Pompeii used to be a rich and booming city when the tragedy of August 79 AD took its course. The eruption of Vesuvius hit the population and the town was destroyed in only 25 hours. Today, Pompeii has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is one of the most visited sites in Italy. Is it worth being among 2,5 million visitors a year? Here’s what to see in Pompeii including some facts you might not have heard before.
My answer to the question if Pompeii is worth a visit is a definite yes. The ruins of Pompeii show how impressive the work of archeology can me. They were first discovered in the late 16th century when an underground channel was dug. The excavation began in 1738 and by 1990 about two third of the ancient Roman city had been laid open.
Did you know that the word volcano was named after the Roman god of fire, Vulcan, and it was created after the eruption on August 24, one day after the festival of Roman god fire Vulcanalia?
Today, you can still see the orthogonal shape of the city which was typical for Roman cities. You can see the walls of simple houses and large villas and you can identify different rooms and decorations, fountains, tables, beds, floor tiles and vivid wall paintings.
Speaking of paintings. The discovery of erotic art and distinct wall frescos showing pure joy let assume that sex played a major role in the everyday life in Pompeii. It used to be a town with trade and a growing economy. And by that, there was a strong market for sex. Brothels were established and phallus symbols on the walls and stones pointed to the establishments of joy located in the main forum area.
Did you know that two loaves of bread and half a liter of wine was the price to obtain the services of a prostitute?
Important buildings such as the Jupiter’s Temple, the Building of Eumachia, the Temple of Vespasian or the Basilica were located near the main square of Pompeii. A huge Centaur statue is dominating the main square today. What else to see in Pompeii? The amphitheater is located right behind the entrance of Piazza Anfiteatro and it is one of the oldest and best-preserved amphitheaters in the world. Up to 20.000 people were able to watch the popular and brutal gladiator fights.
When walking through the ruins of Pompeii you can still get the feeling of how life in this booming ancient city used to be. One of the most remarkable and at the same time touching reminders are the casts of dead bodies showing the position the people were in when they died. Plaster was used to fill the empty space between ash layers that held human bodies. In 2002 archeologists found two carcasses. The man wore a chain around his ankle indicating that he was a slave. The woman found next to him could have been a slave or his arbitress.
Did you know that more than 15.000 people died from the eruption? 2.000 survived the first blast, but the second eruption the following day killed everyone.
The lava of erupting Vesuvius reached a temperature of 700° Celsius and a speed of 110 kilometers per hour. It was nearly impossible for the population to escape the tragedy. Even today Vesuvius is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world due to its vicinity to Naples. Its last eruption was in 1944 and thankfully it has been dormant since then.
A personal note to everyone visiting the ruins: Thanks to amazing Archeologists and science we have this great opportunity to marvel at a more than 2000-year-old site and adumbrate a life back then. It should go without saying, but please respect the work and the ancient artifacts. Do not sit or stand on monuments to catch a selfie, stay within the zones you are entitled to and do not through your garbage away.
What is the best way to visit Pompeii?
You can either visit the ruins on a day trip from Naples or the Amalfi coast. However, I recommend you to stay a night in Pompeii and plan a tour through the ancient ruins in the late afternoon when the golden light provides a beautiful and warm view. No matter what time during the day you approach, there will always be crowds, but I felt they got less later in the afternoon. Download a great map of the site here.
A visit to Pompeii can be perfectly combined with a walk on the mount Vesuvius to see the crater and enjoy the marvelous view of the Gulf of Naples. My 4-day Amalfi coast itinerary includes Pompeii and Vesuvius. You can find some helpful recommendations in this article.
Pompeii guided tours*
- Self-walking with an audio guide and fast track entrance ticket for 21 Euro
- 2-hour guided tour without queuing the lines for 39 Euro per person
- 2-hour guided tour in a small group with an Archeologist for 53 Euro
- An 8-hour tour from Naples to the ruins and Mt. Vesuvius including pick-up at the hotel and lunch for 90 Euro
- A full day tour from Sorrento to the ruins and Mt. Vesuvius including hotel pick-up and drop off, earphones, guide, snacks and still water for 99 Euro
Visiting hours and entrance fees?
During April and October, the site is open daily from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m., while opening hours between November and March are from 8.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Entrance fee: 15 Euro per adult
Where to stay in Pompeii?
I really enjoyed my stay in the Palma hotel*. The staff is very friendly, the rooms are big and clean and the best thing is the rooftop terrace offering a great view of Vesuvius. I came back from visiting the ruins after they closed and enjoyed a pizza and a glass of chilled white wine on the rooftop looking over the city of Pompeii.
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