You know those well known tourist sites that you go to and then you find that it wasn’t worth the hype? Well Pompeii wasn’t one of those places at all…
When you read or are taught about historic events it is so easy to treat it as though it were a piece of fiction; you are distanced from what happened, your mind cannot fathom the atrocities that took place as, after all, it is so unlike the things that happen to us in day to day life we just cannot comprehend it.
Historical events, once recited become merely a list of figures and statistics – x amount of people died, y amount of buildings were destroyed.. and so on. It isn’t until you are at the site of such an event that you really put yourself in the shoes of those affected.
Unlike many other Roman ruins, Pompeii isn’t just a collection of rubble… it is still very much a City. The first thing that struck me upon arrival was how vast the archaeological site was – a network of streets, houses and businesses all consumed by volcanic inferno. The majority of the outer infrastructure is still in place, as are the road networks. Travelling here off season meant that the site was not so crowded by tourists. It was eerie to walk along the original stone paths amongst the empty shells of former homes and imagine locals once walked the same streets of a more bustling, prosperous Pompeii.. or in fact the sights of panic that one would have bore witness to on that same road in 79AD.
There are a ton of interesting sites throughout the City. I’m sure every traveler has his or her different highlights, but here are some of the things I found interesting…
A macabre alternative to Rome’s infamous Colosseum.. A new, and somewhat gruesome exhibition had been added within the Pompeii site… the casts of those that didn’t make it out of the City alive frozen in horror for all eternity.
… Do I really need to give you a summary of what this is? You can find the early AD answer to graffiti on the walls here, to the tune of “Umberto was here” Oh Umberto you player!
The Villa of the Mysteries
You could walk around the frescoes and the site was incredibly well preserved considering, well, you know…
Just across from the Colosseum, The Great Pallestra was a place that Pompeians would come for exercise and Olympic games. It wasn’t excavated until the 1930s and it is believed that a pool once stood in the middle.
Our Lady of the Rosary Church, Modern Pompeii
I was surprised at how beautiful the central plaza of Modern Pompeii was (Is there anywhere in Italy that isn’t absolutely visually stunning?) particularly the interior of its main feature – The Lady of the Rosary Church. I just stumbled in here completely by chance as I waited for my train back to Naples. The construction of the church was actually initiated by a reformed Satanic Priest who, upon noticing that the former Church was falling down, created a shrine to the Rosary. This shrine was then apparently the site of ‘miracles’. The church that you see today was then built and now, hundreds of pilgrims visit the site every day hoping for a miracle.
Sad to report guys, I didn’t experience any miracles.. although I did survive the multi stop train journey back to Naples, including a good wait in a Camorra Mafia area so I guess that’s my cut.. Thanks big man upstairs! I live to blog another day.
Pompeii Travel Tips
- Pompeii is located 30 minutes South of Naples, and about 45 minutes North from Sorrento. It is easily accessible via the Circumvesuviana train service – Get off at Pompeii Scavi, and you only have to walk a short distance past the stalls to the entrance to the archaeological site. (you can also get off at ‘Pompeii’ station, this is just a slightly longer walk to the site – go straight ahead upon exit from the station and take a right turn when you pass Our Lady of the Rosary.)
- Note that if you are travelling by train from Naples, some lines require a change at Torre Annunziata – be clear before departing.
- If you have a Campania Arte Card, then your admission to the excavation site, and also the train journey if you wish to travel via the Circumvesuviana is covered [more information on this coming soon!] Standard Admission is 11 Euros and 5.50 for ages 18-25.
- Take plenty of water and if you are on a budget, I recommend packing a lunch. You will find little opportunity to get any snacks at the excavation site other than from the over priced stalls and in the City centre, food prices are almost double what you can expect to pay in Naples [around a minimum of 10 Euros a meal in Pompeii]
- You will get a map at the entrance to the archaeological site which comes in handy in navigating your way around the site. Notable buildings are also numbered. Do note however, that different sites can be closed for preservation work and maintenance without warning.
- If you are spending time in Naples, you can see a number of interesting artifacts and mosaics recovered from Pompeii on display in The Archaeological Museum.