Pros: Amazing artifacts and history found in Pompeii.
Cons: Some of the artifacts have adult content.
The Bottom Line: It is hard to find the equal of the historic significance of Pompeii. It's lovely and well worth the time.
The city of Pompeii was buried by a massive eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D.
A great tragedy at the time, the very act of destruction has also been one of preservation which gives people today the opportunity to see first hand an ancient Roman city that has been frozen in time.
Pompeii was largely undisturbed until the middle 18th century. Although still not completely excavated, much has been revealed that demonstrates to us a day in the life of an ancient Roman city.
I have been fortunate enough to visit Pompeii twice. The last time our group had the guidance of a very charming gentleman who had worked as a surveyor during the excavations in 1959. He was intimately acquainted with the property and was able to show our group wonderful sights that he described to us with frequently humorous stories.
Pompeii shares many things with cities that date from the same era. The forum, or "town square" is central to the life of the city. There are temples to the "planetary" gods that would have been very important to the residents in a time before Christianity was well established. There is an amphitheater and also public baths that offered the visitor the chance to take a hot bath (calidarium) a warm bath (or tepidarium) or cold bath (frigidarium). The baths were not unlike a modern gym with a steam room and sauna. Women were not allowed to use the frigidarium however, because it was feared that they could become frigid.
We saw a warehouse that holds many of the ceramic vessels that have been excavated. They vary in size from fist sized to large enough to hold a human. They were used to hold water, wine, grain and just about anything else one could imagine. A number of these items are pending restoration.
There is also an intriguing collection of plaster casts of people who met their ends during that day in August of A.D. 79. The casts are created when an air pocket is found during excavation. Plaster is poured in to catch the shape of the air pocket and these casts reveal to us painfully twisted and contorted shapes of people that were virtually roasted alive.
Pompeii was covered in volcanic ash (tufa) that compacted around the entire city. Tufa is really very soft, one can dent it with a fingernail. This makes excavation not so difficult but precarious because of the fragility of the material.
Also preserved are villas, or homes of the wealthy Romans. Some of the villas are quite large with exterior walls that exclude the eyes of outsiders and rooms that face inner courtyards that featured gardens and pools. Some of the more ornately decorated rooms have been relocated to museums around the world--including the Metropolitan Museum in New York which features a bedroom with beautifully painted walls.
There is an astonishing amount of commerce that is revealed to us.
At the time of the eruption, Pompeii was a busy port city. Today it lies some miles inland from the bay of Naples. As a port city, there was a lot of trade that occurred and this is shown by small commercial spaces that served the city and visitors. There are ruins of bakeries with large ovens that are large enough for a number of people to crawl in. There are small corner shops that would have been the local equivalent of "fast food" restaurants where the customer could purchase a bowl of stew or some wine. There were wine shops, and perhaps the most colorful vendors of services were the Lupanare, or brothels.
There was apparently quite a brisk trade for the Lupanare, which makes sense for a busy port city. There are erotic frescoes still found there that demonstrate the services that were available for the discriminating consumer.
Our group was probably most amused by the brothel. Much of the erotic art has been removed to a special museum "for mature viewers" in Naples. There are still a number of examples to be found. We were told that the "working girls" were usually slaves that had been brought in from other lands. As they didn't speak the language, or the visiting sailors didn't speak the same language, the practice of painting the "offerings" on the wall arose. A customer could take his intended for the evening and point out to her via the painted depictions which service he desired. Our guide pointed out that there was a penis shaped rock sticking out of the wall above the door and that in the surrounding blocks of the city, there would be relief carvings of penis shaped arrows that pointed in the right direction. He told us that the building was called Lupanare because should the women that work there become unoccupied, that they would stand at the upper windows and howl like wolves.
One can easily spend a day wandering around the site. There are tours of several hours that are easily arranged through the ticket office. I would suggest using a tour guide because they are familiar with the most interesting features of the city and are very educated about the history of the site. Both times I went my guides were Italian but they had very good English.
Cautions: There are gypsies that prey on tourists. They are very clever about insinuating themselves into the group. Our guide ran off a small child that was trying to distract folks with her accordion playing. I'm not sure what he said to her in Italian, but she scurried off.
There are some very kitchy touristy booths set up outside the gates. They have wonderfully cheap and tacky souvenirs. One should be aware of the highly suggestive content of some of the items, especially if traveling with children. The winged phalluses are abundant as well as post card sets of erotica. A girl in our group stated that she wanted her eyes burned out of her head after seeing some of the postcards.
Pompeii is one of if not the most popular tour site in Italy. It is well worth the time to stroll around and see the marvelous collection of artifacts. Mt. Vesuvius looms in the background and is an ominous reminder of the tragedy enacted on the site so many years ago.
Pompeii is proximate to Naples that offers the comforts and conveniences of any modern city. It is a short drive from Sorrento. From Sorrento, one can take a ferry to the Island of Capri or a drive to the Amalfi Coast.
This is a lovely area of Italy. I've only scratched the surface of the complexity found there.
Best Suited For: Students Best Time to Travel Here: Mar - May