A city buried for thousands of years, a city that suffered a tragedy, that became a historical miracle, a city of death and a city of preservation. The city of Pompeii.
Pompeii is a place I have wanted to visit since the first time I learned of it. An actual piece of history, alive in the modern era, it was like Christmas in July for a history nut like myself.
Excitement was in my step as I walked to Rome’s train station, rain splattering against a borrowed Mary Poppins umbrella. Not the best day to visit Pompeii you might think, but the amount of things to do in Rome and a number of indulgences in the hangover blues meant that I was on my last day possible to visit it. So I powered on through the rain towards the station for my journey.
Taking the train from Rome to Napoli cost me around €70 for a return. I did however purchase my ticket at the station. If you book online with some days in advance I’m sure it will be cheaper. The train takes around an hour and a half. Once you arrive at Napoli you just have to follow the signs saying Circumvesuviana, is just down the stairs in the station. Purchase a return ticket then get on the train heading to Sorrento. It takes about 30 minutes, and while on it you will get a taste of what Napoli has to offer.
Now I must point out that I have never explored Napoli and it could be a good place to visit. But from the looks of the rundown buildings on the way to Pompeii, a ludicrous amount of graffiti, and with most young people dressed to impress – If it were impressive to look like the love child of a Bam and a Ned – the city gave me the sense that it is a place I wouldn’t want to lay my head. Yet all that might be part of the charm of the place that makes it worth a proper visit.
Once you reach the stop Pompei Scavi Villa Misteri, get off and head right, following the signs to the ticket office for Pompeii. The ticket was about €13 and while getting my camera out of its bag I ended up striking up a conversation with an American tourist who was just about to head out on a tour of Pompeii. She invited me to join her as the tour costs €100, but if you get together with others you can split the cost, meaning that each person on our tour paid just €20.
The tour was good, but the guide’s English wasn’t always the most clear; I would advise joining in on a tour group as there is nothing to tell you what these buildings once were, so without a guide you will be set alight with a burning curiosity and harbour a thousand questions to which you will never receive the answers. There are audio guides available to hire however from what I have heard they are very outdated and not worth the money.
Once you walk along the road entering the city you will be able to visit an exhibition that holds the possessions and people who once lived in one of the best preserved houses in Pompeii. The inhabitants are frozen in ash, eternally cocooned in their killer, holding the same stance that they held in their last moments of life. It is a thoroughly haunting scene. A mother clings onto her child, the child’s arms are outstretched, trying to clutch anything that could save them. You can even see parts of the skull showing at the back just to remind you of their humanity. I would certainly advise a visit to the exhibition.
It is really just insane to think, when you look at the buildings in Pompeii, that they are thousands of years old, it’s just so fantastically preserved, due to It being buried in volcanic ash during the eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
There is so much to see in Pompeii… the plenitude of ancient wine bars, shops, extravagant homes and not so extravagant brothels. Oh yes, even if new to the city you could easily find your way to the provocative establishment by the phallus marker signs in the road that angled towards the red light district (or so my tour guide assured me), at such establishments you can still see graffiti on the walls of the rooms, some in Latin some a little more modern.
One particularly well preserved house was the home of the previously mentioned exhibition, it showcased what came with wealth at the time, with a lovely home and a central garden. It is a great insight into what the well endowed in ancient Pompeii could buy. Also there is a glass case that contains bones of the servants who perished like so many others.
One thing that surprised me was the size of Pompeii – it being much bigger than I had supposed. This means that there is a lot which you might miss, as it can be easy to be caught up in the emptiness of the place, it holds a certain kind of tranquility, a peace, you find yourself wandering and becoming oblivious to time or care, and before you know it, it’s already closing time.
I would definitely try to fit Pompeii into your Italy visit, it has such an ancient soul that you can almost picture the city back before the eruption claimed it. I would like to visit again at some point as well and try to get to the parts I didn’t get to see when I was there.
So that’s my experience of Pompeii. My next post will be on Rome which I’m actually writing back home in Scotland as it seems that my procrastination was quick to grasp a hold of me as soon as I stepped back on Scottish soil. Until then, talk to you later