Pompeii really blew my mind. I’ve been a lot of places, and I’ve seen a lot of things, but this was the first time I’ve ever walked along a path that was built so long ago – the area was first settled around 800 BC by wealthy Greeks attracted to the sunshine and scenery in the Bay of Naples. The city of Pompeii was first mentioned in written history in 300 BC, about 400 years before its destruction and 300 years before Christ would even walk the earth. If you’re not familiar with the very true tale, at the time of its demise, Pompeii was a thriving community in the Roman Colony.The city had intricate cobble stone roads, restaurants (including a pizzeria – because duh – Italy), a complex water system, temples, baths, an arena that could seat tens of thousands, open air markets, a gymnasium, and a port, in addition to smaller homes, rich villas and gardens. An estimated 20,000 people lived in Pompeii and the surrounding areas, making it one of the most populated Roman cities, when in 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted, killing nearly 2,000 people and burying the once thriving town in ash. The ruins were untraceable for nearly 1,600 years, until a Spanish engineer discovered the site and kicked off a massive excavation that overturned architecture, artifacts, and human remains that had laid preserved beneath the dust for more than a millennium. Since its re-discovery, Pompeii has been a massive tourist destination, drawing nearly 2.5 million visitors each year. The site offers a glimpse into anno Domini life, painting both a romantic and tragic picture for visitors. And so last May, on our drive from the Amalfi Coast to Rome, my aunt, cousin, mom and I made a pit stop in Pompeii to take a guided tour and check out the ruins.Walking through Pompeii is like walking through a massive, open air museum. If you were to explore every street and dwelling, it could easily take days, so our tour guide directed us to the main sights and streets. We entered through the Via dell’Abbondanza (above), the main road in Pompeii which was home to many shops and rich villas. Merchants who entered the town often came through the Via dell’Abbondanza, and so there were plenty eateries, brothels, and stalls for bartering.
Above and below are a few photos of The House of Menander, a rich townhouse of over 2,000 square meters (for scale, my current city center apartment in Amsterdam is 50 square meters!) with an atrium, intricately decorated living quarters, servant quarters, a kitchen with extensive gardens for produce (think fresh lemons, olives, basil, tomatoes, peppers – le sigh), and a bath-house. Beautiful mosaics adorn the ceilings and walls, while tiled mosaics decorate the floors. There are also human remains in the house, believed to have belonged to the servants who worked there. At the time of Vesuvius’s eruption, the house was being renovated, and only a skeleton staff (no pun intended) remained on site. And so while the casualties of this house were limited, those who were responsible for maintenance and care of the property were unfortunately buried along with it. Back outside, we strolled towards the Forum, the economic, religious, and political center of Pompeii.Above and below are photos of the Forum, where we found the Basilica of Pompeii, which was built in roughly 130 BC, making it one of the oldest Basilicas in the world – for comparison, St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City was built in 333 AD, almost 500 years later!
I love this photo below – somehow we unknowingly all managed to color coordinate on our day trip to Pompeii!The last building we ducked in for the day was my favorite – the thermal baths. I love a good spa day, and it blows my mind that dozens of centuries ago, ancient civilizations were enjoying the same indulgences and relaxation techniques. The spa had a men’s and woman’s section, and within each section there were changing rooms along with cold, medium, and hot baths. The entire structure was heated via hot running water through the structure’s walls (essentially the same heating mechanism my apartment uses today!) The space also had a pool and a gymnasium, so you could both work out and relax. The baths served as a meeting place for family, friends, and acquaintances, playing a pivotal role as a social backdrop.And to be honest, I think this bath is a thousand times more beautiful than any other spa I have visited.Before we left, we walked by the warehouses that hold all of the unearthed artifacts, ranging from jars and jugs to statues and wagons.
There were also several castings of bodies (below). During the original excavation, plaster was used to fill in voids in the ash layers that had once held human remains. This allowed archaeologists to see the exact position the poor soul was in when they perished. And on that happy note, I will say goodbye! Joking, joking ;) Overall, if you’re a history buff or simply want a glimpse into ancient Roman life, I would highly recommend a visit to Pompeii. If you’re planning a visit, I would recommend earmarking a whole day for the trek. The grounds are vast, so start with a tour to get your bearings and learn about the history, and then plan to spend another hour or two walking back to check out your favorite spots or discover new streets. The trip requires a lot of walking and the site is entirely outside, so bring comfortable shoes, sunscreen, a hat, an umbrella, and a water bottle. The fee to enter Pompeii is €11, but I recommend pairing your entry with a tour, as knowing what you’re looking at is definitely worth the extra expense! The cafe outside the ruins as well as the concession stand inside suck (microwaved food, expensive beer) so bring your own snacks or even a picnic if you plan to enjoy the area for more than a few hours.