Top Sights at Pompeii
Pompeii and Herculaneum are two ruined Roman towns
near the modern day city of Naples. Today, this region that was affected by Mt.
Vesuvius, is one of Italy’s top tourist attractions and listed as a UNESCO World
Heritage Site. During the days prior to August 24, 79 AD, these towns looked
like any other bustling, flourishing city. Citizens were going about their
business, visiting neighbors, going to the local markets, enjoying the public
baths and the wealthy were relaxing in the gardens of their villas. These
activities of daily life were forcefully put to a sudden end by the eruption of
Mt. Vesuvius on the afternoon of August 24, 79 AD; completely and tragically
engulfing the two towns.
The catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius sent such a thick, fiery cloud of gas
and pumice into the air that it completely blocked out the sunlight. Pompeii
was buried under 20 feet of volcanic ash, debris and mud. This mud found
its way into every nook and cranny of every house, building, and item preserving
them all in an airtight tomb and preserving them exactly as they were on that
Over time, these towns were forgotten. Almost nothing was seen of Pompeii
or Herculaneum for more than 1500 years until its accidental rediscovery by an
architect who was digging a new course for the River Sarno. This architect
never realized that he had unearthed part of ancient Pompeii and never pursued
an investigation or excavation of the site. Simple excavations began in the
18th century with Giuseppe Fiorelli, who developed a method of injecting liquid
plaster into the open areas left by the victim’s bodies to perfectly reconstruct
them as they looked when they were buried alive. You will see several of these
plaster casts around the site of Pompeii, in the buildings where the victims
died. Serious excavations did not begin until the 1920s. At this point
excavators began finding signs of intact buildings and wall art. Visitors today
can get an extraordinary look at and feel for the lives of the residents of
these two towns during the pinnacle of the Roman Empire.
Pompeii was a large, wealthy commercial town. In 79
AD it had a population of between 10,000 to 20,000 people and it covered about
160 acres. The town was laid out in a grid like pattern with two main streets
that intersected. Today you can walk on the stone streets with its huge raised
stepping stones positioned at crossings so the townspeople could keep their feet
clean and dry from the garbage and rainwater that flowed below.
Of interest, you will likely see some graffiti on the walls in Pompeii. Some
15,000 pieces of graffiti were found in the town of Pompeii, including two that
declare “What is the use of having a Venus if she’s made of marble?” and “I’ve
wet my bed. My sin I bare. But why? You ask. No pot was anywhere.”
Main Sites and Buildings at the
Excavation of Pompeii
Basilica- This was the site of the law court
and the economic center of the city.
Forum- Public meeting spot where elections were held as well as the site
where speeches and official announcements were made.
Casa del Fauno (House of the Faun)– Here you will find copies of
wonderful mosaics that were unearthed. The originals are now located in the
Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (see note below).
Casa del Poeta Tragico (House of the Tragic Poet)- A typical middle-class
house. Here you will find the well known floor mosaic of a chained dog with the
inscription “Cave Canem” (Beware of the Dog).
Porta Ercolano (Gate to Herculaneum)- Beautiful main gate that led to
neighboring Herculaneum and Naples.
Villa dei Misteri (Villa of the Mysteries)- This villa contains what many
consider to be the greatest surviving group of paintings from the ancient
world. They tell the story of a bride being initiated into the mysteries of the
cult of Dionysus.
Casa dei Vettii (House of the Vetti)- The best example of a rich
merchant’s home. It has been restored with many brightly colored murals.
Casa degli Amorini Dorati (House of the Gilded Cupids)- A grand,
well-preserved home with the original garden decorations made of marble.
Lupanare- This brothel still shows paintings of erotic activities in
which clients could partake in.
Terme Stabiane (Stabian Baths)- These baths were heated by underground
furnaces that circulated heat among the stone pillars supporting the floor.
Anfiteatro- This impressive structure was once used for Olympic games,
gladiator games and chariot races.
While in the region, you might consider a visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in
Naples, which displays many beautiful mosaics, statuary and household objects
unearthed in Pompeii and Herculaneum. There is also an entire 300 foot wide,
perfect condition fresco which was discovered in 1765 at the Temple of Isis in
Pompeii. Pompeii is 15
miles southeast of Naples.
You will need a minimum of two hours to visit Pompeii, however many people enjoy
three or four hours. There are
guards throughout the sites in the important buildings who will open gates for
you and explain the site. They do expect a tip for their services. You
can also hire a private guide at the entrance of the sites.
above information was written for Travels with Friends by independent travel
writer, Jan Bartol. Edited by Travels with
We realize that many people visit Pompeii as a day
trip from cruise ships, so we offer
Private Tours from Naples to make the best of limited time.
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