A visit to Pompeii will be the highlight of your Italian trip
Whether you’re in the Naples area or need to plan a special trip make time to visit Pompeii during your trip to Italy. The archaeological site of Pompeii is surely one of the most famous in the world. If you look on your map, you will find it the Campania region of southern Italy, just south of Naples. If you look north from within the site you will see Mount Vesuvius (Vesuvio in Italian). It is still an active volcano, it’s the last eruption was in 1944.
Until AD79 Pompeii was a thriving city with around 20,000 inhabitants. Its location close to the Bay of Naples attracted many wealthy Italian families. Pompeii was a city full of life. Its inhabitants enjoyed visiting the taverns and restaurants. They shopped in the shops and markets.
Disaster at Pompeii
Suddenly on 24th August AD79 that all changed. On that morning Mount Vesuvius erupted sending a cloud of rock, ash and volcanic gas high into the sky. Straightaway, this rained down on the city of Pompeii. The eruption lasted for 24 hours and during this time many people did manage to flee the city.
Later that same day the pyroclastic flow began to pour down the sides of the volcano. A wave of hot ash, rock and volcanic gas thundered down onto the city at speeds of up to 100mph. It smashed through buildings, suffocated anyone who remained and left the city under a deep layer of volcanic debris.
The tragedy was devastating. As a result, the buried city was left untouched for hundreds of years. Excavators rediscovered the city while excavating in the mid 18th century and work began to uncover Pompeii.
Today, the site is huge. You can spend hours exploring everything it has to offer. Definitely, choose a few key sights and spend some time absorbing the atmosphere. Imagine yourself visiting the buildings when Pompeii was bustling with people. After all, there is nowhere else in the world quite like it.
What sights should be part of your visit to Pompeii?
1. Explore the Forum
No visit to Pompeii would be complete without a visit to the forum. The forum is the main square and was the centre of daily life in Pompeii. Many different kinds of public buildings are found here such as temples, shops, courts and a market. In addition, you can see the remains of elegant private houses. It’s rectangular in shape and surrounded by stone porches. A focal point is the Temple of Jupiter which is positioned to align with Mount Vesuvius. Nearby is the Temple of Apollo, one of the oldest religious buildings in Pompeii.
2. Visit the world’s oldest Roman Amphitheatre
Situated beyond the main city walls is the impressive amphitheatre. Notably, it is the oldest known Roman example since it was built in 70BCE. It seated 20,000 people and was popular with visiting people from neighbouring towns as well as the residents of Pompeii. As you approach you can see the external staircases which lead up to the seating area. Walk into the arena and you can almost hear the roaring crowd.
3. Marvel at the ornate Thermal Baths
Whenever I think of Rome I always think of their famous baths. Accordingly, Pompeii has three public baths as well as a private one. Men and women both used the baths but they had separate entrances and bathing areas. Each bathhouse consists of an apodyterium (dressing room), a tepidarium (for medium temperature baths), a frigidarium (for cold baths) and calidarium (for hot baths).
These buildings are especially interesting because you can see the remains of the heating system. It is truly remarkable to see such a sophisticated approach in such an old building. Specifically, mobile braziers burned to create heat and then the hot air was circulated through pipes in the walls and gaps in the floors.
You can find the Forum Baths just behind the Temple of Jupiter. These are the smallest example but worth visiting in spite of this due to the elaborate decoration. The Stabian Baths are most impressive and particularly well preserved. In fact, they are the oldest known example of a Roman bath. The Central baths were actually under construction when Vesuvius erupted. They occupy a large area in the centre of Pompeii. Unlike the Forum and Stabian baths, the Central baths did not have separate male and female quarters. For this reason, men and women would bathe at different times.
4. Interact with history at the Antiquarium
This is the main visitor centre and also a museum with exhibits displayed in a series of different rooms. It’s a modern building with excellent displays and lots of information available. Many of the artefacts from the excavation are kept here although many more can be seen at the Archaeological Museum in Naples. Don’t miss the video room where you can see the devastation of Pompeii take place on the big screen. There is lots for younger visitors to do here with many interactive exhibits.
5. Enter the Garden of the Fugitives
The garden was a vineyard immediately before the eruption. It is now best known for the plaster casts which are displayed here. In total 13 bodies of men, women and children were discovered here. Fortunately, many people evacuated the city before disaster struck but those who remained were suffocated or burned as the pyroclastic flow surged into the city. Visitors can view several plaster casts of the disaster victims.
6. Beware of the dog at the House of the Tragic Poet
Visitors beware! Look carefully as you enter the House of the Tragic Poet. Just inside the entrance is a mosaic with the words CAVE CANEM or Beware of the Dog. Obviously, dogs have lived in the houses of their owners since Roman times.
Inside, you can view some superb decorations, in particular, the mythological paintings which feature episodes from the Iliad. Another interesting fact about the House of the Tragic Poet. Edward Bulwer-Lytton sets part of his novel, The Last Days of Pompeii, in this house.
7. View ancient artifacts in the Forum Granary
Another impressive building in the Forum area which is well worth making time for. The granary, which consists of a row of openings separated by pillars, was the fruit and vegetable market. Here, you can see many of the archaeological finds from elsewhere during the excavations of Pompeii. There is an abundance of terracotta pottery including bottles, pans, pots. As you look at these everyday objects it really reminds you that these were ordinary people just living their lives before disaster struck.
8. Appreciate the beauty of the House of the large fountain
This house recently re-opened to the public. It gets its name from the large and very impressive fountain found in the garden. The central niche of the fountain is decorated in exquisite glass mosaic and the sides are decorated with marble masks. This beautifully decorated villa will be a highlight of your visit to Pompeii.
Enjoy your visit to Pompeii Archaeological Park!
Ultimately, there are so many wonderful ruins and exhibits to see during your visit to Pompeii. For this reason, we’ve provided the above list as suggestions to focus on your visit. However, don’t rush. Instead, take time to soak up the atmosphere and try to imagine what it would have been like in the city as the disaster unfolded.