompeii on your bucket list?
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