Visiting Pompeii is probably one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Although a lot of the city was destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius back in 79 AD, what survived was buried under volcanic ash and as a result has been well preserved. You can walk the streets of a city that was last lived in two thousand years ago. As you explore the site, you can imagine how the city was all those years ago, where people lived, worked, gathered and enjoyed themselves. The site is huge and there is so much to see that we spent nearly six hours there exploring, from the houses of the rich to the baths, the brothels, the temples and the staggering Amphitheatre. You can spend as much or as little time as you want, either just getting a taste for it or fully immersing yourself and spending a full day. Visiting Pompeii is such a unique experience and it really takes you back in time if you ignore the crowds and allow yourself to wander, explore and discover one sight after another.
1. Taking a short tour to start your trip at Pompeii is useful to get your bearings and gain some context about what life was like before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. We took a two hour tour with Tempio travel which was pretty cheap at €12 (this doesn’t include entry into Pompeii but it is worth the money). If you’re staying in Sorrento you can book on the tour at the train station, if not there is also a ticket office at Pompeii’s station. The tour was really useful as it showed us the main parts of the city first and gave us all the information we needed to fully appreciate what we saw walking around on our own afterwards. Having a sense of where everything was and what life was like made the rest of the day much more enjoyable than it would have been if we had just wandered around on our own for the whole visit.
2. Know that it will be busy, very busy and that there are tour groups and school children pretty much everywhere. If you know and accept this in advance it will make your trip more enjoyable. Just see past the crowds and find parts of the city that are a little more off the beaten path. In the late afternoon we found ourselves alone in some parts of the city that aren’t on the usual tour routes and they were just as interesting, some even more so than what we were shown on our tour. We couldn’t believe just how much there was to discover!
3. Allow a whole day and get the most out of your relatively cheap €11 entry price. There is so much to explore and it is best done in a relaxed way, stumbling upon what is around the next corner. We enjoyed finding one incredible thing after another. Pompeii is very large and so if you have limited time you may want to pick out the places you especially want to see in advance and make sure they are not too far apart. For instance, the Amphitheatre is quite a walk away from the Forum, on the other side of the city.
4. This may seem like a no-brainer but people might not know just how exposed Pompeii is to the sun. In the summer months it may be hard to find a cooler day, but if you do have one during your stay in the region make sure to go on that day. Throughout Pompeii there isn’t much shelter from the sun, so if you have no choice but to go on a very hot day, make sure you avoid the midday sun and be prepared!
5. Use your imagination and look past the crowds to think about what it used to be like to live there before the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius devastated the city. There is so much remaining that it is quite easy to picture what it was like all those years ago, for instance the writing on the walls in the below photo.
1. The streets
This is probably a bit of an odd one to start off with but it’s one that you reminds you that what you’re seeing was lived in so very long ago. The indentations in the stone were for carts and when gladiators went to battle their carts would go through the city on these tracks. The stones going across the road were stepping stones used to avoid walking through the human waste that was emptied onto the streets. Clever. Keep an eye out for these and walk on the stepping stones that were used two thousand years ago.
2. The Baths
The baths were an important part of life in Pompeii, a place where people socialised. You can see this in their design, built to be grand. They are a great place to see the paintings and carvings that used to adorn the walls and ceilings of Pompeii. It’s pretty incredible that so long ago such intricate and decorative designs were used. The above photo was taken in the men’s changing room. At the bottom of the photo, the gaps in the wall were their locker spaces. As you walk around the baths you can see the different types of pools and how they were heated.
3. The Brothel
If you venture into Pompeii’s red light district, you can go inside a brothel. As Pompeii was a port city, sailors came from all over and so on the walls are paintings which they would use to point to so they could say what they wanted. You can see the rooms which were used, each of which has a stone bed, not very comfortable!
4. The Amphitheatre
The Amphitheatre is on the edge of the city, a bit of a walk from the other main attractions, but along the way there are lots of interesting things to see. The Amphitheatre itself is very grand and as you enter through a passage, one of the gladiators would have used, you can imagine the crowds sat above and the events that would have taken place.
5. The Forum and the surrounding Temples and Basilica
The Forum is probably the busiest part of Pompeii, the main square, it is surrounded by the remains of several temples and the Basilica. Just off to one side of the Forum you can see a range of artefacts found in Pompeii and also some of the casts of the bodies of the people that died when Mt. Vesuvius erupted. This part of Pompeii is especially interesting as it was the main place where business would take place and people would gather, the centre of life in Pompeii.
I never expected to visit Pompeii in my lifetime and I think that made the experience that much more surreal and enjoyable. I’d suggest adding Pompeii to your bucket list now! It is definitely one of the most unique experiences you can have and it makes you really think about the people that came before us.