Pompeii: The City Frozen in Time

I have studied about Pompeii, watched movies & documentaries, seen photos of the ‘mummified’ bodies, read about its history & catastrophe – but nothing comes close to visiting the city covered in ashes and seeing the ruins yourself. Or maybe that’s just me; a history freak.

We booked our tour on Get Your Guide and met our guides Cristiano & Andreas at the Piazza del Popolo.

N.B.: For this tour, we chose the Skip the Line: Pompeii & Vesuvius Tour. When in Rome, we booked all our tours with Get Your Guide. And while this is in no way sponsored, I totally recommend you checking them out if you’re ever looking for any kind of tour on your travels. They were the most affordable and have a lot of options for you to choose from!

Although I really wanted to hike Vesuvius, I was informed by the tour operator before booking that the mountain would be closed to tours. It is usually closed during the months of November-March (we were visiting during the end of March). So instead, we stopped in Naples before heading out to Pompeii.

We had little over an hour to kill in Naples: we walked through its crowded streets, enjoyed the views along the Mediterranean, drank the most perfect Cafe Correcto (an espresso with a shot of liquor), and had the famous Neapolitan pizza.

& now – FINALLY – off to Pompeii.

A Little Bit of History

Today, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Pompeii was a vibrant city with over 20,000 inhabitants. It was filled with shops, houses, a school, public spaces, swimming pools, a brothel, and even an amphitheater. Nestled in between the Mediterranean on one side and under Mt Vesuvius on the other, the city had been the summer getaway for many of Rome’s elites. And on August 24, 79 AD, Mt Vesuvius erupted, throwing lava onto the city for a constant 24 hours. Thick grey ash rained over Pompeii, covering everything & everyone – leaving the city buried.
And preserved.
And hidden.
Until 1748 when a group of builders were making way for a new palace for the king of Naples. Imagine their surprise when they uncovered a whole city – totally untouched.

What to See

Porticus of the Theaters

Our first stop as we entered the archaeological site of Pompeii was the Porticus of the theaters. Located right behind the large theater of Pompeii, it served as an area where spectators could stop during the intervals of the show. It later became a barracks for gladiators where the upper level rooms became their apartments.

Odeon (Small Theater)

Used for musicals, concerts, and even miming, the odeon was richly decorated with colored marbles and covered by a functional roof to improve acoustics. The plaster on the masonry was filled with graffiti of the many spectators of the shows.

Residential Quarters

Houses in Pompeii ranged from modest homes to greatly-decorated villas, from the workmen’s quarters to noblemen’s residences. Some had their own workshops (a doctor’s clinic), their own gardens, or internal courtyards. It comes to show how different social classes used to interact daily while going on their distinct lifestyles.

One thing that stood out for me as we walked along the streets were the bakeries close to the residential quarters. It was here that loaves of bread were found in an oven, totally preserved and covered in ash – with their textures and shapes as if they have just come out. Each bread was marked with the baker’s stamp, a guarantee of quality.

Stabian Baths

You enter a large courtyard. The pool is found to the left, whereas a colonnade is found to the right, which leads to the men’s quarters, which are split into the apodyterium (dressing room), the frigidarium (for cold baths), the tepidarium (for medium temperature baths), and the calidarium (for hot baths).

Heating was guaranteed by a piping system in the walls and double floors coming from the furnaces. The women’s quarters was split the same way but was smaller and had no rich decorations as the men’s quarters.

The Stabian baths, which date back to the 2nd century BC, are among the oldest of the Roman world.

The Lupanar

The lupanar is the most famous brothel of the city. It is mostly significant for its stone beds on top of its doors with scenes of the ‘acts’ customers might pay for – pretty much described as ancient porn. It is also one of the most visited houses in Pompeii – not a surprise though, right! 😉

The Forum

We spent most of our visit here at the forum, the core of Pompeii and the focal point of all the main public buildings, markets, and worship. The forum is mainly an open area with one side open onto the Sanctuary of Apollo and the other filled with rows of shops. The axis of the Forum opens up to the Temple of Jupiter, aligned with Mt Vesuvius.

Today, various casts and preserved ruins are aligned where the markets used to stand. They form the greatest archaeological inventory of the city and include terra-cotta pots and pans, marble tables, and some casts of the victims of the eruption as well those of a dog.

The Amphitheater

The amphitheater was the one thing I really wanted to see and missed during my tour of Pompeii. They say that it could fit almost 20,000 spectators ad was located at the farthest area in Pompeii to ease the movement of so many people. It was here where Pink Floyd shot their concert documentary film with no audience except the film crew. Well, maybe I’ll get to visit Pompeii again & check it out!

How to Get There

By far, the most popular touristic attraction from Rome are the ruins of Pompeii. You can get there by car, train, or bus – or take a group tour from Rome.

  • By Car Almost a 250 km car ride from Rome to Pompeii & takes around 2 hours 40 mins to get to Pompeii by car.
  • By Train The fastest train ride from Rome to Pompeii is 2 hours, but no direct trains are available. You take the train from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale, then change there for Pompeii (Circumvesuviana line). Train from Naples to Pompeii leaves every 30 minutes and takes a little bit over an hour. All details with time & ticket price are found here.
  • By Bus There are also buses running from Naples to Pompeii, but the train ride is far easier and faster.

What You Need to Know

  • Tickets For non-guided tours from Rome, you can purchase your Pompeii tickets online for €15 for adults, €9 for EU citizens aged 18–24 or free for EU citizens under 18. You can also get a combined ticket which includes the archaeological sites of Herculaneum for €22, but it’s not available online. The site can get really busy so it’s a good idea to buy a skip-the-line ticket.
  • Free Entrance The sites are free on the first Sunday of every month, but these are probably the busiest.
  • Opening Hours The site is open April through October from 8:30am to 7:30pm (with last admission at 6pm) – November through March from 8:30am to 5pm (with last admission at 3:30pm).
  • Audio Guides You can find audio guides avaialble in Italian, English, French, German and Spanish at the Porta Marina entrance for €6.50.
  • What to Bring You will be spending quite some time in Pompeii, under the sun, so make sure you bring along a hat, sunscreen, water bottle (which you can refill at the fountains around the site), comfortable shoes, and a map!
  • Arrival Time To avoid the crowds (and the mid-day heat), make sure you’re at the sites the earliest possible.
  • Visit the official website for the Pompeii archaeological site here.

Is Pompeii on your list of places to visit? Have you ever been? Let me know in the comments!

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