Exploring the excavations of Pompeii

In the year  79 AD , the city of Pompeii near Naples , Italy ,was buried under almost 60 feet of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Nearly two thousand people died and the city was abandoned and later , forgotten. Around 1700 years later , archaeologists uncovered the buried city , years after workers digging a canal accidentally discovered it. The excavations are now open to tourists. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.

We visited Pompeii as a day trip from Rome. Though this is definitely doable , it is recommended to do it as a day trip from Naples spending a day or two in Naples itself. As we were short on time , we took a train from Rome to Naples and then the Circumvesuviana train from Naples to Pompeii.

It took us about 2 hours from Rome to Naples on the Intercity train.There was a railway workers strike when we reached Naples and thus , we had 3 hours to kill before taking the first train of the day to Pompeii.

Naples is known as the birthplace of pizza. There are several food tours that take you on a pizza tasting spree and several pizzerias claim to make the best pizza in town. We had to taste a pizza while passing through Naples and thus , we had lunch at a pizzeria near the train station. I don’t think it would qualify as the best pizza – indeed I don’t even know if the restaurant is recommended on Yelp or TripAdvisor! But , now I can claim to have eaten a pizza in Naples!

We finally boarded the Circumvesuviana train at 1 pm and it was packed like a Mumbai local train! It took us about an hour to reach our stop Pompeii Scavi. After purchasing our tickets , we were off to explore the ancient Roman city!

The entry to the ancient city is through the main  Porta Marina – it has one larger opening for chariots and a smaller one for pedestrians. The main forum inside is impressive – it was the commercial , political and religious centre  of the town. In the background , Mount Vesuvius looms. This is still considered an active volcano though the last eruption was in 1944.

mount vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius looms in the distance

On one side of the forum are casts of volcano victims in glass cases. It is said that the volcanic ash acted as a preservative and archaeologists found Pompeii in almost the same condition as it was nearly 2000 years ago.

Tho stone paths with grooves for cartwheels lead to various houses or casas. 

Most of the casas are given a name based on paintings or statues found there. The House of the tragic poet and the House of the dancing fawn are some of the well known ones.

Dancing fawn pompeii
House of the dancing fawn – this is a replica of the original statue which is housed in Naples National Archeological museum

 

There is an amphitheater too , which was used for gladiator fights.

 

It was fascinating to see how the ancient Romans lived. There are many household objects and other artefacts on display in Pompeii though most of them are now in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.

We used Rick Steves’ audioguide to Pompeii and it was quite enjoyable- definitely better than the official audioguide available. Plus , its free! Pompeii is a huge place and ideally requires a whole day to see. With Rick Steves , we managed to see the major sites in a couple of hours.

The nearby towns of Herculaneum and Stabiae were also destroyed in that fateful eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Both are much smaller than Pompeii , so they are easier to see if you do not have too much time. We did not visit them but have heard that the Tourism Department of the region is promoting them , partly to reduce the crowds of visitors in Pompeii!

Practical Information:

By train – take the Circumvesuviana from Naples to Sorrento and get off at Pompeii Scavi. 

Tickets cost 15 Euros per person for Pompeii  ( 2018 prices).

Official website for info – http://www.pompeiisites.org

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