What was a thriving city, a hub of Greco-Roman culture and home to an affluent society, got engulfed in a disastrous eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in 79 A.D. While periodic excavations beginning in the 19th century still unveiling artifacts dating back centuries, it is apparent that the residents of the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were not aware of the nature of the hill overshadowing the cities.
Brief History and the Site
An estimated 20,000 people lived in the walled city spanning 160 acres before the doomsday in 79 A.D. Based on the modern day analysis techniques of the ruins and the excavated artifacts, the city portrays an affluent and culture rich society. Artwork and preserved corpses show established societal norms containing multiple hierarchical levels. Stone and brickwork clad city walls show Greek and Roman architectural styles and engineering forte. City construction of roads at a perfect right angles, underground sewage systems and Archimedes-esque aqueducts portray heavy Greek character. Columnar structures in the palaces and tombs show early Roman influence from possibly 3rd century B.C.
In terms of artwork, usage of colors from blue (from Lapis Lazuli) to red (likely from clay rich in volcanic ash) show societal levels. As found in the preserved bodies, Slave levels had shorter clothes with belts. Historians have been able to weave the underlying principles of expansion framework of the Roman empire from the ruins as well. As inferred from ancient texts as well, top warriors were gifted land, slaves and money to settle in new places far from the city walls. As they established ownership and expanded the new lands, Roman empire also expanded organically.
From the abundance of ornate mosaic and colorful frescos on the walls, it is obvious that the residents learned to mine the rich volcanic materials from nearby areas. The house structures clearly depict the nature of the inhabitants societal levels. To fill appetites of the tired sailors coming in to the nearby port, evidence of bathhouse and brothels are found with clear markings to spot them within the city walls.
How to get there:
About 25 miles south of Naples, it is easily accessible by train. From the central train station in Naples, hop on to the circumvisuviana line. Cost is 2.80 Euros per person, and takes about 40 minutes. Please note that there are two Pompeii stations – Pompeii and Pompeii Scavi. The ruins site is closer from Scavi, but is a nice 5-8 minutes walk from Pompeii station. Train routes are erratic, but either station would do the trick for you. There are route maps inside the train, but be sure to follow along with the stations as the announcements are inconsistent and unreliable.
If traveling from Sorrento, take the same line to Naples. Please be aware that it is used by tourists and locals alike, so can get packed during peak hours. We found no need to use private transfers as the public transport route is fairly easy to navigate.
Tickets to the ruins can easily be purchased online (15 Euros for adults); but carry a print out to avoid hassle in the front gate. Guided tours are available, but there are knowledgeable guides available at the front gate. We found one, and he charged 120 Euros for 4 adults. We felt there was room for negotiation on the price, but it is imperative to get a guide or an app with guided tour as there is virtually no signage or site information for tourists. Despite being an UNESCO funded World Heritage Site, there can be further improvements to the site to educate and make tourists aware of the historical importance of the city frozen in time.
There are not many shaded areas in a large site, so sunscreen, hat and comfortable walking shoes are must. Water fountains are easy to spot, so carry a bottle. You can also pack some snacks and food to eat in the picnic areas.
You can find some preserved bodies before entering the site, but most people do not get to another site inside the walls where some more preserved bodies are kept.
Have fun visiting the city frozen in time!