Travel tips

All you need to know before visiting Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

There are so many reasons why you should visit (idioms dictionary) Italy; food, wine, culture, natural beauty, people and my favourite ; history. Nothing can beat Italian history. So a must-see is definitely Pompeii. One of the reasons why a love (apple of eye meaning) to travel and explore is that feeling of being humble, smitten, amazed and changed forever. Pompeii changes you.

Nature can be savage, and standing on the main square Foro and looking up at Mount Vesuvio you realise its power. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 A.D., when the volcano buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under a thick carpet of volcanic ash. In one afternoon in August two thousand people died of heat, collapsing roofs or choked to death on thickening ash and clouds of sulfurous gas.

When a group of explorers rediscovered the site (idiom site) in 1748, they were surprised to find that underneath a thick layer of dust and debris Pompeii was mostly INTACT. Buildings were intact, skeletons were frozen right where they’d fallen ! That is so fascinating that approximately 2.5 million tourist visit this place every year and it is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Italy.

If you are planning to explore it by yourself do the research because it can be confusing to walk the streets and understand the way they lived and perished.

Tickets

The second time (killing time synonym) we were lucky (first was last year in San Marino). It was Cultural Heritage Week and the entrance was free otherwise it’s 15 € per person .

Check the Pompeii official site  http://pompeiisites.org/en/visiting-info/timetables-and-tickets/ for the opening hours , free admission or reduced prices. Free maps are available at the Info Point or you can download it here http://pompeiisites.org/wp-content/uploads/map_pompeii_2018_set-l.pdf  and you are allowed  to access the sites only with small bags (30x30x15 cm max.)

There are also guided tours available at the Information desk at Porta Marina or in Piazza Esedra. You can also download App Discover Pompeii – Pompei audio tour for free ( „A self-guided walking tour, with more than 6 hours of audio guides and a map that works offline“) and Pompeii Touch App („ This app gives people possibility to make a comparison between how Pompeii is and how it was before eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD „ – around (find a way around) 2€).

Getting around

Map of the Pompeii excavations, water and good walking shoes are the most important thing you should have with you. Don’t worry about food or drinks. There is a nice café and restaurant in the excavation area, just (definition just in case) north of the Forum. There you can find soft drinks, cafe, pizza, good italian sandwiches… Keep your empty bottles for refilling as there are occasional water taps around the site.

The city of Pompeii is divided into nine districts called Regiones. Each one is divided into various blocks called insuale. A plaque is located at the corner of every block which shows The Regio and the insula in which you are standing.

There are some itineraries on the back of the map (depending on how much time you have)  that you can follow; it can be from two to seven hours of walking.

First thing that will blow your mind are the streets and the way they were built. There are stone blocks for pedestrians to step onto to cross them . Since they had water and waste flowing through them, the sidewalks  are very high comparing to modern ones. Remember ? Comfortable shoes !!

Look for small tiles called „Cat’s eyes“. Candle light reflects off these tiles and gave light, so people could see where they were walking at night.

Another thing you should look for (like the visiting sailors of those days) are the stone phalluses that serve as arrows and if you follow the arrows, you’ll wind up at one of the city’s many brothles. Some historians say that is not true and they were just good luck signs and symbols meant to ward off the Evil Eye. I prefer the first version.

Around 35 bakeries have been found In Pompeii and you can’t miss them. The bakeries’ ovens look similar to the old brick stone ovens. The bars had counters with three or four holes in them in which they had water or other beverages.

What to see :

1.The amphitheatre – was used for gladiator battles. It was completed in 80BC and could hold about 20,000 people. It is the earliest surviving permanent amphitheatre in Italy and one of the best preserved anywhere.

2. The Great Palaestra (Gymnasium) – The central area was used for sporting activities and there was also a  pool in the middle.

3. House of the Vettii – contains many frescoes and illustrations. It was a home (go home and let sleeping dogs lie) of two brothers who were ones slaves and then freed and became very affluent. This house has been closed to the general public for the last 10 years but at least the atrium of the house is open.

4. Large Theatre – It seated 5,000 people.

5. Lupanar – Prostitutes were called ‘lupae’, and the word ‘lupanare’ indicated a brothel. It has small rooms and stone beds that were then covered with matrasses. Erotic design paintings have been found, very well preserved, and probably used as a sort of catalogue. In ancient Rome prostitution was accepted. Clients were mainly merchants and foreign sailors. Prostitutes were slaves and their earnings went entirely to their owner. The average price was the price of a glass of wine.

6. Baths – There are several baths you should see:

  • Stabian Baths were named after their location on the crossing of Pompeii’s two main streets – Via Stabiana and Via dell’Abbondanza – and are the oldest public baths in Pompeii and the oldest preserved public baths from anywhere in the Roman Empire. They were built during the 2nd century B.C.
  • Forum Baths were built during 80 B.C. and are smallest public baths in Pompeii and the most elaborately decorated.
  • Central Baths are located in the center of Pompeii They were unfinished when Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.

7. The Basilica – The most important public building of the city. It was the Courthouse and the center of the economic life.

8. Temple of Apollo – It has the oldest remains discovered, dating back to 5th century BC, although the layout we see now was later than that.

9.Forum (The main square) – center of public life. It was surrounded by many important government, business and religious buildings.

10.Forum Granary – was designes to be the public market but was not finished before the eruption. Today 9000 artifacts like amphoraes, pots and pans for cooking, jugs and bottles, large containers used to transport oil, wine and fish are stored in this building.

Mount Vesuvius

It is a very active volcano that has erupted several times. Last eruption happened at 1944 and it’s only a matter of when, not if, it will erupt again. Vesuvius National Park was established in the mid-1990s and allows visitors to access the volcano.

For visiting Mount Vesuvius you need a beautiful, sunny day. The hike will be more pleasant and the view from the top is breathtaking on a clear day. It overlooks the Bay and city of Naples. I would say those are two main things to see: the crater and the view. It was overcast the day we visited. Bummer.

Not very understandable is a ticket office which is 200 m below the entrance on the middle of the winding road. There is a sign on the road, but you kinda miss it thinking oh well we will buy it at the entrance. The road is not that wide, there is no parking lot, so people just park on the side of it. Do not make the same mistake and come to the top, park the car, walk to the entrance ….and then realise that you need to walk back to buy the tickets (10€).

There is a bar and a small souvenir shop at the entrance. No toilets and you can use the one at the bar only if you buy something. You can take a walking stick for the hike to the crater (a tip is required). It only takes 30 min to get to the top, but believe me, It is not an easy one and it is pretty steep. Wear comfortable hiking shoes or sneakers, but not white ones. Trust me !

I would highly recommend to take a scarf or a hat. The wind is sometimes very strong.

The crater looks like something out of this world, lunar-like. It has a diameter of about 500 metres and a depth of 230 metres. You would expect something huge , at least I did. Steaming vents reminds you of the calm before the storm. It looks and sounds peaceful now, but you can only imagine how scary it was looking at the mushroom cloud of ash, dust, and rocks that went 21 miles into the sky….. and the avalanche of hot rock racing down the mountain.

That was enough for me. Saw it….imagined for couple of minutes….and then rushed back down. It was one of those places that you want to see, but not stick around.