Visiting Pompeii

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Vesuvius dominates the Bay of Naples skyline. You can see him from almost everywhere: a constant reminder that at practically any moment, life as we know it could be brought to a sudden and dramatic end by one of the world’s most powerful and dangerous active volcanoes.

Nowhere is Vesuvius more apparent than at Pompeii, looming over the ruins of the city he destroyed in AD79. Viewed from the forum of the old city, he appears staggeringly huge. But in a strange way, when you visit the ruins of Pompeii, you can’t help but feel a little bit grateful to Vesuvius (whilst of course maintaining a general fear of impending doom). For without Vesuvius, we would not have this insight into life in the Roman Empire, almost 2000 years ago.

Visiting Pompeii was one of my most favourite days in my life so far. It is simply fascinating. What struck me the most was how advanced and civilised life seemed to be in the city. The infrastructure, the technology in plumbing and heating at the baths, the decor and creature comforts at the villas, the services available (restaurants, laundries, two theatres, a brothel with built in beds)…it all seemed so modern! It also felt so much like a real city in that it varied so much from area to area – from the big, luxurious villas on the Western side, to the business and religious orientated buildings around the forum, and the mix of smaller houses and retail premises moving towards the East.

I would absolutely recommend a trip to Pompeii, it really felt like a once in a lifetime experience. I would however not necessarily recommend a trip in the height of summer! It was hot. I mean seriously, off the scale hot. The site is very exposed, with barely any shade, and the sea breezes don’t quite seem to make it in. Add to that the fact that most people visit from Naples or Sorrento, and that means a trip on the Circumvesuviana train, which is old, overcrowded, and lacks any kind of air conditioning. But if you do find yourself in the area, even in summer? Don’t miss it.

A few tips on visiting Pompeii:

 

  • Unless you really want a guided tour, don’t be swayed by the people who gather outside the station directing you into the tours office. They ask if you want to visit the site, then when you say yes, try to funnel you into buying a tour at the station office. Make your own way down the road to the Pompeii main entrance to buy your tickets.
  • Take plenty of food and drink. There are limited options on the site. I brought a takeaway calzone with me that I picked up from a cafe in Sorrento that morning, which was perfect. And lots of water, although there are drinking water taps across the site for refills if you don’t want to carry huge bottles.
  • As I said above, the site is very exposed. Bring a lot of suncream. If you need a shady, breezy place to have your picnic/a rest, the rear of the Triangular Forum has places to sit and a lot of tree-cover.
  • The site is BIG. And everything is fascinating. But you can get a bit ruined-out. The guidebook leaflet thing they give you at the ticket office is brilliant, but has way too much information for you to take in whilst you are there. We followed the Rough Guide recommendations for the highlights, and then just walked around to get a feel for the rest. If you can, work out which bits of the site you really want to see before you arrive, and plan your route.
  • The brothel seems to always have a big queue and you get funneled through a bit. But it is worth it! Perhaps try to go earlier or later in the day to avoid the crowds. Otherwise, despite the huge visitor numbers every day, the site didn’t feel overly busy, which was nice.

 

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More photos under the cut…

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