Exploring the ruins of Pompeii

Growing up I was obsessed with the city of Pompeii and the story of how an entire city could be buried in pumice and ash by a volcano everyone there only thought to be a large hill. I can’t imagine the fear the people felt as the ground shook and the air filled with black. During our day trip to Pompeii and in past exhibits, the casts of people running away has always fascinated me. Some are covering their eyes, others lying on the ground in a fetal positions, others protecting their young ones. The little children always get me the most. It’s also hard to imagine they were buried under 30 feet of mud and ash for 1,700 years and only dug up in the early 1800s.

It’s a tragic story, but I appreciate the work archeologists have put into saving this important time in history. 

The city itself is massive and can be a bit confusing at first to navigate. It covers about 163 acres, 121 of those acres has been excavated, and 54 acres are open to the public to explore. 

When arriving in Pompeii and after getting your ticket (there are three entrances and four exits) the first place I suggest going is the information office. There you can get a “Plan of the Pompeii excavations” or in plain terms, the map. You can also pick up the free booklet, “Guide to the Pompeii Excavations.” This explains the history and nature of the areas/buildings you can explore.

Brandon and I did the audio tour for 6.50 euroes each, but unless you have a lot of time (I’m told the entire audio tour takes two full days to complete), we both agree we don’t think it’s worth it. We had five hours there, but spent much of it trying to figure out how to get around. The audio tour is neat because it takes you into areas and guides you to points of interest, but we didn’t realize until halfway through there is a list of the places that are closed. If you do use the audio tour, make sure you check to see what places are closed before heading there. There is a menu option on the device that shows the open buildings. I completely understand they must constantly work on maintaining the buildings so it’s not possible to leave them all open, but it is something to consider. You can also do a guided tour, which cost more and looked to be about two to two and half hours. 

Once picking up your map and guidebook, I highly suggest looking at the map and deciding which areas you want to check out. Unless you have a full two days there, I doubt it would be easy to cover. The map is split up into eight regions and colors which helps immensely. A few of the regions have only a few sites to see because they are either not yet open to the public or have not been fully excavated yet. Bring a pen and circle the places you want to see before heading out. This is the most efficient way to see what you want in a short amount of time!

With the exception of a few I didn’t get to see, but would still recommend based on what I learned in the audio tour, here are the top sights I would recommend seeing if you have a limited amount of time. I listed their region and number next to them! If you’ve been there, comment below if you think I missed anything!

Top Sights by Region

Region I:
14: Garden of the Fugitives - 

In this area, a place where homes  once stood, you can find the casts of 13 victims who were trying to escape the eruption through the gate nearby. They were killed due to asphyxiation and high temperatures from the pyroclastic flow.  Archeologists excavated their remains in the ’60’s and ’70’s. While walking the streets of Pompeii brings you a sense of what the city was like, this area brings you closer to those who lived there.

Region II:
5: Amphitheater - 

This oldest-known Roman amphitheater in the world provides a look at the gladiatorial culture in Rome. A ban on these events were later imposed after a deadly brawl between locals and Nocera residents.

In 1971, it was used as a backdrop for Pink Floyd’s concert film, “Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii.” Within the amphitheater walls, you can look at pictures from that film and other events that have been held in the amphitheater. 

Region VI:

1: House of the Faun - 

Here you can view how the wealthy in that time lived. The house covers an entire block and according to the Board of Cultural Heritage of Pompeii, covers 3000 sqm. At the main entrance is a copy of the famous statue of the dancing satyr, for which the house is named. Inside you can find the recreation of many artworks that once lived in the home. Artifacts like those pictures can now be found in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

3: House of the small fountain -

Beautiful mosaics and shells surrounding the fountain, paired with landscape views painted just years before the eruption, take you back in time showing just how colorful of lives rich Pompeiians lived before their lives were taken.

4: House of the Tragic Poet - 

This house is known for its mosaic of a dog and the words “Cave Canem” written underneath. This means “beware of the dog.” While the rest of the house was closed off, a peak inside some gaps show more paintings inside.

5: Thermopolium - 

Dining out looked a lot different in the olden days, especially since many rarely cooked at home. Here at the thermopolium, you can gain insight into where locals bought their hot food. 

Region VII:

5: Forum - 

The Forum was one of the most important parts of Pompeii, as it's where most of the people's daily business took place. It's a large rectangular area that housed markets, temples, and city buildings.

12: Macellum - The Macellum, which served as a market, played a central role in those who lived in Pompeii. Several parts of this area make it worth visiting. 

On the walls you will find art depicting how they lived. Images include residents selling fish and poultry and mythological subjects. 

Copies of two marble statues, along with part of a larger statue, is thought to indicate how the area was intended for the imperial cult. 

To the right of the entrance there are rooms containing pottery and food containers. 

Finally, just a bit further down you will see the remains of several who died there. 

16: Stabian Baths - 

These baths, which are believed to date back to the 2nd century BC, are split into men and women’s quarters. Each quarter displays how they had cold baths, medium temperature baths, and hot baths. In the men’s quarters you can find decorations. The women’s quarters however did not have this.

It’s impressive to see how the heating system was set up and the engineering for its time.

Region VIII:

1: Sanctuary of Venus -

While very historically important, what struck me most was the beautiful views from the terrace here. It shows a great contrast between then and now-modern day society in the background. 

2: Basilica - 

This is where business and justice took place. You can see the place reserved for the judges on the west side. It is also decorated with many interesting statues.

7: Triangular forum - 

Named after it’s unique shape, I recommend visiting this area because it’s believed to be where the founder of the city, Heracles, is buried. 

10: Large Theatre - 

Not only does this theatre showcase the kind of entertainment locals liked to partake in, you will find amazing views at the top.

11: Quadriporticus of the theaters or Gladiators Barracks - 

Before the earthquake of 62 AD, this area served as a place where people could come and eat during intervals of theatre shows. After the earthquake it became barracks for gladiators. The Board of Cultural Heritage of Pompeii says rich weapons used in the parades that preceded the battles were found in two wooden boxes and are now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

12: Small Theatre (Odeon) -

According to the Board of Cultural Heritage of Pompeii, residents would come to the small theatre to watching musical, singing, and miming performances. 

Multimedia Displays (no number associated with it, but it is in region VIII near Sanctuary of Venus) - 

Discover what Pompeii was like before and after the volcano with a number of exhibits in this museum. You can also see a few more artifacts and the remains of those who perished in the disaster.

Wanted to see, but did not get to. Based on the audio recordings, I would recommend these:

Region VI:

11: House of the Vettii - This is one of the richest and most famous homes in Pompeii. It is full of richly decorated rooms and sculptures.

22: Villa del Misteri - This is one of the only places that sustained minor damage from the volcano eruption. The villa is a bit of a walk to get to because it’s not technically part of the city, but I can only imagine how beautiful the frescoes are inside and how neat it would be to see all the rooms. 

Region VII:

18: Lupanar: Not appropriate for children, but an interesting look at how prostitution and brothels existed in those days. There are paintings on the wall which showed the activities that occurred there.

Exploring the ruins of Pompeii Exploring the ruins of Pompeii Reviewed by Tara Grimes on November 20, 2017 Rating: 5

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