Until you take a visit to Pompeii, you simply ain’t seen nothing.
Famous for having been buried under ash and rock from the Mount Vesuvius explosion and subsequent pyroclastic flow in autumn of 79AD, this is a stunning site.
While the ruined houses and public buildings, streets and bars, fountains and brothels were all fascinating, what brought the catastrophe home to me most vividly were the as-yet only partly excavated streets. Here, you can see the walls jutting out from beneath the typically 3-6m deep ground. It’s just incredible.
We visited on the first Sunday of the month, when entry is free. Crowds were very big, as you might expect on a visit to Pompeii in July, but they weren’t overwhelming. We had received a great tip – get down to the far end quickly and work your way back. In that way, you’re visiting against the flow, so to speak.
Never before had I spent 8 solid hours at a visitor site, but I would gladly return. Every street corner reveals something more incredible.
The major buildings of the forum, basilica, amphitheatre, theatres and palaetra are all impressive, but it’s really the fantastically decorated private houses that are the most stunning. Among them, the Villa dei Misteri, Casa del Fauno and Casa dei Vettii feature some of the most incredible frescoes, impluviums and colonnaded gardens.
To stand in front of magnificently detailed and beautiful frescoes that were created 2,000 years ago is humbling. The fear under which their creators and domus owners either perished in the apocalyptic event, or had to flee never to return, is unimaginable.
At the time of the disaster, Pompeii had a population of between 11,000 and 16,000 and the traces of around 1,100 bodies have been confirmed to date.
Although a witness statement says that the explosion occurred on August 24th in 79AD, experts now believe this to be a mistake and that it was more likely October. This is because of grapes and other fruits discovered during the excavations that could not have been there as early as August.
For 48 hours, Mount Vesuvius expelled a deadly mix of super-heated tephra (fragmental material) and gases to a height of over 30km, ejecting molten rock, pumice (rough-textured volcanic rock pitted with many cavities) and hot ash at 1.5 million tons per second. While no lava flow per se reached Pompeii, the fast-moving and dense pyroclastic flow that followed incinerated all living matter in temperatures of 200-300 degrees Celsius.
Pompeii was no more.
During the visit, you will encounter numerous casts of bodies, taken from cavities in the ash discovered during excavations.
A phenomenal place.
Read National Geographic’s explanation of what a pyroclastic flow entails at https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/pyroclastic-flow/
During February 2023, we visited Rome for a few days and you can read about that incredible city in this post.
A Visit to Pompeii – Some Details
- To purchase official tickets to the site, visit https://www.ticketone.it/en/artist/scavi-pompei/, but be sure to book as far ahead of your chosen date as possible, because tickets disappear fast.
- Bring plenty water and food with you, as it’s hot. The sole food outlet within the site is too small to cater for the number of visitors and is, as you can imagine, overpriced.
- Bring comfortable footwear, have a fully rimmed hat and put on plenty suncream.
- Make sure your phone battery is full, because you’re going to take lots of pictures!