Blog / Random thoughts and musings.


  • on July 18, 2007 -
  • vacation
  • |
  • Comments Off on Pompeii


Few ancient cities are more famous than Pompeii. This bustling Roman city in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius was frozen in time when the volcano erupted in 79 A.D., killing all the inhabitants and burying the city under 30 feet of mud and ash. It lay relatively undisturbed until excavations began in 1748. While many of the buildings are in ruins like most other sites, what makes Pompeii different is that the infrastructure of the entire city is just as it was 2,000 years ago. Rather than seeing a fallen temple or a few homes, we got to see an entire Roman city, entering through the outer walls, walking the original streets, and picturing what life was like for the citizens there.

Detailed Pompeii excavation model created in the late 1800s. Now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

We got up early (5:45am) so we could try to beat some of the crowds. Rather than book a tour we decided to visit Pompeii and the National Archaeological Museum in Naples on our own. After getting off the ship we started walking in the general direction of the Circumvesuviana train. We caught up to another couple doing the day on their own as well, so we joined them in search of the train station. We managed to purchase tickets, find our train (it runs every 30 minutes) and headed towards Pompei Scavi (excavation). The train was the loudest train we’ve ever been on. Listening to the constant screeching we were sure it was going to come off the tracks. Conversation on the train was impossible, but fortunately the trip only took about 20 minutes. When we got off and the train pulled away, it was almost completely silent from the outside — not sure how they managed that! We also noted that the graffiti on the trains and stations was the most beautiful, artistic graffiti we’ve seen anywhere.

Part of the Forum at Pompeii, with Mount Vesuvius looming above.

Once at the Pompeii site we used Rick Steves “Pompeii: A Guided Walk” to get an overview of the site and some of the more interesting areas. One of the disadvantages of viewing an entire ancient city is that not everything is particularly exciting – a 2,000 year old house is interesting… row after row of 2,000 year old houses lose their charm after a while! Approximately 75% of the city has been excavated so far and it’s quite extensive.

Porta Marina entrance to Pompeii

We entered through the Porta Marina, two large arched openings in the outer wall – a smaller walkway for pedestrians and a larger for chariots. Once inside, we followed the walking tour and visited the Temple of Apollo, the Forum, the roman baths, and the House of the Faun, Pompeii’s largest home with 40 rooms.

The Temple of Apollo and some of its 48 columns.

The streets of Pompeii, pictured below, were quite interesting. They had high curbs on either side, and water was continuously spilling into the roads from fountains at the highest parts of the city. The water would carry away any trash, keeping the city (but not necessarily the sea) clean. Tall stones were placed in the road at regular intervals to allow pedestrians to cross the street without getting wet, while chariots and wagons had large wheels that cleared the stones without difficulty.

The streets of Pompeii

Other highlights of the walking tour were the brothel, the Greek-built theater, the gladiator barracks, and the Temple of Isis with its shrine of holy water brought to Pompeii from the Nile to serve the Egyptian community of Pompeii. It’s expected that there was a Jewish synagogue in Pompeii as well, but it has not yet been uncovered. After a few hours of exploring, we needed to take the train back to Naples in order to spend some time at the National Archaeological Museum. We took the train to Naples’s main station, Piazza Garibaldi, then took the subway to the Piazza Cavour station. Once back on the street, Kathie asked a small store owner how to get to the Museum. He spoke no English (and why should he?), but we managed to figure each other out, and we found the museum with no problem.

“Statue Femminili” bronze statues from the 1st century A.D., in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

The museum holds most of the artifacts found at Pompeii and Herculaneum (a second city buried by Vesuvius’s eruption), as well as other historical items. The bronze statues and tile mosaics were most impressive, considering many are in nearly perfect condition. Not only is their condition impressive, but the mosaics are so detailed and the artwork is amazing. The museum also has a “secret” room showcasing the erotic mosaics, frescoes, and statues recovered from the ruins. We rented an audio guide system at the museum, which was very informative for those artifacts that had guide numbers posted, which was only about a quarter of the total. When we were finished for the day we walked the couple of miles back to the ship, getting a little bit lost but getting a good feel for the city of Naples.

Two of the many tile mosaics from Pompeii. Note the detail insert in the upper-right.

Comments are closed.