The ancient Roman town of Pompeii is famous for being potentially one of the only examples of a still pretty much intact town or city, depicting how the Romans from the 1st century AD lived their lives. It is considered to offer excellent detail of how the ancient city looked in Roman times. Pompeii was a town with a population of around 20,000 people before that fateful day. The eruption from nearby Vesuvius occurred on August 24th 79 AD, killing approximately 3,000 people by burying the town in soot and ash. The other 17,000 residents were incredibly lucky and managed to escape.
Address: Campania, Italy, near Naples
Price: Adults €11, EU Citizens 18-24 €5.50, EU Citizens under 18 or over 65 FREE
Opening hours: 8.30 to 19:30 April – October, 8.30 to 17.00 November – March
On your way into the site, you will have the opportunity to purchase an audio guide. These normally sell for €6.50 each or two for €10 and ID is required for these. A top tip is to be aware that there are vendors on market stalls selling unofficial audio guides too. They will usually draw you in by offering you a free map before trying to talk you into one of their €5 unofficial audio guides. They quite often tell you that there will be minimal signage and explanations inside but this is all a load of rubbish. They’re salesmen at the end of the day so don’t believe everything they tell you! The unofficial ones do work fine but the proper ones generally include far more points of interest. Of course, your other option is to enlist the help of a local tour guide. Normally you can join a tour group for €12 at the train station or for €10 at the main entrance. Make sure your guide can speak good English first before committing and that you can easily understand their accent. You don’t want to have to keep asking them to repeat themselves!
Getting around within the ruins of pompeii means walking. Believe it or not you can actually rent bicycle but to be honest it’s a bit of a daft idea when you look at the street surfaces. Wear comfy shoes and enjoy the walk. The old Roman roads have various grooves in them where the carts used to run along so watch out for these too. It get’s very got in Pompeii in the summer, typically between 32c and 35 c (89F to 95F) so it is worth remembering to bring plenty to drink and the usual sunscreen and hat combo is also a good idea. It can easily take quite some time to take it all in at Pompeii so don’t get caught out.
Once you have your ticket you should also receive a guide map and booklet with the main attractions for Pompeii listed although sometimes you may find that these are only available in Italian. The map is incredibly useful though as Pompeii’s streets can seem like a little bit of a maze, especially to a first time visitor.
Things to see in Pompeii
The Amphitheatre – This is actually near the Sarno Gate entrance, in the eastern corner of the area that has been excavated. This marvelous amphitheatre would have been used for traditional Roman activities such as gladiator battles and other sports. It is the oldest surviving amphitheatre in Italy and it is exceptionally well preserved. In its day it had the capacity to hold 20,000 people.
The Great Palaestra – This was effectively a gymnasium and sits opposite the the amphitheatre. There is a central area that would have been used for various sporting activities and there is also a pool in the middle.
House of the Faun – Its name was taken from the dancing faun statue found on site and is considered to be a superb example of Italian architectural style meeting Greek architectural style.
House of the Vetti – Supposedly this home belonged to two brothers who were once slaves but became rich once released. Containing many frescoes, it features a fresco of Priapus, the well-endowed God of Fertility. Other frescos around the building include cupids, couples making love and plenty of mythological creatures.
Forum – This was effectively the town centre, surrounded by important buildings including those of the government and religious buildings.
Temple of Apollo – This includes some of the oldest remains to be found at Pompeii with sine Etruscan items that can be dated back as far as 575 BC. This can be found on the western side of the forum.
Theatre – A 5,000 seater theatre built into the hollow of a hill for acoustic reasons.
House of the Ancient Hunt – A house that contains many hunting frescos in an open style.
Lupanar – This was once a brothel and contains many pornographic style frescos at the entrance to each of the rooms. Most people assume these relate to the services that were offered. You will notice that the beds seem rather small, even when you take into account that the Romans were a little smaller in size.
Via dei Sepolcri – Meaning ‘Street of Tombs’ this street features ruts worn in from carts.
The Basilica – A very important public building in the city that administered justice along with various trade activities.
Forum Granary – Designed as a kind of public market, it is likely that this did not get finished prior to the eruption. You can see various artifacts here along with plaster casts of people who did not manage to escape the city in time before the eruption.
Baths – A little north of the forum you will find several baths here to look at. The forum baths are actually very well preserved and have a roof over head but the central baths are unfortunately not quite in the same condition. They sit in a much bigger area but sadly time has not been so kind to them. The Stabian baths are also not that far away and include many interesting decorations to see.
House of the Tragic Poet – A small house that has become best known for its entrance mosaic featuring a chained dog along with the words ‘Cave Canem’, translating to ‘Beware of the Dog.’
Other things to take note of whilst walking around include ‘cat’s eyes’ in the surface of the ground. The Romans very cleverly installed these into the ground to reflect the light coming from either the moon or candles, allowing people to see where they were walking at night. Not bad for all those years ago! Also, take a good look at the streets as you walk around. You may notice that the pavements/sidewalks are much higher than those of modern times but this was deliberate. The streets would have had both water and waste flowing through them so this allowed pedestrians to not have to walk in it. The stones across the streets also acted as a way to let pedestrians cross without walking through the water and waste as well as acting as ‘speed bumps’ to slow down the carts, again preventing pedestrians from getting splashed by a speeding cart.
Travazzle tips for Pompeii
The majority of the site at Pompeii is cash only and there are no ATMs so be sure to bring enough cash with you for your visit. The nearest ATM is located within the ticket office at the train station. The only place that accepts credit cards on the site is the modern and air conditioned food court building. Whilst the food here is not necessarily the best around, it is a great place to take a break due to the air conditioning and the fact that it contains the only toilets on site!
You will find interesting ‘past and present’ books being sold by local vendors for around €12 but you can haggle with them to get a better price.
Purchase a tour guide book for €5 as it contains a lot of interesting information about this wonderful city.
Cameos are actually a local speciality and tour buses will quite often stop at factories and vendors for you to purchase them.
Watch out for expensive and not that impressive food that shops will try and sell you on the way in.
Take plenty of drinking water with you as this is essential for the hot summer days.
Although technically Mount Vesuvius is an active volcano and could erupt again at any time, early detection systems allow you to explore the site without worry!
Keep your valuables close. As with many areas popular with tourists, thieves are known to mix in with the crowds.
Parking near the entrance can be quite expensive and prices are not clearly marked. You may be hit with a big bill that you must pay before leaving. Park a few hundred meters down the hill towards the town where is it much cheaper, or stay at one of the local hotels that normally offer free parking.