Time traveling in Pompeii, Italy

Ancient Pompeii

When I ticked Italy off my bucket list, I was nothing short of elated. It was a country I dreamt of visiting as a kid. For the love of Pizzas and pastas, the excitement of unraveling the mysteries of the Vatican (courtesy : Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons) , the longing of exploring the infinite blue at Capri with its mystic sea caves and the delight of vacationing in one of the many luxury homes in Italy amidst the idyllic countryside, with cobbled streets and flowerbeds outside my window.
Another reason to visit Italy was Pompeii.

Pompeii lost city of Italy
Ruins of Pompeii

In grade 5, I wanted to be an archaeologist, fascinated by the ruins, of lost civilisations, of the lore of yesteryears.
So a visit to Pompeii was a given, when I planned my Italy visit. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and why not!
Imagine a city frozen in ash of a volcano. The story of Pompeii is both intriguing and mysterious.

Forum of Pompeii
The streets of Pompeii

 

Flowers of Italy
Spring in Pompeii

Before Circa 79 AD:

A bustling port town for the Romans, Pompeii controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea.
Home to bars, taverns, public baths, brothels, sailor’s hotels, crowded markets and palatial homes, Pompeii was a prosperous town. There were well paved cobbled sidewalks, plush gardens and thermal baths for relaxation.

People watched gladiator fights and chariot races in the giant amphitheatre which hosted 20,000 people and enjoyed shows in the classic theatre. There was no electricity so chores were done according to the ‘Rhythms of the sun’.

Water was often collected from public fountains and as the day progressed the town came alive with conversations in market places and meet ups at barber shops and the Forum.

Pompeii Italy
The Forum

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I walk through the ancient Roman amphitheatre: the Anfiteatro, built in 70 A.D, now covered in grass. I pictured it hosting grand competitions, jeering crowds, fierce battles while now pretty flowers grew over the ruins. As if silently honouring those who died in the Gladiator flights.

Ruins of Pompeii
Flowers and ruins

To seek shelter from the scorching sun, I enter one of the bricked buildings. A small tunnel leading me to a dark, dusty room. Here were the thermal baths.

Roman baths
Thermal Public baths

Sunlight floods into the room through a window, the only source of light in the damp room, revealing the rusty baths where citizens of Pompeii bathed.

thermal baths
Intricate frescoes on the barrel vaulted plaster ceiling of the Stabian Baths in Pompeii.

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That fateful day in 79 AD: It was a usual summer afternoon in ancient Pompeii. Mount Vesuvius loomed over the city as people went about their daily chores. There was a deafening roar and the cobbled ground shook violently. The citizens of Pompeii screamed as they saw the massive volcano erupt. Everything was pell mell as they ran for cover. But nature had other plans.

Mt. Vesuvius italy
Frozen in ash and rock

The volcano erupted and spewed smoke, ash and toxic gases twenty miles into the air and this soon spread to the town. The ash kept raining and the skies turned black. People couldn’t even see the sun. Piles of ash kept accumulating on homes, blocking doors and caving in the ceilings. The ash traveling at about 180 miles per hour, burnt everything that came its way.
By next morning, the bustling city of Pompeii was under ash and rock. The entire city with all its inhabitants froze in time. After all the screams, all that remained was deafening silence.

Archaeological sites
The aftermath : Silence

 

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I cannot fathom what must have happened on that day as the cobbled streets lead me to the market area: The macellum: Pompeii’s primary meat and fish market.

Markets of Pompeii
The marketplace: the primary fish and meat market

Here I try to picturise the ancient Romans going about their daily tasks before the volcano erupted. Haggling over fresh meat produce and vendors trying their best to woo prospective customers.

Pompeii farmer's market
The Farmer’s market

What remained now were slabs of rocks and an eerie silence looming in, punctuated with the guide’s commentary.

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Rediscovery:
The city was lost in time till 1748, when a surveying engineer’s chance excavations led to it’s discovery. While the molten ash and the rock buried Pompeii, it also helped preserve it. According to National geographic,Pompeii is the longest excavated archaeological site in the world”.

Pompeii excavation
Pompeii was discovered in 1748

The discovery of the ruins led historians to discovering the life of Ancient Romans better than any other site as it was one of the most well preserved sites under the layers of ash.
Archaeologists found indentations in the ground that they were able to fill with plaster moulds to exactly match what was originally there.

Pompeii houses
Inside one of the old homes

Current scenario:
Pompeii is an archeological site that still has ongoing excavations, giving visitors the best look there is on ancient Roman life. The House of Vetti (currently under renovation) is an example of a how a wealthy man lived in ancient Pompeii.

There is a concern among archaeologists though, who will preserve what the ash has preserved and man has unearthed?
The excavations need to be preserved and though the government is trying its best, pollution, weather conditions and ongoing tourist activity are deterrents.

Pompeii Italy ruins
Preserving the preserved?

Tourists throng the erstwhile bakeries , ancient roman homes and the local brothel with the ‘ Umberto was here’ kind graffitis, while I try to decipher these life sized frescos which seem to be advertisements.

I am peering through the grill into what looks like a shed full of ancient artefacts. Pots, pans, vases and mud vessels stacked on shelves : all a result of ongoing excavations in Pompeii.

Pompeii markets
Granary market

The two hours I am in Pompeii, I have travelled back in time: akin to using a time machine and traveling back to 70 AD.
While tourists saunter by the Forum with its looming columns, I pause and go back to the lost era where this very Forum served as ancient Pompeii’s main Piazza which led to other sights.

Tourists in Pompeii
Me Baking under the Neapolitan sun

Explorations on foot led me to the ruins of the second century Basilica and the Temple of Jupiter (Tempio di Giove) which only has one triumphal arch remaining.

Roman architecture
The remains of the Basilica

 

It is deeply saddening yet so intriguing that a city could be so well preserved by the same nature’s fury that destroyed it in the first place.

As I slowly turn to exit this lost city and get ready to jump back to the present era, a light breeze ruffles my hair. I am eyeing the sleepy Mt. Vesuvius standing silently behind the ruins, watching the city it engulfed, watching me and watching those flowers dance in the memory of those who lie frozen in time in Pompeii.

Day trips from Rome
In memory of those frozen in time

 

italian flowers
A little bit of colour in all the rock and ash

How to reach:

Pompeii is an ideal day trip from Rome or Naples. Travel time by road (without traffic – which is rare on these roads) is around 2.5 hours from Rome to Pompeii, 30 mins from Naples to Pompeii, 45 minutes from Sorrento to Pompeii.

It is best visited en route a trip to Amalfi from Rome, where one can stop for a couple of hours before proceeding onwards to Naples.

 

Rome to Pompeii
En route Pompeii from Rome: Check out : Things to do in Rome 

Tips:

  • The best and only way to explore is to walk through the ancient, well planned city.
  • Entry fee is approx 11 Euro, that is 13 USD. Please carry cash, cards are not always accepted at the ticket office.
  • Visitor facilities are limited. Its best to carry water with you and have meals prior to your visit.
  • Protection from the sun: make sure you carry a hat and oodles of sunscreen, because the city exploration involves walking without an overhead cover.
Archaeological sites in Italy
The erstwhile Piazza of Pompeii
  • The audio guide is good but you can do without it. Best opt for a tourist booklet.
  • Most areas are cordoned off and the signages are poor. Make sure you have a information booklet or a guide with you so you don’t waste time.
  • Average visit time is 2-3 hours, though you could spend an entire day exploring.
  • Many of the artifacts from Pompeii are housed in the National Museum of Archaeology as they were directly ordered to Naples in the 1700s by the Neapolitan king. Though Pompeii has all the ruins, this museum is home to most of the objects found in excavations.History buffs should absolutely visit the museum – it offers the best look into the art of Pompeii, from enormous statues and mosaics to intimate objects of every day life.

Old ruins of Pompeii

38 thoughts on “Time traveling in Pompeii, Italy

  1. Not only Pompeii but whole of Italy is on my radar, and the neighboring Switzerland too ☺️

    Pompeii looks quite a bustling city at that time, no wonder the numerous acres of ruins there now are loved by millions ever year.

  2. Pompeii gave me nightmares for years as a child – especially when I found out how recently other volcanoes had erupted!! I can’t believe the entry fee is so low for such a significant site – a higher entry fee would mean more money for preservation or at least to stop further deterioration. As well as visiting the museum, I can imagine spending several hours wandering around the site- but I’d always be thinking about that volcano!

  3. Italy is a great destination from heritage building & sites in Rome, Venice,Pompeii to beautiful seaside towns like Sorrento on Amalfi and Positano. It has it all! However, Italians are great at vanishing tricks. So watch out for your wallets and bags.

  4. I still remember, back when I was in 6th Grade there was this Pompeii – The Last Day, I am not sure which on which channel, but the images, the way they described the last day, the things they said Pliny had written in his last letter – I remember it all and I have been fascinated by Pompeii and Herculaneum since that day. A city that sat under a seemingly dormant volcano, thriving and prospering in every way, completely oblivious to the ticking bomb created by nature was lost to the world with absolutely no warnings! I am so glad you penned this post Divsi, telling me that there is still a lot one can see there and it is not all marred by the tourist trap image of Pompeii!

  5. Gosh, what a story. One of the biggest tragedies on earth has weirdly turned into one of the most revered and best preserved ancient sites in the world. But like you, I can’t stop thinking about the people going about their daily lives as the world was buried.

  6. Yes Pompeii was a touching experience. Some models kept there were very disturbing.
    The contorted look of the bodies of humans and animals brought a lump to my throat.
    Great pics of your trip there.

  7. Pompeli in a new view. I’ve heard about before, that was way back in History class but it wasn’t this beautiful tale you described. The remainings of Pompeli is mysteriously stunning. I was reading with sadness yet longing to visit. Vulcanoes never do so good but thanks to it, one can treasure places like Pompeli.

  8. How incredibly fascinating to be stood in the ancient Roman amphitheatre, it is probably all the Hollywood flicks I have watched, but I cant help but think of the Gladiators in the ring, the crowds spectating the battles to death, and now… all that remains are pretty flowers all over the ruins.

  9. Italy is among my favorite countries because of the history that beckons on every corner (and the food ;-)). I haven’t had a chance to visit Naples region, yet, but your excursion to Pompeii makes me ever so much eager to do so.

    Happy continued travels!
    C

  10. What a fascinating read! I didn’t know the history of Pompeii, and now I am so intrigued to visit. It’s incredible that archeologists are still excavating and learning new things about Roman life through the site. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  11. I never knew about this place and after reading this fascinating post, you’ve left me itching to pack my bags and go right away to explore this architecturally rich place. Absolutely fabulous pictures as always, Divyakshi.:)

  12. I also dreamed of becoming an archaeologist when I was a kid. And I can tell you there was a “before and after” my visit to Pompeii because no archaeological site can be compared to this full city which came back to us from the ashes. My regret is that I spent most of the time visiting neighbor Herculaneum so only 1-2 hours in Pompeii was not enough for me

  13. Like you, I was always fascinated by history, and by the perceived romance of archeology also. Visiting Pompeii was a highlight of my childhood travel, imagining the city in its heyday, admiring the architecture and remaining artifaces and all the little details that allow historians to extrapolate what life was like.

  14. I have always been fascinated by Roman history. My imagination goes wild thinking about gladiators, the Roman princes, and the amphitheaters. One of my dreams was to visit Rome, which I did a few years back. Of course Rome was not what I had imagined, because it was a modern city and the Rome of my dreams was in the form of ruins. Pompeii is what I missed out on my visits to Italy, hope to get there next time. In the interim my imagination is fueled by your pictures of the place.

  15. Ghost Towns like these always give me creeps but also, are a huge reason why I love rediscovering those lost lanes. These visits are quite melancholic and thot provoking. I sure would want to see those lost homes and the ash covered lanes. I know that I might be depressed afterwards but well, am ready to brave that. Your post is driving me to make that trip right now.

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