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Guide to Visiting Pompeii.

Mount Vesuvius, 80044 Ottaviano, Metropolitan City of Naples, Italy 18/09/2017
Today I'm going to talk to you about one of the best-known secrets in Roman history; a little-known town called Pompeii. Have you heard of it? Of course, you have. The whole world remains ghoulishly attracted to this town of death and destruction. Entire families being asphyxiated by pyroclastic flow? Er, yeah I'd love to spend a day gawping at the remains! As I'm always keen to accommodate the morbid curiosities, I'm going to indulge you with some history, facts and practical information about vising the ancient site.


Vesuvius' most infamous victim, the ancient site of Pompeii is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions. The town is thought to have been founded by the Osci (remember, Italy only became a unified country in the nineteenth century) and was then under the dominion of the Greeks or the Etruscans (they kept bickering over it) until finally being conquered by the Samnites. At this point, they were considered socii, or "allies" of the Roman Empire. Pompeii became fully Romanized when they lost the Social War in 80BC. It remained a Roman colony for the remainder of it's existence, before it was destroyed by the eruption in 79 AD. 

Mount Vesuvius erupted on August 24th, 79 AD. Very quickly fragments of ash, pumice and molten rock began pouring over Pompeii and soon covered it by three meters of heavy volcanic debris. By the morning of the 25th, surges of pyroclastic material and gas reached the city and killed off any remaining survivors. More pyroclastic flows followed, burying Pompeii under another 3-metre layer of pumice, allowing the city to remain undiscovered until the late 16th century.

Did you know?

Most of the population actually managed to escape. This wasn't an unpredictable catastrophe, Mount Vesuvius had been rumbling for days and people had enough time to leave. Of the approximately 20,000 residents, about 17,000 managed to escape unharmed.

Due to coastal changes and seismic activity, Pompeii now stands 2km inland. However, in ancient Rome, it would have been much closer to the sea and around four meters lower.

We actually have two surviving eyewitness accounts found in Pliny the Younger's letters to historian Tacitus. In them, he discusses the eruption in detail and discusses the death of his uncle, Pliny the Elder. My favourite part is when his uncle's "scholarly acumen" implored him to run towards an erupting volcano. Such an educated and worthwhile decision.
A typical Pompeii brothel
Pompeii was teaming with brothels. Roughly 25 to be exact. Most brothels were single rooms but one building is known as 'Lupanar' has had two levels with five rooms on each. Lupanar means 'she-wolf' in Latin which is slang for a prostitute and has given a whole new meaning to Shakira.

Most prostitutes were Greek or Oriental slaves and their going rate was the equivalent of two glasses of wine. I'll leave you to insert your own joke here.

Many early discoveries were hidden away again. King Francis I of Naples was so mortified by the saucy artwork that he had it locked away in a secret cabinet. Only people of "mature age and respected morals" were allowed to enter. It re-opended officially in the year 2000.

How to Get There:

Get the Circumvesuviana line from Naples to Sorrento. I loathe to give you this advice because I truly, truly, despise the Campania regional trains. Packed, no aircon, annoying musical beggers and seemingly endless stops. Nonetheless, it is the cheapest and most efficient way to get to Pompeii.

You can buy your ticket from the Garibaldi station (which is literally the lower levels underneath Napoli Centrale and doesn't need a separate name, but hey ho, Naples doesn't make anything easy.) Tickets cost around €5/6 and annoyingly, you can't purchase online. You need to either go early or buy your ticket the day before. If not then you will join a very slow moving queue that stretches through the station and I can promise you will be there for a minimum of 45 minutes. Buy your ticket early, promise me? Please?

The train will be rammed so get your rush hour head on because you need to fight to get, not even a seat, but a stable place to stand. If you can, take a fan. Be aware of your bag at all times. The train takes around half an hour and your stop is Pompeii Scavi - Villa dei Misteri
The famous dog

Advice & Tips:

Bring cash. For some unknown reason, the Campania region seems reluctant to install card machines. Pompeii is no exception, so be sure to have enough cash on you for the ticket (€11) and a tour, if you fancy one (approx €20/25).

Cover up. There is little respite from the glare of the sun on site so dress appropriately. Go overboard on the suncream, wear thin layers, sunglasses and definitely a hat. 

Pack food and water. You can spend hours here and not even see an eighth of the site and in that time, you're gonna get pretty hungry. There is only one cafe near the main forum which is packed, overpriced and not that great. Once you leave the site, you can't get back in so if you want to get the most out of your visit, pack your own lunch. That way you can sit, have a refuel and then continue to explore the ruins.

Join a tour. Now, I hate to go against my beloved Mary Beard but... get yourself on a tour. I know that tours get a bad rep and most of the time, I do think that they can be a bit naff and overpriced. However, in my opinion, unless you've meticulously planned, Pompeii is too vast to tour yourself. There is very little signage or information and sometimes sections are closed and you have no way of knowing until you walk all the way there. It's just a lot of effort to do all by yourself. I studied Classics at uni and I love researching this kind of thing but honestly, even I couldn't be arsed. Give yourself a break and get a guide. Make life easier for yourself.

Visit Herculaneum. Now I know this is a bit of a cop-out, but once you're done in Pompeii, pop over to Herculaneum. It's the same train line as before, but 10 stops back from Pompeii Scavi. Trust me, it's worth it. It was destroyed in the same eruption back in 79 AD but has significantly fewer tourists and is far better preserved. It sits in the town of Ercolano but is well below the level of the modern town. 

Have you ever thought of vising Pompeii?

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