Exploring the fascinating coastal region around Sorrento kept us satiated for about three days. After discovering the mouth-watering Napoli pizza – which is supposedly the best in the world – we needed to burn off the calories with a little hike, one that led us straight up the sleeping monster of Mount Vesuvius. And while we were in the neighborhood, we wanted to pay a visit to notorious Pompeii, one of the famous towns wiped out by the bullying Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
From Sorrento, the Circumvesuviana train dropped us off at the Ercolano Scavi station nearly at Pompeii’s gates. To avoid the early morning crowds at Pompeii, we decided to visit Mount Vesuvius first, and we went in search of the Vesuvius shuttle tram. For EUR 12, we were awarded with a twenty-minute ride up blinding turns to the base of Mount Vesuvius. From there, it’s a steep, but easy, 30-minute hike to the Mount’s lunar-like summit.
Peering into the crater was rather forbidding. The last eruption was in 1944, and it will erupt again – someday. Though Vesuvius is quiet today, the constant steaming vents are a reminder that it’s actually just taking a bit of a nap.
We brought a picnic lunch to enjoy at the crater’s lip and hiked around the summit. Spectacular panoramas of Naples and the bay, as well as the damaged village of Pompeii, lay before us in all directions. While absorbing the desolate landscape, it was easy to imagine the scene nearly two centuries prior, when Vesuvius erupted, covering Pompeii in ash.
Exploring Pompeii: From the summit of Vesuvius, we descended back to sea level visit Pompeii, the village frozen in time. Plus, it was fun to indulge a bit our our inner Indiana Jones’.
Though Pompeii was actually discovered in 1599, excavations didn’t begin until 1748, and it has fascinated experts, locals and tourists eve since.
An entrance ticket includes a map and small pocket guide to the site, which leads you number by number through the not-to-miss sights at Pompeii including the Brothel, the forum baths, The Forum, Garden of the Fugitives , the House of the Tragic Poet, the House of the Veti, and the House of the Faun among many others.
Pompeii is so intriguing because it offers a glimpse into how an authentic middle-class Roman village operated some 2000 years ago. Amid its 40 bakeries, 30 brothels and over one hundred bars, restaurants and hotels sat both wealthy and modest homes, civil squares, government buildings, fast food joints and gardens.
Pompeii had six public baths, each with a men’s and women’s section. The bath’s were surprisingly modern and featured warm, hot and cold selections, dressing rooms and special “steam baths.” They were remarkably well-preserved, colorful and could be described as a “comfortable retreat” back in the day.
Pompeii’s streets were pretty cool too. Since they were flooded with water occasionally to clean them, giant stepping stones were placed in the middle of the pathways. These stones led pedestrians across the streets and also allowed chariots – and their massive wheels – to pass by during the flooding phases. Three stones like shown in the below picture signified a major thoroughfare; two stones identified an ordinary two-way street; and one stone was simply a one-way street. Genius!
Pompeii covers nearly 163 acres, a pretty vast area to cover by foot. And it was hot! We followed our little map to some of the more popular Pompeii sights – along with sweaty flag-carrying tourist groups and families struggling with strollers.
It’s worth the walk down the the Amphitheater, if only to rest in the shady promenade for a respite. The amphitheater was closed for work but we were able to gawk at its massive exterior and imagine a day when it was filled with gladiators, animals and 20,000 spectators.
Another well-preserved theater sat 5,000 people and was the stage for smaller gladiator fights, plays and Roman theater spectacles. I was thought-provoking to sit on the theater’s steps and think about how life in this typical Roman village functioned 2000 years ago – how the locals dressed, talked and went about their daily activities – perhaps even visiting the theater for a Friday evening date.
For future Pompeii visitors, I recommend not trying to spend an entire day covering the ruins. While the first few hours are exciting and full of discovery, as I slowly got fatigued, I began to feel more and more blasé about the village’s highlights. Four to five hours – at most – is enough to see many of Pompeii’s features – and still leave the ruins with a bit of spring in your step.