A holiday in the Naples area often means a day-trip to the Roman town of
Pompeii, buried in volcanic ash by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Since most
people go on their holiday in summer, chances are the ancient site will be dusty,
baking in the sun, thronged with groups and their loud guides and the souvenir
sellers at the gates will be at their most expensive. Thus the visit has all the
makings of a big-time flop, but there are a few things you could do to improve
First, get some knowledge beforehand. No need to study dusty tomes in libraries when you can visit the excellent Internet site pompeiiinpictures.com and do some virtual walking at home.
Second, don't go with a group because you will miss out on thinking your own thoughts
and you will get rushed about with no chance to stop and let the atmosphere get to
you. Tell your guide you want to visit on your own, and make an appointment for the
time when you should be back at the bus or the ticket office. Make sure your watch
works and is set to Italian time. See to it that you have good shoes, the large
lava paving stones are the cause of many sprained ankles. Take a bottle of water,
put a white cap or scarf on your head for sun protection and anoint yourself with
sunscreen. That done, you ignore everybody who tries to sell you anything, included
the very best guided tou, and make your way to the main entrance in the west.
Third, get yourself a good map at the shop by the ticket office (or print one out
from the Internet before you go). Pompeii is made up of 9 regions, the regions are
split up into blocks, and the doors of the blocks are all numbered, so it is easy to
find your way. Your map certainly won't show every doorway, but you should be able
to find the right region and block on it. Regions are numbered in Roman numbers,
blocks in our usual way so I.3.14 means region one, block 3, doorway 14.
Fourth, you need to decide what you would like to see like the grand houses of the
rich with lavish wall paintings. The remains of ancient bakeries and tanneries? The
theatre, the Forum area and the amphitheatre? Small shops left bare and anonymous,
but still suggestive of the life that once filled the streets? Or a little of all?
Make up your own itinerary, either on the spot or in advance!
Here are a few suggestions of places to go:
Walk as far east as you can go on the large east-west street of Via
Dell ?Abbondanza (Street of Plenty), past the large official square the Pompeiians
called their Forum. The tourist flow will be thinning further east, but in the
meantime a good tip is to dress the tourists up in Roman gear in your mind. That way
you'll have an instant impression of life in Pompeii two thousand years ago. And
luckily you won't have to step into the muck in the streets, where all kinds of
rubbish went. People crossed them on large stepping stones, and you can try out a
few of them on your way. You will arrive in the amphitheatre area (region 2) after
20 minutes or so. Visit the amphitheatre where the gladiators fought, and
occasionally the rivaling hooligans, too,but don't miss one of the best spots
in the area, the "House of Venus in a shell", with the address II.3.3. A
delightful wall painting of the goddess of love floating naked in a seashell covers
one of the garden walls and there are painted birds, shrubs, fountains and flowers
to make the garden look larger. The garden has been restored, so it is shady and
green and the slightly naive Venus in her blue ocean fits in marvelously.
I recommend you walk along a few of the smaller alleys in this neighborhood, too.
Here people grew vines and served their produce in small garden pergolas, so in
all comfort their patrons could pretend they were living the rustic life of the
country. Some vine gardens can sometimes be visited, some are replanted and the
ancient wine is being reproduced, and you can always look in trough garden doors in
the walls. When you head back west, follow a street that runs a block south of the
Abbondanza street. Here, you'll have ample possibility to look into small houses
seldom visited, taking in the small courtyards with basins to catch the rain,
remnants of red painted bedroom walls and floor mosaics.
This could actually be the whole of your visit, if time is scarce. You have cast an
eye on two of the main "must-sees", the Forum and the amphitheatre, you have
walked a busy street and visited a beautiful middle class house, you have glimpsed
vine gardens and paid your tribute to the small houses and shops of ordinary
citizens. If there is time to spare, you could take a turn to the south at the main
crossroads hub of Pompeii, where the north-south main street Via Stabiana crosses
the Abbondanza street. The fountain there provides good drinking water still, so
replenish your bottle!
You will immediately be in a bakery district, seeing large mills and ovens in
several houses, all of them open to the visito, but people tend to pass them by.
In the quiet back rooms you might just picture the sweating slaves kneading away,
the pigs eating what dropped to the floor and the stressed out owner screaming at
donkeys and men at the grain mills to hurry up.
Back on the north-south Via Stabiana there is generally also a steady stream of
people, making their way to the theatre and the Odeion (small theatre for recitals).
If you want something more out of the way, walk into the small alleys opposite these
grand buildings. Here is a maze of tiny houses, overgrown gardens with the
occasional small family altar or outdoor dining couches of brick. Quiet, romantic,
occasionally very beautiful and slightly melancholy - but watch your step, there are
plenty of holes and prickly shrubs.
After this, you will surely be in a hurry to meet up with your tour group and
hopefully you'll be the one with the most individual experience of Pompeii...