I’ve always had a romantic fascination with Pompeii, duly brought on by Hollywood’s depiction of doomed and tragic lovers trying to escape the inevitable end.
So of course a highlight of any trip to Italy would have to be a visit to the ruins… some of the best preserved in the world.
We did a tour as part of a shore trip on during our Mediterranean cruise. (Not my ideal way to tour places – but hey, I’m not one to look a travel gift horse in the mouth if the opportunity comes knocking!)
I would highly recommend visiting without a tour so you have time to explore at leisure, and hopefully avoid the big cruise groups!
Pompeii was an ancient Roman town, situated near modern-day Naples, at the foot of Mt Vesuvius. Along with nearby Herculaneum it was mostly destroyed and buried under 4 to 6 m (13 to 20 ft) of volcanic ash and pumice during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The eruption destroyed the city, killing almost 2000 of it’s inhabitants. It Pompeii lay buried under meters of ash for thousands of years, waiting to be found in 1599 in almost perfect preservation.
The lack of moisture and air has meant the well preserved artifacts give an amazingly detailed insight into what life was like during Roman times.
Pompeii, along with Herculaneum, was inscripted into the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997. After 250 years of tourism (over 2.5 million visitors a year) and poor excavation processes during it’s initial discovery, weathering and erosion, the site is now under threat.
Two thirds of the city has been excavated but they are rapidly deteriorating.
Key Sites to See
Exploring the ruins of Pompeii can take the best part of a day. These are some of the key sites to make sure you don’t miss.
The Forum is the main square in a roman town and several of the colonnades are still standing. The square is surrounded by a number of buildings – The Temple of Jupiter, the Macellum (an ancient version of a supermarket), The Shrine of Lares, the Temple of Vespasian and the Curia – where the town council met.
There is evidence of Pompeii’s advanced water supply and sanitation system, though no remains of the aqueducts.
Before they were connected to the aqueduct, Pompeii and Herculaneum relied on wells for drawing up ground water, and cisterns under the impluvium which stored collected rainwater.
From the Augustan period, Pompeii and Herculaneum were both serviced by an aqueduct from the Acquaro springs. At Pompeii, the water flowed into the castellum acquae, at the highest point of the town, from where it was directed by three mains and branch lines throughout the town. Water pressure was reduced by water towers throughout the town. Water pipes were made of lead. <a href=”https://vico.wikispaces.com/Water+Supply+and+Sanitation”>Source</a>
Water flow was continuous, and in fact we were told by a guide that the plebs received better supply than the nobles, in order to keep them happy and not consider rebellion. Not too sure of the truth of this, but it made a good story!
A number of public latrines can be found around the town, but there was no toilet paper back in the day. It was a sponge on a stick!
Stepping stones could be found in the streets – for when the waste was overflowing.
A number of theaters are also found around the town, some seating up to 5000 spectators, with fantastic views across the city.
Of course a highlight is the plaster casts of fleeing citizens, and give amazing detail on thier final positions, right down to their facial features and expressions. It is truly eerie to see, as you wonder about their final moments of terror.
Tips for visiting
Try to do a self guided tour, so that you can explore at leisure and not be bound to a set tour time-line.
You might want to get a guide book though. Most sites in Italy now have a self guided audio tour that you can access via your phone and headphones, or a headset you can pick up at the entrance for a fee.
Wear good walking shoes, take a hat and plenty of water.
Don’t forget the camera – there are plenty of great shots to take.
Be prepared for plenty of crowds – it is one of Italy’s most famous tourist attractions.