By the end of the month i will be in another country and I am so excited to start traveling again. Until then I want to share the next iteration of our Italy road trip adventure. Similar to the Vatican recap post instead of a bunch of pretty picture lacking context today I’m my tips for having the best visit to Pompeii, the ancient buried city. I have now been three times – once with my family, once with school, and once with my fiancé. Ironically two of the three times it rained but that goes to show I have a good sense of it in multiple climates. I shared the last rainy visit back in 2013 but I wanted to change it up a bit and share my experience not from an academic perspective but from the view of a tourists wanting to see the best of Pompeii.
1 | Planning Ahead You will need to buy a ticket to enter the site and buying tickets online will ensure it does not sell out the day you plan to visit and and the timed entry allows you to plan accordingly. At the time of publishing Pomepii was still open despite COVID restrictions and you can visit this page to see exactly which attractions you are able to visit! While my first two visits were round trip from Rome (one via train, one via bus) and the last was via Positano by driving. All three visits we went to a different city to sleep there are many hotels a short distance from the archaeological site.
3 | Get a Guide – I would highly recommend going with a guide because even the best blog post or detailed guide book isn’t the same as some pointing things out in the moment and being able to ask questions to. However, be careful in Choosing your guide. On our most recent trip we opted for aa tour with an archeologist and were impressed with his knowledge and extra detailed facts. (the fact that he did part of his doctorate by restoring rooms in Pompeii made it quite tangible and I was surprised to learn that the restorations do not included no repaint, not allowed in Italy) If you are going to visit by yourself I would recommend the free official guide which covers the much of the space over 60 pages.
4 | Terme Suburbane, The Suburban Baths. As of 2018 you can now see one of the newest excavations, the co-Ed bath house. It took more than a decade for this to be uncovered but it was worth it as you can walk through the space. You can find the Locker rooms, cold room, and hot room all of which would have been covered and warm with wood burning between the walls and under the floors . While the second floor no longer exists you can see the paintings still on the wall that indicate upstairs was a brothel.
5 | The Basilica After what might be too many years of Catholic school when I hear the word basilica the though of a place of worship immediately comes to mind. However, this basilica was actually the court house of Ancient Pompeii but it’s name is because this structure had the same cross-shaped floor plan adopted later for Christian churches. Only a few of the two-story columns are left but you can get a sense of how grand it was.
6 | Temple of Apollo The Temple of Apollo is the oldest structure in Pompeii and is located adjacent to the Forum. It was built In the 6th century B.C. and each ruling party made changes to it – the Etruscans, then the Greeks, and then it was expanded by the Romans. As if the structure was not imposing enough the Temple of Apollo is surrounded by 48 Ionic columns. You will notice both statue of Apollo and bust of Diana but these are replicas of the original bronze statues which are now on display National Archeological Museum of Naples. It certainly not to be missed as it is not only beautiful but one of the most important ancient religious site of Pompeii.
7 | The Forum. This was the city center of the Roman town, serving as the economic, political and religious epicenter. A stop at the forum may not be a the most novel of these tips for visiting Pompeii but it is still a must. You can still see some of the beautiful travertine floor which was added in the second century when the square was enlarged to allow for even more commerce. Around the permit we in addition to the Temple of Apollo you can find many other shrines, temples, and other buildings surround this square. These include the Temple of Jupiter, the Shrine of the Lares, the Temple of Vespasian; a hall for selling wool; and the home of the town council, the Curia.
8 | Granai del Foro Given the constant excavations Pompeii has dozens of archaeological storage areas but one of the most well known is the Granai del Foro, which translates to the Forum granary. Since 1823 it has been one of the most important buildings in Pompeii because it is a depository for an immense amount of clay and household instruments. Perhaps the most startling are the body casts that were made in the late 19th century by pouring plaster into the hollows left by disintegrated bodies. Among these casts are replicas of a human lying down, a dog, a human seated holding their head, and pregnant slave; the belt around her waist would have displayed the name of her owner.
9 | Via dell’Abbondanza This was the high street pf POmpeei or the ancient main road of the Ancient city which ran across the city in the direction East / West. From the moment you step on it you can see the craftsmanship, a traditional Roman cobbled street still very well intact. It even has raised curbs and stepping stones that were used by citizens to avoid the sewage back that ran through the streets.
10 | House of Menander (Casa del Menandro) When we entered this room it was the peak of the storm and we spent longer than most in this home of a wealthy man. The painting are still quite well intact and on the South side many rooms still have their intricate and intact mosaic floors. I also really liked the outdoor garden and this is one spot you could easily miss if you breeze through the site, thus one of my tips for visiting Pompeii.
11 | Teatro Piccolo, the Theaters For a city of only 20,000 they liked to entertain and the Teatro Grande could seat 5,000 spectators. While used for gladiator battles at the time it was so well constructed that it is still used for Son et lumière shows in summer. The tour guides will proudly tell you that this stone theater was Built in Pompeii before Rome even had one and that the row boasts one of the best views of Vesuvius.
12 | See the Pompeii Mosaics As the city was buried for 2,000 years many of the mosaics are still in fantastic condition. Over the course of your visit peek into any of the grand villas. There is one actually called the House of the Geometric Mosaics, Casa del Cinghiale, and the Casa dei Cornelii as well as the Palestra dei Luvenes.
13 | Antiquarium. If you are short on time, stick to the city instead but if you have extra time you can visit this museum. The displays contain Hundreds of artifacts found during the excavations that were either too fragile to be left in place. They range from small household items to furniture and dozens of goods used in Pompeii’s thriving commercial trade. For me the most memorable piece was a coin that changed the date of the eruption (it is dated four years after the original estimated explorsion)
14 | Staying Right next to it you can find the Teatro Piccolo which translates to the Little Theater. This one is better preserved, likely because it had a roof, and was used mainly for musical performances.
Would you want to visit Pompeii?
Ps. I asked Mark if he had any tips for visiting Pompeii to add here and his suggestion was to “take an umbrella” as sadly the bits he remembers the most are sheltering from the torrential downpour.