We walked on Roman roads and saw the homes, public buildings,and artwork of people from 2,000 years ago! Pompeii was the thing I most looked forward to in Italy (well, that and the food!) and it was mind-blowing. Some logistics first. Pompeii was close to us, about a 20-minute drive. We paid to park, near the Amfiteatro Gate, 1.50€ per hour, which was the same as street parking in Vico Equense. We had read that lines are longer and parking pricier at the Marina entrance. We got there just before 8:30 and there were less than 10 people in line in front of us. We all thought the gates open at 8:30 as stated online and on the signs at the entrance gate itself, but apparently opening was changed to 9:00 about a year ago. Many of the people in line had tickets, but we made out better by not having them since the line was not an issue and also because online tickets charge for the service, and it was unclear to us of kids were free (they were!). We paid for only us parents (11€ each, Pompeii only; there are other options for more days and four other sites). Kids are free up to age 18, we were happy to learn.
We entered at the large amphitheater. It is well-preserved and nice to explore. There was an exhibit inside on a 1970’s performance there by Pink Floyd, above, which was surprising but nicely done and I guess it is part of the history of the place now. Near the amphitheater was a museum with Egyptian artifacts that also seemed out of place until we understood that Egyptian objects and deities were popular in Pompeii for a time. Most people enter the ruins by a different entrance and one of the first sites they discover is a brothel, so maybe this way is better! Actually, I kinda wanted to see the famous brothels of Pompeii but it was so hot and the place is so large we didn’t make it to that end of the city. And I can’t say I regret that I didn’t have to explain brothels to the kids!
It was amazing to walk the streets, see the ruins of houses, the baths and temples, roads with chariot wheel grooves, and to see Mt. Vesuvius looming in the background. We saw casts of bodies that were buried under ash, poignant and haunting, caught in their final moments as they were buried under the volcanic rock and ash. We learned that these were made by pouring cement into the spaces where the bodies had decomposed. The casts we saw were all enclosed in display cases, many of them housed in a glass building at the Amfiteatro entrance, below.
There were active archeological sites where we could see people uncovering even more of the city (below). It was hot, sunny and crowded in some spots, but the place is vast and there are many side streets to lose the crowds.
We brought lunch and ate in a shaded spot. There are water fountains in many places with good drinking water, so that was no problem. We stayed about four hours. I would have liked to see nearby Herculaneum, which is smaller and was covered in lava and therefore better preserved, in fact I debated whether we should go there rather than Pompeii for several reasons, but Pompeii was marvelous and I don’t regret going there. Herculaneum can wait for another time.
One more thing to mention is a 2003 BBC dramatization The Last Day. Partly we liked it because Carson from Downton Abbey was a main character, but also it showed the utter disbelief with which the people met the volcanic eruption. There was no word for volcano in Latin- people were completely ignorant of the destructive potential. This is not to say folks didn’t bail out when rumblings happened prior to the eruption; 17,000 of the 20,000 who populated the place fled. But the rest chose to stay and even when it started billowing smoke, there was a lack of understanding. Pliny the elder famously traveled towards the spewing ash and perished. There were several dramatic stories found with the ruins and these made the place even more real for us. And then we climbed the volcano ourselves! That’s the next adventure. For now, here are a few more photos: