Some 2,000 years ago, Pompeii, Italy was a thriving city of shops, taverns, workshops, theatrical shows, and homes with elaborate courtyards. Then, one disastrous August day, Mount Vesuvius blew. The volcano’s eruption smothered Pompeii and everything in it under 60 feet of ash. There the city lay, untouched, until excavation began in the 18th century.
Today people, millions of them, walk the streets again, marveling at glimpses of life in a long-ago era. A moment in time was preserved by the pyroclastic blast.
A Visit to Pompeii, Italy
Before or after seeing Pompeii, a visit to the archeological museum in Naples is a must. This great museum holds treasures found in the ruins – frescoes, statuary, mosaics, and hundreds of household objects. A look at these gives life to a Pompeii tour. Then drive or, the easier way, ride the Circumvesuviana train, a half-hour ride from Naples, to the Pompeii-Scavi/Villa Misteri stop. The ruins entrance is close by. Wear walking shoes and carry water, and plan to spend the better part of a day. There is much to see on this 163-acre site, though some areas are closed for restoration.
A map and audioguide, available at the ticket office, are helpful, or you can hire one of the knowledgeable guides. Enter the city through Porta Marina, and you’ll pass the mostly ruined Temple of Venus and the Basilica, and arrive at the Forum. This was the heart of the ancient city, the public meeting place. From here, strolling the stone-paved streets, you see houses with their original marble, mosaic decorations, a colonnaded garden, baths, a laundry, a baker’s oven, and taverns where ready-cooked food was offered. Plaster casts give a clear and haunting look at how people died, overcome by gases, heat and ash.
It’s easy to imagine the lively community that existed here, along with the grandeur of the Temple of Jupiter and the well-preserved Temple of Isis. You can almost hear the shouts of vendors in the marketplace and splashing of water in fountains. Graffiti and slogans adorn some walls; pictures on the brothel illustrate what the ladies offered their clients. Don’t miss Villa dei Misteri, a once-luxurious home with richly colored frescoes showing a woman possibly being inducted into the cult of Dionysius. The Roman amphitheatre, where gladiators fought, is the oldest known, dating from 80 BCE. The oldest building is the Temple of Apollo, from the 6th century BCE.
Pompeii is a fine day trip from Naples, or you can stay nearby, though virtually every hotel contends with street noise. The Hotel Amleto, walking distance from the ruins, is comfortable and has a rooftop garden. Conveniently located Hotel Palma is a friendly place with a terrace with views of Mt. Vesuvius. Probably the best choice is Hotel Diana Pompei, a 13-room establishment known for its attractive rooms, warm welcome and good breakfast.
The cafeteria at the archeological site serves meals. Other eateries, known for their good quality, are Restaurant President, serving excellent seafood and pastas on Piazza Schettini; Macchiavelli; and La Situla.
Written by Marilyn McFarlane for EuropeUpClose.com