A trip around Italy is not complete until you have visited Pompeii (Pompei to locals). The UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, with approximately 2.5 million visitors every year.
In case you aren’t familiar with the history surrounding the ancient city of Pompeii, let me explain. Pompeii was a bustling, prosperous Roman town until 79AD when the looming volcano Mount Vesuvius which the city was located at the base of erupted. After the eruption, the city was completely buried beneath volcanic ash and pumice, and forgotten for 1,500 years. It wasn’t until the 1700’s when a real effort to excavate the ruins began. The same ash that destroyed Pompeii also ended up keeping it well-preserved for centuries due to the lack of air and moisture. The artifacts provide an extraordinary and unique insight into life during ancient Rome.
There is a lot to see here, if you wanted to see everything that is open to the public it could take you several days to explore the city ruins. However, there are areas that are better preserved than others and things that are just more interesting than others, so if you prefer to see only the highlights of Pompeii, you can do it in half a day- to one full day.
After learning (and being a little frightened) about Pompeii in primary school my parents took me to Pompeii when I was just 12 years old, even as a young kid can remember being rather eager to visit. I continued my passion for history and ancient Roman’s by studying Latin at secondary school, reading about the Cornelius family, Marcus and Aurelia. Fast forward to 2013 when Shannon and I were road-tripping around Europe and made sure that once again Pompeii was high on our list.
The first thing you notice about Pompeii is its size. It’s estimated that around 20,000 people lived here and the archaeological site covers over 160 acres. Below is a list of the best persevered and interesting site to see in Pompeii…
Located in the centre of town, the Forum was the heart of Pompeii and the place where all of the city’s main temples and public buildings were located. Things not to miss here would be the Temple of Jupiter on the northern side of the Forum and the Temple of Apollo, the oldest building in Pompeii.
The amphitheatre in Pompeii is the oldest of its kind. Like the Colosseum in Rome, this was where the residents of the city held their gladiator games and circus performances which were two of the most popular forms of entertainment back in those times.
The Forum Baths
Located close to the Forum, these are the best preserved thermal baths in Pompeii. Since very few residents of Pompeii could afford to build their own baths, most people visited the public bath houses. Separated into male and female quarters, the Forum Baths contained changing rooms, cold baths, lukewarm baths, and hot baths.
Located off the main streets, you can pop into for a quick look into everyday homes.
Mount Vesuvius can be seen from most areas inside Pompeii.
Back in 1860 an archaeologist called Guiseppe Fiorelli realised that the empty spaces in the ash around the human bones he found were where the bodies had decomposed, and by filling them with plaster these eerie casts provide a shockingly detailed look at the positions people were in at the time of their death some were curled up in the foetal position or with hands shielding their faces from the eruption - the temperatures would have reached 250°C and would have killed anyone long before the ash arrived. You can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been, so seeing them is both fascinating and sobering. Located in the back of Pompeii you will find permanent casts of the victims of Vesuvius in the Garden of the Fugitives.
Information before you go...
When to visit
The summer months of June, July and August are the high season and also the hottest months of the year. Also arrive as early as possible in the morning, both as it will be quieter and you can avoid the heat a little and there is so much to view you really will want as much time as possible. The site is open from 8.30am to 7.30pm from April–October or 5pm from November–March
How to get there
Pompeii is around 25km south of Naples and 27km north of Sorrento. The train from Naples runs every 40 minutes and is a 36 minute journey, from Sorrento by train it takes over 2 hours and involves a change of train. If you are coming by car- Sorrento to Pompeii via SS145 takes 1 hour and Naples to Pompeii via A3 takes 40 mins. There is paid street parking around the site.
Entry costs €11 for adults or is free for EU citizens under 18. You can also get a three-day combined ticket which also covers Herculaneum and three other archaeological sites (Oplontis, Stabiae and Boscoreale) for €20.
Tickets can be bought directly from the Pompeii Archaeological Site’s website here. Or you can purchase tickets on arrival, although be warned there can be very long queues. You can buy an audio guide, or guide book or take a guided tour
What to bring
Bottled water, camera, guide book which can be purchased at the entrance gates, suncream
What to wear
Comfortable shoes, preferably trainers, you will do a lot of walking and on uneven cobblestones.
Want to see more?
Visit Herculaneum, this town is in ever better condition than Pompeii, just not as well know. Joining a tour you can also get up close and personal to the still active Mount Vesuvius.
It is quite extraordinary to wander the cobble stones, where there are still indentations in the road from being worn down by the wheels of chariot; to explore private homes, taverns, amphitheatres; to follow the layout as it was before the eruption looking in on bakeries, shops, baths and even brothels. The extent of the preservation gives an amazing insight into how the Romans lived here, all the while having Mount Vesuvius looming over you, looking daunting and dangerous on the horizon. The scope of this place is rather mind blowing and we cannot encourage you enough to visit and explore it for yourself, even whilst the hot sun is baking down on you it can still feel eerie and dark feelings linger around the walls and cobbles.
Me aged 12 visiting Pompeii for the first time.