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Visitors to Naples and its surrounding area could be overwhelmed by the number of archaeological wonders to see. Buried for centuries beneath tons of volcanic ash and debris, the archaeological sites scattered along the coast of Naples are among the most spectacular and best-preserved remains of the ancient Roman-Italic world. No other place in the world gives a deeper insight into Roman everyday life than the dramatic seaside towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE not only destroyed these ancient cities but, ironically, it preserved them for future discovery. Every year these perfectly preserved ruins attract millions of visitors who come to see a unique and fascinating snapshot into Roman life.
Our Site is launching an exciting new travel series devoted to the archaeological sites around the Bay of Naples. We kick off this new feature with Pompeii. The following guide is particularly intended for independent travellers who wish to make the most of their self-guided tour of Pompeii.
A Prosperous City
Thanks to its strategic position near the Sarno River, Pompeii was an important commercial centre, a trading hub noted for exporting goods such as olives, olive oil, wine and fish sauce (garum). Once home to approximately 12,000 people, the city boasted an assortment of baths, houses, temples, public buildings, markets, brothels, taverns and cafes, and a 20,000-seat arena. Probably originating from an amalgamation of five small towns, Pompeii's first city plan developed in the 6th century BCE when Italic people called the Oscans inhabited the area. Over the next centuries, the city fell to the Greeks and the Samnites before becoming a Roman colony in 80 BCE. Pompeii prospered until it was struck by a massive earthquake in 62 CE, damaging most of its buildings. The fatal blow came upon the city in 79 CE when Mount Vesuvius violently erupted.
Of Pompeii's original 66 hectares, 44 have now been excavated, & excavations are continuing to this day.
The Eruption & Aftermath
In 79 CE, in only 24 hours, a powerful eruption completely smothered the cities on the foothills of Vesuvius. The volcano, which had been dormant for hundreds of years, erupted with tremendous force sending a tall mushroom cloud of rock and gas over 30 km (18.6 miles) into the sky. The cloud then collapsed and triggered a massive pyroclastic surge down the slopes of Vesuvius, killing everyone who had not yet fled. At Pompeii, most of the houses lay under a blanket of pumice and ash up to 5 metres (16 feet) deep. It would be some 1700 years before these Roman cities were rediscovered by archaeologists, and the extent of their preservation was extraordinary.
After its catastrophic demise, centuries of history were sealed away until 1594 CE, when an architect stumbled across the ruins while digging a canal. However, it wasn't until the appointment of archaeologist Guiseppe Fiorelli in 1861 CE that systematic excavations were undertaken. Fiorelli was responsible for making the famous plaster casts of the victims of the eruption which you can now see around the site. Of Pompeii's original 66 hectares, 44 have now been excavated, and excavations are continuing to this day.
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Uncovering New Treasures & Rewriting History
270 years after the discovery of Pompeii, large scale archaeological excavations have resumed in Pompeii in Regio V, an area of over 1,000m² (10,000 ft²) that was still buried under volcanic debris. More than 200 experts and technicians are at work on the Great Pompeii Project, the €105 million ($116 million) conservation, maintenance and restoration program launched in 2012 CE and largely funded by the European Union. New structures (including a brightly coloured snack bar), colourful frescoes, mosaics of mythological figures, as well as graffiti were among the discoveries which emerged from the archaeological dig.
Another recent discovery was the scrawled piece of text on a wall of a house suggesting that the eruption occurred in October of 79 CE, two months later than previously thought. According to Massimo Osanna, the head of the Pompeii site, the correct date of the eruption may, in fact, be 24 October. After almost two millennia, the ruins of Pompeii continue to astound us with its rich archaeological legacy. The new excavation areas are yet to open to the public.
Pompeii is an easy trip from Naples or Sorrento. The local train service around Vesuvius is the Circumvesuviana Line that runs between Naples and Sorrento and has stops near all the major archaeological parks. Trains depart about every 30 minutes from the Naples central train station, and the journey to Pompeii takes about 30 minutes. The ticket fee is currently just under €3 one-way.
A single ticket to get into the Pompeii excavations at the time of writing costs €15. Also available is a three-day pass to access three sites for €18: Pompeii, Oplontis and Boscoreale. The tickets can be purchased from the official ticket offices at the site entrances. The Archaeological Park of Pompeii also proposes advance tickets from the online ticketing service TicketOne which allow visitors to skip the queues by using a fast lane ticket window. All your tickets include a map and a small pocket guide to the sites. You can also download your PDF guides in advance of your trip (see here).
There is also the Campania Arte Card (official site) which allows entrance to Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Boscoreale, the Archaeological Museum of Naples and over 70 other cultural and archaeological sites throughout the Campania region, as well as unlimited travel by public transportations. The 3-day Campania Arte Card costs €32 and gives free admission to the first two sites of your choice and then up to 50% discount from the 3rd site onwards. The 7-day Campania Arte Card costs €34 and gives free admission to the first 5 sites visited and then up to 50% discount on further sites. However, it does not include public transport. The Campania Arte Card is available from most major museums and participating archaeological sites. It can also be bought online in advance from the Campania Arte Card official website.
The excavations of Pompeii are justifiably among the most popular sights and day-trip destinations in Italy. Since the first planned excavations in the mid-18th century CE, Pompeii has astonished scholars and tourists alike. Its ghostly ruins make for one of the world's most gripping and exhilarating archaeological experiences. But Pompeii is also one of the busiest archaeological sites in the world with some 4 million visitors every year. You will not be alone, and in high season the streets of Pompeii can be totally packed. With its 49 hectares (121 acres) of excavated area, Pompeii is vast, and visitors can easily get lost in the maze of streets, even with a map, and there are no guards to point you in the right direction.
It is important to know that there are two main entrances to Pompeii. Porta Marina is the main entrance, and it's where you can get an audioguide. It's also closest to the Circumvesuviana train line. However, this makes it much busier, and the queues for tickets can be longer during busy periods. The other entrance is at Piazza Anfiteatro and is much quieter so you will get in faster. Piazza Anfiteatro is close to the central Pompeii train station which can be reached with Trenitalia trains (albeit only 9 trains running every day).
Guided tours can be booked at the information desk at the Porta Marina entrance. The service is carried out by qualified guides certified by the Region of Campania, who can be identified through special badges. Guided tours can be useful for visitors who have a limited amount of time and want to see the highlights without wasting time reading maps and finding the sights. If you choose to do it alone, remember that Pompeii is an entire buried city and that it is unlikely you will be able to see everything in just one visit. You should, therefore, determine how much time you want to spend at Pompeii and plan your visit accordingly. Also, remember that you will be walking on old Roman roads so do wear something comfortable. And don't forget to bring a little snack and water. A small bottle is fine, there are lots of fountains where you can refill.
After buying your entrance ticket for Pompeii, remember to pick a map at the info point as well as the free 148-page booklet. Unfortunately, due to a lack of staff, a lot of the best private houses are locked, and you will find a number of places you were supposed to get into closed. Whatever your planned itinerary, be prepared for any changes. The top sights are usually open all day, but some houses have reduced opening hours or are closed for maintenance. The Pompeii official website has information about openings and closures if you click on each REGIO here.
There are different types of itineraries depending on your time availability. The free map of Pompeii provided at the info point offers four different itineraries lasting 2 hours, 3 hours, 5 hours and 7 hours. Here we suggest a 5-hour itinerary and 20 sights that you should include during your visit. The suggested route begins at Piazza Anfiteatro, keeping the area of the Forum and the Basilica for the end as the crowds tend to congregate there. By the time you finish your visit, all big groups will have left the site, usually by mid-afternoon. You will go past lots of things on this route, but really, if you spot an open door, just go through it. Many houses are freshly restored and have recently reopened.
Our Recommended Itinerary with 20 Must-See Sights
1. Large Palaestra (open all day)
The Large Palaestra was built as a space to practise gymnastics and athletics. Its huge portico-flanked courtyard includes the remains of a large swimming pool. Reopened to the public in 2015 CE, the Palaestra is now used as a permanent exhibition.
2. Amphitheatre (open all day)
The Amphitheatre was used for gladiatorial combat and is the oldest one of its kind in existence. Built 150 years before the Colosseum in 70 CE, it could hold up to 20,000 spectators.
3. Praedia of Julia Felix (open all day)
Located along the Via dell'Abbondanza, the Praedia of Julia Felix is one of the largest houses in Pompeii. Its owner, Julia Felix, converted portions of it to apartments available for rent and other parts for public use. The complex consisted of an atrium house, large gardens, a thermal facility with hot baths and a large park. It underwent a wonderful facelift and is now open to the public.
4. Thermopolium of Vetutius Placidus (visible from street)
The thermopolium (cook-shop) of Vetutius Placidus opens directly onto the south side of the via dell'Abbondanza. Thermopolia were bars which served hot and cold food and drinks. The 'L' shaped masonry counter has large storage jars which were used to hold food. On the rear wall of the bar is a painted lararium with a scene depicting the Genius of the household performing a sacrifice over a small folding altar.
5. Dog Mosaic in the House of Paquius Proculus (visible from street)
The House of Paquius Proculus is closed to the public, but its most striking feature is visible from the outside. It is a fine mosaic paving which depicts a guard dog chained to a door.
6. Fullonica of Stephanus (open all day)
The Fullery of Stephanus is one of the most complete laundries found in Pompeii where manufactured cloths were washed and stains removed. Stephanus' laundry was built just after the earthquake of 62 CE, transforming a private house into a modern factory. The building has recently undergone extensive restorations.
7. Stabian Baths (open all day)
The Stabian Baths are the oldest baths in Pompeii. The complex covers a total surface area of over 3,500 sq m and is divided into two adjacent sections respectively reserved for men and women and includes an open area (palaestra) which was used for exercise. The men's baths were elaborately decorated with polychrome stuccoes.
8. The Lupanar (open all day)
The brothel (lupanar in Latin) is one of the most-visited buildings in Pompeii, and you will most probably have to queue to get in. The Lupanar has two floors and 10 rooms fitted with built-in beds as well as a small latrine. Above the doors leading into the rooms are paintings showing erotic scenes.
9. House of Marcus Lucretius (open all day)
The most interesting element of the House of Marcus Lucretius is the garden overlooking the atrium area. It features an elegant marble waterfall fountain supplied by a jet of water that gushed from a statue of Silenus.
10. Bakery of Popidius Priscus (visible from street)
Bread in Pompeii was produced daily in local bakeries. About 35 bakeries have been found, each supplying their local area. The Bakery of Popidius Priscus contains four large millstones, traces of a stable, four storage rooms, and a large oven which was used for baking the bread.
11. House of the Prince of Naples (open all day)
The House of the Prince of Naples has a beautiful atrium with an impluvium (pond) and a marble table with richly carved supports. The walls of all the rooms are decorated in the Fourth Pompeian Style with life-size images of Bacchus and Venus painted on the walls of the summer triclinium. The garden of the house has a temple style lararium that was used for family worship.
12. Priapus Fresco in the House of the Vettii (visible from street)
The house is usually not open to the public but its most striking feature, a fresco of the god of fertility Priapus, can be seen from the street if you look through the doorway entrance. Priapus is shown weighing his very large phallus against a bag containing money. The fresco probably symbolised the economic prosperity of the owners, the Vettii brothers, who became wealthy through trade.
13. House of the Faun (open all day)
The House of the Faun is one of the most visited houses in Pompeii. Its name comes from the bronze statue of the Dancing Faun found in the middle of the impluvium in the main atrium. The house occupies an entire city block or insula. It is organised around two atriums and two peristyles with a series of rooms, including bedrooms (cubicula), dining rooms (triclinia), reception rooms, an office (tablinum) as well as rooms for domestic service. In front of the main entrance is the word HAVE, meaning welcome.
14. Villa of the Mysteries (open all day)
Located outside the city walls of Pompeii, the Villa of the Mysteries is regarded as one of the best-preserved country villas in the area of Vesuvius. The villa owes its fame to the very fine wall paintings that cover the walls of one of its reception rooms. A mysterious scene with life-size figures in the Second Pompeian Style seems to depict the initiation rite of a young girl into the Dionysian mysteries. The other rooms also preserve beautiful examples of Second Style wall decoration with imitation marble decoration.
15. Forum Baths (open all day)
The Forum Baths were also subdivided into men's and women's sections, each with their own independent entrance. The walls are beautifully decorated with frescoes of garden scenes, and the vault ceilings are embellished with stucco friezes.
16. Sanctuary of Apollo (open all day)
The Sanctuary of Apollo is one of the oldest places of worship in Pompeii. The temple stands on a high podium and is surrounded by a continuous colonnade which was originally two-storeys high. At the foot of the stairs is a large altar with the dedicatory inscription with the names of the four officials who erected the temple around 80 BCE.
17. Forum & Basilica (open all day)
The Forum was the centre of public life, and the oldest part of Pompeii. It was also the site of gladiatorial games before the amphitheatre was constructed. Surrounding the Forum are a number of important administrative and religious buildings, including the Temple of Jupiter.
The Basilica stands near the west corner of the Forum and is the oldest and most important public building in Pompeii. It is also one of the oldest examples of this type of building in the entire Roman world.
18. Theatres & Gladiators Barracks (open all day)
The Large Theatre was a huge 5000-seat theatre built in the Greek type and carved into the natural slope of the hill. During the reign of Augustus (27 BCE - 14 CE), the theatre was significantly restored and enlarged according to the Roman style. Today, the Large Theatre hosts the annual Pompeii Theatrum Mundi, a summer festival of classical theatre.
The quadrangular portico located behind the stage of the Large Theatre was originally designed as a space for the audience to stroll in during the intervals of the theatre shows. After the earthquake of 62 CE, the building changed its function and was turned into barracks for the gladiators.
Next door is the Small Theatre, a small roofed theatre (odeon) used for musical and singing performances as well as for miming, the most popular theatrical genre at the time. The building had a seating capacity of about 1,500.
19. Temple of Isis (open all day)
The temple was dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis whose cult was widespread throughout the Roman Empire. It is situated in the centre of a porticoed courtyard and stands on a raised podium. The portico was decorated with fresco paintings, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, containing images of Egyptian landscapes and Nilotic scenes. On the eastern side of the complex is a small building with a stairway leading down to an underground basin containing the sacred waters of the Nile.
20. House of Menander (reduced hours)
The wealth of decoration and the grandeur of its atrium and peristyle make this house one of Pompeii's most impressive homes. It owes its name to a painting of the Athenian playwright Menander placed in the portico. The walls were richly decorated with Fourth Style frescoes depicting scenes from the Iliad and the Odyssey as well as Nilotic and marine landscapes. The house also had a small thermal area.
A trip to Pompeii would not be complete without a visit to the Archaeological Museum in Naples, home to the Farnese collection and the best artworks, mosaics and frescoes recovered from the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. It also has an extensive collection of Egyptian ancient Greek artefacts. Plan to spend around two/three hours to see the highlights of the museum and about four hours to go into more detail of the vast collection on display.
The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Pompeii
Updated: 10/28/20 | October 28th, 2019
When I was growing up, I wanted to be an archeologist. I loved history, and the thought of uncovering temples and tombs in jungles excited me. I used to read books on Greek and Roman history and have discussions with my history teacher, even as young as 13. In short, I was a huge geek from the get-go.
Being such a huge history geek, visiting Pompeii, the city destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, has always been high on my list of things to do. The falling ash came so quickly it preserved the city just as it was. It’s a city frozen in time.
After what seems like a lifetime of waiting, I finally got to see it.
Now, I’ve traveled the world for a while and have seen plenty of marvelous ruins over the years. But this is one of the best.
The buildings, the frescoes, the streets, the pots, the bodies (yes, you’ll see bodies here) — everything is so well preserved. And even though a lack of upkeep has taken its toll on the site, I still found it a fascinating place to spend the day. My only hope is that the Italian government will get its act together to keep this site from falling into further disrepair.
Located near Naples in Italy, Pompeii takes a full day to see. If you truly want to indulge your inner Indiana Jones and visit every building here, schedule an extra half day.
I saw a lot on my full day, but there was a lot that I missed. To help you make the most of your visit,here are some of the main highlights of Pompei!
The Top 12 Attractions in Pompeii
The ancient lupanar (brothel) is a tiny house with stone beds and scenes of the acts customers might pay for. It’s essentialy ancient porn, though whether the frescoes served a practical purpose or were merely decoration is unclear.
Unsurprisingly, this is one of the most visited houses in all of Pompeii (It was probably just as popular before the eruption — no pun intended — too!).
The Forum Baths
Located near the forum, these baths are incredibly well preserved. You can peek inside the wall to see how they heated the baths back when they were still in use. Their innovation is incredibly impressive, and it’s not hard to picture the baths as they were.
While the forum baths are the smallest of the various bath ruins in Pompeii, they are arguably the most elegant. There were separate areas for men and women, including separate entrances. The bath not only had hot baths but also cold and tepid baths as well.
The Villa of the Mysteries
Located outside the main area, the frescoes here are amazingly well preserved and have such vibrant color. The frescoes seem to depict a woman entering into the initiations for a Greco-Roman mystery cult.
The villa was excavated long after the rest of the city (excavation of the villa began in 1909). Since it’s a bit of walk, there weren’t that many people here either.
The most crowded place in Pompeii, the forum is located right near the main gate. It was the main center of life in Pompeii, the cultural and civic nerve of the city. Any significant religious or commercial events would occur here it was essentially the main square and heart of the city.
The Stabian Baths
Another well-preserved bath, this one is the oldest in Pompeii. It also has a slightly bigger chamber and sees a whole lot fewer crowds. You can also see some preserved bodies here, which is unsettling (though you’ll get used to it the more you wander the ruins).
The bath area also had a gym and workout area (for wrestling, as well) and a large, almost Olympic-sized, swimming pool.
House of the Small Fountain
A beautiful house with a large back room, wonderful frescoes, and a beautiful mosaic fountain. Almost all of the rooms lead to the central atrium and you can see that the house was owned by someone who was perhaps a bit wealthy.
The sloped roof was used to collect rainwater, which was also used in the fountain, a great example of innovation at the time.
House of the Faun
This is the biggest house in Pompeii and gets its name from the statue in the front courtyard. Built in the 2nd century BCE, there’s a large courtyard in the back where you can also find a very detailed mosaic of a battle scene.
It’s one of the most complete surviving examples of a wealthy and luxurious private residence from the time — even better preserved than many sites in Rome itself!
Garden of the Fugitives
Located in the back of Pompeii, this old vineyard has preserved casts of people who didn’t make it out of the city alive. There are 13 bodies in the garden, frozen in a grotesque and agonizing tableau that reflects the horrible final moments of the city. It’s both incredibly interesting and unsettling at the same time.
House of Venus in the Shell
Another place located far away from the crowds, this house has a colorful fresco to the goddess Venus. There are also a few gardens here and a detailed statue of Mars.
The house was actually under renovation when Vesuvius erupted and was also damaged during the bombing in World War II (though it was restored in the 1950s).
This huge amphitheater is where they held the ancient games that entertained them. It’s a quiet place to walk around and given its position at the far end of Pompeii, you’ll see very few people there, especially during the early morning or late afternoon hours. Built in 70 BCE, it’s actually the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater in existence.
Right next to the amphitheater, the “great palace” was an exercise park and place for youth groups. It was used for sports and games, and there was also a swimming pool here as well.
It’s also a great place to escape the crowds as not so many tourists make it here.
House of Sallustio
This is one of the oldest houses in Pompeii. It was most likely an inn, owing to its location and size. There’s also a small garden and covered porch in the back, a fresco of the goddess Diana, and even a little food shop in the front.
Tips for Visiting Pompeii
- Watch out for closings – Not all the attractions are open as they say they are. I found a number of places you were supposed to be able to get into closed. They even started closing one while I was looking around.
- Start in the back – To avoid the crowds, move from the farthest temples toward the front. The majority of people stick to the center of Pompeii, and you can visit the main area when the crowds have gone by late afternoon.
- Don’t do the audio guide – I bought the audio tour for 10 EUR and found it to be a waste of time. The free book they give you includes enough information. The audio guide doesn’t explain much more.
- Limited time? Do a guided tour – I listened to a number of guided tours while I was walking around and I was impressed with their knowledge. Plus, I like being able to ask questions that can further explain things. The guided tours simply take you to the highlights, unless you do a personal tour.
- Bring lots of water – During the summer, it gets scorchingly hot. Bring lots of water and some sunscreen to avoid being burnt.
- Take the train – This is the easiest way to visit. Just make sure you go to Pompei Scavi – Villa Dei Misteri station as the main Pompeii station will just take you to the modern city.
- Don’t bring a large backpack – Security likely won’t let you bring in a large rucksack, so only come with a smaller purse or day bag.
- Choose your tour carefully – If you’re going to do a tour, do an official tour from inside the gate. There are plenty of tours offered outside of the gate, but they are much larger and not as good (though they are cheaper).
How to Get to Pompeii
The train is the best way to get to Pompeii if you’re coming from Naples. Trains leave every 30 minutes, and since it’s a commuter train you don’t need to purchase a ticket in advance. Tickets cost 2.80 EUR per person each way.
You’ll want to get off at the Pompei Scavi/Villa dei Misteri stop, which is just a 5-minute walk from the heritage site. The ride will be around 45 minutes.
If you’re coming by car, it’s about a 30-minute drive.
From April to November, the site is open from 9am-6pm on weekdays and 8:30am-6pm on weekends. From November-March, the site is open from 9am-3:30pm on weekdays and 8:30am-3:30pm on weekends.
How long do you need in Pompeii?
You’ll want to spend a full day here to really see everything, though if history isn’t your thing and you just want to see the main sites, 3-4 hours will suffice.
Do you have to pay to visit Pompeii?
Yes! Tickets are 11 EUR per person if you purchase them at the gate on arrival.
Should I book a guided tour?
If you don’t have a guidebook or if you want a deeper, more insightful visit then getting a guide is a good idea. There is minimal signage here so you’ll get much more from your visit if you have a guide.
You can either book a guide on arrival (you’ll see a bunch hanging around the entrance) or go with a reputable company like Take Walks. They have a comprehensive and informative 3-hour tour of the site as well as a full-day tour that includes Pompeii and a drive along the Amalfi Coast.
Do you need to book tickets for Pompeii?
Tickets can be bought online in advance for 18 EUR per person, which includes access to Pompeii, Oplontis, and Boscoreale. If you purchase tickets at the gate for just Pompeii, it will cost 11 EUR per person.
How many tourists visit Pompeii each year?
Pompeii is one of the most popular attractions in all over Italy, bringing in close to 2.5 million tourists each year.
When should I visit Pompeii?
The summer will offer the best weather, but it will also be incredibly hot — and busy. Consider visiting in the shoulder season (May or October) in order to beat the crowds but still have nice weather.
In the time I was there, I barely scratched the surface of Pompeii, and I filled a whole day! One day, I’d love to go back and visit all the buildings I missed. But then again, I’m a history geek and could spend days upon days among ruins. If you don’t live and breathe history like I do, one day would be enough to see the highlights.
Make sure you move away from the city center to see some of the lesser known and less crowded sites. Walking among the ruins is an eerie but beautiful feeling.
Book Your Trip to Italy: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Train
ItaliaRail is a great resource to use when planning your trip via train around Italy. You can compare prices, routes, and schedules and save up to 60% on your tickets.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Need a guide?
One of the best ways to see Pompeii is on a in-depth guided tour, and Take Walks has my favorite paid tour. Their The Best of Pompeii Tour: Unveiling the Buried City will give you the best behind-the-scenes and historical Pompeii experience. If you want a tour, take that one.
Want More Information on Italy?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Italy for even more planning tips!
Visiting The Ruins of Herculaneum
Herculaneum is named for the mythical Greek god, Hercules, who, according the legend told by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, founded the city in 1243 BC. Historic analysis, however, suggests that the city was founded by the Oscans or the Etruscans in the 7th century BC , conquered by the Samnites in the 5th century BC. In 90 BC the city was dominated by Rome and transformed into a municipium. In the final years of the Roman Republic, Herculaneum reached the height of its splendor thanks to its coastal location, clean air, and mild climate, making it a popular resort town for many of Rome's patrician families. The city was vibrant and densely populated when the earthquake struck in 62 AD, causing serious damage work to rebuild the city was still going on when the tragic eruption of Mount Vesuvius happened in 79 AD.
The cloud of toxic gases from the eruption wiped out the inhabitants, while the entire city was literally sealed under a flow of ash and volcanic rock 16 meters deep that solidifiedi, preserving almost perfectly intact organic remains like fabric, food, vegetation, and wooden structures.
The discovery of the ruins at Herculaneum was a complete accident: while a well was being dug in 1707 by order of Emmanuel Maurice, Prince of Lorraine, a number of marble fragments and statues that once decorated the ancient theater of Herculaneum were unearthed. In 1738, work began again under Charles III of Bourbon led by the Spanish military engineer De Alcubierre. In 1755, after a number of important discoveries were made, the Accademia Ercolanense was established, and was active until 1792. Excavations were suspended a number of times over the years until 1927, when the site began to explored in a more systematic way. Important artifacts were unearthed in the 1980s, along with sites like the Temple of Venus, the baths, and the ancient Greek port where the inhabitants tried to find refuge in 79 AD. The site has been home to intense excavation since 2000, especially around the Villa of the Papyrus and the library.
What happened at Pompeii?
In AD79, Mount Vesuvius erupted. The force of the explosion blew the entire top of the mountain off, sending rocks, ash and dust over 10 miles into the sky. The rocks and ash rained down on Pompeii for nearly a full day. Most residents fled the city but around 2,000 people (around a tenth of the population) stayed behind.A body cast of one of the victims of the Vesuvius eruption. This cast was in the Forum, near the entrance, but the largest group of body casts is by the Porta Nocera in the Garden of the Fugitives.
When, finally, a flood of thick ash, poisonous gases and superheated rock hit Pompeii at nearly 100 miles an hour, the city was buried underneath millions of tonnes of volcanic debris. The victims’ bodies decomposed where they’d died, leaving body-shaped spaces in the hardened ash. Almost 2000 years later, archaeologists were able to pour plaster into these spaces, revealing the last moments of the victims and creating Pompeii’s famous body casts.
Virtual travel to Pompeii, Italy
The origins of Pompeii are old as the history of Rome. Pompeian people came from an ancient Italic population: the Osci. In the second half of 7th century BC, an early village was settled on the site where Pompeii would eventually emerge: it was strategically established at the intersection of three major roads. Pompeii quickly became a crossing point between the North and the South and a main trade and travel hub, but consequently an aimed prey for its powerful neighbors.
The city had a rather eventful history: it was first conquered by the Greek Colony of Cumae, then by the Etruscans, going finally back under the heel of the Greeks.
The first urban settlement dates back to the 4th century, when Pompeii was involved in the Samnite Wars and forced to accept an alliance with Rome but managing to keep their autonomy for language and institutions.
During the 2nd century BC, thanks to extensive cultivation and prodigious wine and oil exports, the city became really prosperous so that wealth gave rise to some of the most sumptuous residences in Pompeii, equal to the most famous royal dwellings from the Hellenistic period.
In 91 BC, during the Social War (91-88 BC), Pompeii allied with several cities of Campania against Rome with the aim to achieve full Roman citizenship. Unfortunately any attempt to defy Sulla was a wild-goose-chase and the city fell down almost immediately in 80 BC, it was totally drawn into the sphere of influence of Rome. Sulla moved there a colony of veterans naming it “Colonia Venerea Pompeianorum Sillana” people who had fought against Rome were expropriated from their land, which was then given to veterans.
In spite of military downturns, Pompeii’s wealth and especially its commercial entrepreneurship (mostly involved in exporting wines from Campania) was left intact.
Because of the salubrious climate and the agreeable landscape, the city and its surroundings became a pleasant vacation destination for rich Roman people. Among them there was Cicero himself, who owned a plot of land in Pompeii and actually didn’t dislike spending time in that lovely place.
Houses in Pompeii became famous also for their valued and unique decoration, so much so that between 2nd Century BC and 79 AD Pompeii developed its own style which came to be widely imitated, even in Rome.
Several painting techniques were used to decorate walls: frescos (pigments mixed with water on wet plaster), tempera (pigments mixed with a glutinous binder such as egg yolk or wax), encaustic painting (pigments mixed with wax). Pompeii painting has been subdivided into four styles based on Vitruvius’ treatise on painting in De Architectura.
The First style used in some houses consists of stucco reliefs, mostly red or black, but also purple, yellow-green pigments imitating marble.
The Second style consists of frames and decorations along with painted foliage to create a “trompe l’oeil” effect, giving the illusion of shadow and depth false colonnades and doorways are depicted opening onto perspectival paintings representing gardens in the foreground. It was a very popular style with customers of the age. Still lives portraying fowls, fruit and vegetables were also very popular.
The Third Pompeian Style is a "decorative style" and completely overturned perspective and three-dimensionality which characterized the previous style. It used flat, dark colors resembling curtains and tapestry and painted scenes in small floating panels in the middle.
The Fourth Style is distinguishable by its fictional architectures using perspective illusion, and has strong theatrical features. It mixes decorative motifs from the previous styles, such as imitation of marble, trompe-l'oeil, chandeliers, winged figures and foliage. It was used to decorate most of the villas in Pompeii when the city was rebuilt after the catastrophic earthquake on February 5th in 62 AD.
On the morning of August 24th in 79 AD, when Pompeii people -unaware the time was about to stop- directed their gaze to the sky, they saw an ominous, dark, pine-shaped cloud hanging over the Vesuvius. At 10 in the morning, gases pressing from inside the volcano exploded, bursting the consolidated lava obstructing the crater and pulverized it: the power of the volcano covered Pompeii in lapilli (solidified fragment of lava) and a torrent of thick ashes obscured the sun.
A violent earthquake and deadly gas fumes buried the city under more than 6 meters of ashes and lapilli. At least 2,000 of the approximately 10,000 inhabitants were killed some poisoned by gases while attempting to flee, others in their own homes, crushed by roofs collapsing under the weight of the volcanic material.
People in Pompeii could not imagine their daily life was going to be frozen in time, preserved thanks to the material spewed out of Vesuvius and the entire city was going to be rediscovered, centuries later, telling the story of the day when a volcano stopped the time.
The city was almost completely forgotten until the end of 16th Century, when Domenico Fontana, an italian architect, overseeing the construction of a canal for the Sarno River, found inscriptions and buildings decorated with frescos. Fontana, however, did not realize he had just discovered the remains of ancient Pompeii.
Today, the city is almost entirely visible bringing back visitors to the fateful day in 79 AD. The city looks like its life was interrupted just moments ago. Political campaign slogans on the walls, home furnitures, shops, everything looks alive, as it was at the moment of the eruption.
The city is transected by the majestic Via dell’Abbondanza, the central axis that corresponds to the lower decumanus. Starting at the Forum and continuing to the Porta Sarno, it is named after the beautiful fountain decorated by a bas-relief portraying “Abundance” as a woman holding a cornucopia. The street is 600 meters long and still today is a living and vibrant portrait of the city’s most important commercial street. Inscriptions painted on the plaster can also be found there, as the most eloquent record of city life.
Via della Fortuna (named after the temple of Fortune) was the decumanus maximus and crosses the city from East to West.
The bookshop service is active at the entrance to Piazza Esedra and Piazza Anfiteatro. They are managed by Arte’m. Here visitors can broaden their knowledge of the history of the ancient city, with many scientific and non-specialist publications, as well as catalogues.
The Pompeii Excavations tourist information office is located in Via Villa dei Misteri, 2, 80045 Pompeii, Naples.
Authorised audio guides are in service inside the site and are available only at the Porta Marina entrance. The return of audio guides takes place exclusively at the entrance of Porta Marina.
First aid (temporarily suspended)
First aid is available near the Autogrill – Vicolo degli Augustali
Tel: +39 0818575404
Refreshment points (temporarily suspended)
A refreshment point managed by Autogrill is available inside the Pompeii excavations and is located behind the Temple of Jupiter.
From January 15 2015, a free cloakroom service is available to visitors and other interested parties (schools, tour operators, tour guides, etc.) at all entrance points. Bags, backpacks, luggage, or cases with dimensions exceeding 30x30x15cm are NOT allowed on the sites of Pompeii, Oplontis, Stabiae and the Museum of Boscoreale. This measure is for the protection of frescoes and rooms on the archaeological sites within the jurisdiction of the Superintendency, as well as guaranteeing visitor safety.
Smoking is strictly forbidden on the excavation sites. There are designated smoking areas available near the Casina dell’Aquila and the toilet facilities.
Baby Changing Facilities
There are three Baby Changing Facilities in three locations of the ancient city: in Via dell’Abbondanza, Via di Nola, and at the corner of Via Stabiana and Via della Fortuna. These facilities, like other services and facilities offered by the Archaeological Park, aim at granting visitors a more comfortable visit and meeting their needs. Another such example is the ‘Pompeii for All’ project with accessible and barrier-free paths providing improved access to the site to parents with buggies and mobility-impaired people.
What to do:
– Collect the keys at the entrances to the archaeological area or at Casa Bacco Office (in front of Autogrill)
– Access the nearest Baby Point:
Via dell’Abbondanza, Via di Nola,
Crossroads of Via Stabiana/Via della Fortuna
– Don’t forget to return the keys at the end of your visit
The Archaeological Park toilet facilities are located near the access points of Piazza Anfiteatro, Piazza Esedra and Porta Marina, near the Casina dell’Aquila, the Antiquarium and Quadriportico. (The Autogrill and the Villa of the Mysteries are temporarily closed)
6. Don’t forget, it’s still an active archeological site
Many visitors forget, but excavations in Pompeii and the surrounding area are still ongoing. New finds are constantly being uncovered within the area, giving us even more insight into Roman life and the history of this seaport town. For example, an inscription was recently found which researchers believe could indicate the total population of Pompeii. (They now estimate that at one point the city had a total of 30,000 residents).
Plaster casts capture the last moments of Pompeii’s citizens
As such, there are a number of rules that visitors need to abide by in order to preserve the archeological site. You can find a full list of these rules here.
Some restrictions to keep in mind:
- Large bags can’t be brought inside
- Professional recording equipment is forbidden
- Eating outside of the permitted zones is not allowed
It should also be remembered that Pompeii is ultimately a burial site. It may have happened thousands of years ago, but over 2,000 people – including men women and children – perished when Mount Vesuvius erupted on the 24th of August, 79 AD. Death casts line the streets depicting the final moments, and often expressions, of the doomed. As such, it’s important to maintain a level of respect while inside.
A Guide to Visiting Pompeii
Once a bustling, blue collar port town, Pompeii’s fate was sealed with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 7.9 A.D. Today, Pompeii is a UNESCO World Heritage site, one of the most visited sites in Italy and one of the most visited archaeological sites in all the world. The best possible way to see what life in ancient Rome was like, plan ahead with our easy guide to get the most out of your visit to Pompeii.
How to Get There
Via di Mercurio, Mercury street, under steaming Vesuvius. Photo by Carlo Mirante
Pompeii is a major stop and easy to reach from the major surrounding cities by train, car or even bus. Travel time by road (without traffic – which is rare on these roads) is around 2.5 hours from Rome to Pompeii, 30 mins from Naples to Pompeii, 45 minutes from Sorrento to Pompeii and 4.5 hours from Florence to Pompeii (which pretty much rules it out as a day trip from Florence).
If you’re planning on visiting Pompeii from Rome, perhaps the easiest option, is to book our Pompeii & Amalfi Day Trip from Rome, which includes a guided tour of Pompeii, a scenic drive along the Amalfi Coast and a stop in Positano town. Independent travelers can book a transfer service (we offer those too, here) which is certainly the fastest option, although not the cheapest. The budget conscious will want to travel by train, which is largely easy to navigate and less expensive, although more time-consuming.
From Rome, take the train to Naples at the Napoli Centrale Station. The high-speed train, either Frecciarossa or Italo, takes about an hour and ten minutes each way. You can view train times and prices as well as book your tickets in advance on www.trenitalia.com. From Napoli Centrale, take the Circumvesuviana train, the old but reliable commuter train of Campania, on the Napoli-Sorrento Circumvesuviana line. The Circumvesuviana runs trains about every half hour and it takes about 30 minutes to arrive at your Pompeii stop, Pompeii Scavi – Villa dei Misteri.
From Sorrento or Naples, you’ll simply take the Napoli-Sorrento Circumvesuviana line to the Pompeii Scavi – Villa dei Misteri stop. Once again, it’s about a 30 minute train ride from each city. The Circumvesuviana trains are often very crowded and you might find standing room only. For more information about the Circumvesuviana train schedule and prices, view this website.
If you’d like to get a better view of the Almafi Coast (albeit a rocky, potentially crowded, view) take the SITA bus from Piazza Esedra in Naples or from the Sorrento train station. One or two busses run per hour and stop at all the major towns along the coast, including Pompei (the modern day town, as opposed to Pompeii the archaeological site). A ticket costs 2.80 euro and the trip takes about 40 minutes. Check out the SITA website for more information and bus time tables (in Italian).
What to Bring
Unfortunately, the same attention is not lavished on visitor facilities. The site has only one restaurant-cum-cafeteria of dubious quality, and the maps – if you can get one from the information booth – are not up to date (you may have to backtrack where streets have been blocked off).
Remember, Pompeii was once an entire maritime city, and the current site is vast! Forty-four hectares that have been excavated, but not all are accessible. Unfortunately, the beautiful site isn’t managed so well. There are often areas cordoned off with little explanation and rather poor signage. Your itinerary will be well-planned if you visit Pompeii with a tour guide, so you won’t need to worry as much. If not, plan ahead and come prepared to ensure you have a successful trip.
You can go back in time by walking through the preserved streets of the city – by far the best way to view Pompeii. Though you could spend an entire day touring the site, the average time needed once inside is about two to three hours. Like most Roman-built cities, Pompeii is well organized with a clear street plan, but the modern-day signposts are often wrong. Though technically the information booth should have maps, you’ll have to specifically ask for one and hope that it’s been updated. Better to come ahead with a current map. Touring Pompeii is not difficult, but in order not to waste time or bake unnecessarily under the Neapolitan sun, those traveling solo might want to consider bringing a guidebook as well.
A 1912 Map of Pompeii shows the sites enormous proportions. Photo by Dennis Jarvis
Bring hats and sunscreen no matter what season and you may even want umbrellas in the summer. There is very little shelter from the sun and two to three hours outside will leave you feeling more like the ashen city than your healthy self. You’ll also want snacks and plenty of water for all that walking. Inside there is only one small convenience stand with slim offerings and unreliable hours of operation, but there are water fountains throughout the site that you can use to refill your water bottles.
The fee to enter Pompeii is 11 euro, about 13 US dollars currently, but be sure you have cash: The ticket office doesn’t accept credit cards. You can get more information, view prices or book ahead here.
What to See
Before Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD, Pompeii was an important port town for the ancient Roman empire, which controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea. Middle class, Pompeii was a classic port town filled with sailor’s hotels, bars, public baths, taverns and brothels. The archeological site and ongoing excavations give visitors to the formerly bustling Pompeii the best look there is on ancient Roman life. Go to see the Roman Forum the theatre, whose acoustics are so good you don’t need microphones to be heard from the stage the public baths with looming columns. Built in 70 A.D., the Anfiteatro is the oldest-known Roman amphitheatre in existence. Now covered in grass, it originally held up to 20,000 spectators.
Archaeologists found indentations in the ground that they were able to fill with plaster molds to exactly match what was originally there. Photo by Carlo Mirante
The Forum, or Foro in Italian, and served as ancient Pompeii’s main piazza and leads to many other notable sights, such as the Basilica built in the second century BC, the Temple of Jupiter (Tempio di Giove) which only has one triumphal arch remaining, the city’s Forum Granary and a the nearby macellum, the city’s primary meat and fish market.
You can also tour bakeries, small family restaurants, ancient roman homes and even a local brothel, where you can find “Umberto was here” style graffiti on the walls and lively life-sized frescos that served as a sort of ancient-day advertisements. On the other end of the social class spectrum is the House of the Vetti, the home of a wealthy merchant and one of the best preserved homes. Though recently closed for renovations, if it’s open you can view the typical villa of ancient Pompeii’s richest citizens, including extravagant rooms covered in frescoes and an inner courtyard with small fish ponds.
Many of the artifacts from Pompeii are housed in the National Museum of Archaeology since they were directly ordered to Naples in the 1700s by the Neapolitan king. History and archaeology buffs should absolutely visit the museum – it offers the best look into the art of Pompeii that still exists, which ranges from enormous statues and mosaics to intimate objects of every day life. Pompeii archaeological site has all of the ruins but the Naples Archaeological Museum houses all of the objects found during excavations.
What remains of the second century Basilica. Photo by Dennis Jarvis
Before you end your visit to Pompeii, take a last look at the impressive view of Mount Vesuvius in the distance. 2,000 years ago the still-active volcano erupted a cloud of gas, ash and rocks. For hours it spewed, causing most of the residents to flee. It took just one moment for the eruption to change and an avalanche of lava and rock to race down the mountainside toward Pompeii. Though Vesuvius destroyed the city, it also effectively preserved it, stopping life in Pompeii in its track and providing us with most everything we know about the ancient town.
Getting to Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius from Naples
By Public Transport and/or Shuttle Service
To get to Mount Vesuvius, take the Circumvesuviana train from Napoli Centrale (technically it’s a separate station attached to Napoli Centrale, but the two are attached) to Napoli Garibaldi.
You’ll need to buy your Circumvesuviana tickets directly from the counter–this train is not part of the larger Trenitalia system, and you’ll need to pay cash. The tickets are sold by region, and you’ll want to buy one for Ercolano Scavi, and then board the next train bound for either Sarno of Sorrento.
Once you reach the Ercolano Scavi station, turn to the left as you exit the station and you’ll see the small storefront for Vesuvio Express, the shuttle service leaves every 40 minutes for the entrance to the crater of Mount Vesuvius. The bus ticket also covers your entrance fee for Mount Vesuvius.
From the drop-off point of Mount Vesuvius, you can catch a public bus after your visit to the crater to Pompeii roughly every 50 minutes.
Alternatively, if you’re planning on visiting Pompeii directly from Naples you can take the Circumvesuviana train to the Pompeii station, and then take a public bus or tourist shuttle to Mount Vesuvius after your visit.
Parking is available both near the top of Mount Vesuvius and in front of Pompeii and requires a small fee in each place. You’ll also hit a toll driving between the two, so be sure to bring plenty of small bills with you if you choose to drive between Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius!
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Pompeii
- Pompeii Tour from Naples: Combining the ancient city with a hike to the top of the volcano that destroyed it, the Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii Day Trip from Naples is a seven-hour small-group tour. During the air-conditioned bus ride from central Naples, your expert guide will provide the historical background for the two-hour guided walking tour of Pompeii the tour also includes a traditional Italian pizza lunch.
- Pompeii Tour from Rome: You can also hike up the volcano to walk along its rim on the Pompeii Day Trip from Rome , a 13-hour guided tour that includes a stop in Naples for the famous Neapolitan pizza before a guided tour that brings ancient Pompeii to life. From mid-November through March, when the Vesuvius summit trail is closed, the guided hike is replaced with a tour of the National Archaeological Museum of Pompeii.
- Tickets: If you plan to visit both Pompeii and Herculaneum, the combined ticket is cheaper than two separate entrance fees.
- For Your Comfort: There is free luggage checking at the entrance, where you should also pick up the free map.
- Getting to Pompeii on Your Own: The Circumvesuviana trains connecting Naples and Sorrento stop at Pompeii.