There are places one can visit, admire, photograph and then move on with one’s life. Then there are other places that are not meant to be visited, they are meant to be lived. Pompeii is one of the latter.
Being an Italian and having lived in Italy for most of my life, I’ve seen many archaeological sites. In Italy, as you can imagine, they’re just all over the place. Even in the small town where I grew up, that has something like 700 inhabitants, we have an arc from the Roman Era, a Medieval church from the Medieval time and a cemetery from the Napoleonic time. And I can assure you that my hometown is as common as any small town in Italy.
One might think that after so much archeology under my eyes on daily basis, nothing could impress me. The reason why we went to Pompeii is mainly because Klaus wanted so much to go, both for the history of the place and the fact that Pink Floyd had a concert in the Pompeii’s amphitheater.
How to plan a Pompeii tour
One thing you should immediately know about Pompeii: the place is H U G E. Of the 66 hectares (170 acres), 40 hectares have been excavated and it’s impossible to tour the whole city in one day. What you have to do first is to go to the Pompeii website and take a look at the list of houses and buildings of Pompeii. Choose from there the ones that seem more interesting to you, then download this map and plan how to walk through the city based on the places you chose to see. This is in my opinion the only way to get the most out of a single day in Pompeii.
Next I’ll share with you the most beautiful parts in Pompeii, in order as we saw them entering from the Porta Marina.
Sanctuary of Venus
Starting the tour from Porta Marina, the first thing you’ll see will be the Sanctuary of Venus. Considered that Venus was the patron goddess of Pompeii, no wonder the temple dedicated to her has the best spot of the town, looking over the Gulf on Naples. Sadly, almost nothing is left of the temple because after it was destroyed in an earthquake in 60 AD, it was still under construction when the Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. One of the majestic sculpture from the artist Mitoraj can be admired in this spot.
Basilica and Forum
The Forum was the core of the city life. All the main buildings would surround it, included the Basilica, which is the most important building of the town as it was the center of the economic and political life.
House of the Orchard
or of the Floral Cublicles
House of Paquius Proculus
House of Octavius Quartio
or House of Loreius Tiburtinus
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House of Venus in the shell
House and Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus
This is how bars and restaurants use to look like two thousand years ago.
House of the faun
In this house is found the mosaic picturing the battle of Alexander and Darius.
Arch of Caligula
Necropolis of the Herculaneum Gate
Villa of the Mysteries
This was most definitely the highlight of the whole tour. If you have to choose one single place to see, choose this one.
The Villa has one of the most well preserved frescoes and from the room that hosts these frescoes come the name of the Villa.
The reason why the Villa is called of the Mysteries is because of these frescoes, that portray a woman undergoing some sort of ritual. Some say this symbolizes the process of the young woman through the rites of marriage and some say this is an initiation of the woman to a mystery cult. Also some have hypothesized that Augustus’ wife Livia owned the place. It seems that the truth is far from being unveiled and that’s also what makes this Villa so special.
How to get to Pompeii
The easiest way is taking the “circumvesuviana”, the trains that connect Naples to the nearby cities and towns. The line (here the timetable) that has Sorrento as the terminal brings you right to Pompeii. You can purchase the tickets directly from the ticket vendor at the station. I would advice to stop to Pompei Scavi Villa Misteri, so that you’ll start the tour from Porta Marina and the museum. From the train station, just follow the crowd and don’t buy the entrance ticket anywhere but the official front office (it’s cheaper from there). Also remember that if you’re resident in a country that belongs to EU and are between 17-24, you have the right to a discount, just show your ID at the office and you’re good to go.
Other things to remember when visiting Pompeii
Leave space to spontaneity
Pompeii is an ongoing project. All the time there are excavations and restorations. The day we visited 3 restored houses (“Domus e Botteghe”, “Casa del Tricilino all’aperto” and “Casa del Larario Fiorito”) were being opened to the public that day (how lucky were we?). So start the tour with the assumption that the map won’t show you all the houses and places you can visit. For example, the House of Paquius Proculus with its amazing mosaic floors is not yet in the official maps.
Plan your toilet stops
There are few toilets in Pompeii and mainly at the entrance gates. Only a couple are in the town, so take that also into consideration for your tour. It would be a bummer to run all over the site just to get to a toilet, right?
Take water, snacks and sunscreen with you
We visited Pompeii at the end of December and there were still +15 C in the shadow and a burning sun. So I am pretty confident to say that it’ll be as hot or much worse the rest of the year too. I wouldn’t consider eating a meal in Pompeii, as the food is so overpriced and overrated, also outside the site. Plan to take some snacks and lots of liquids with you and eat only afterwards outside town.
Wear comfortable clothes
You’ll walk like you’ve never walked before. And you’re not going to walk on normal asphalt, but on two thousand years old travertine paved roads. Absolutely forget heels, as the roads are not even and there are gaps between the blocks.
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