The ancient city of Pompeii in the Italian region of Campania is probably one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world. Even though I've heard a lot about it in history and Latin lessons (yes, I actually studied Latin in high school), I've never made it to the ancient site until just recently!
It didn't even pop into my mind immediately when my friend and I planned our trip to Naples, but after discovering that it was just a short train ride away, we definitely had to go. I wasn't disappointed with so much to see and discover amongst the ancient ruins - including one or another flash back to my high school Latin lessons.
Pompeii is an ancient Italian city of around 20,000 inhabitants that was buried after the volcano Mt. Vesuvius erupted on August 24th in 79 AD. For centuries the city remained forgotten under 20 feet of ash and pumice. In 1738 the city of Herculaneum, which was destroyed during the eruption as well, was accidentally discovered when workers were digging the foundation for the King of Naples' summer palace. In 1748 an intentional excavation of Pompeii began.
As the climate is dry and the city was sealed from air, many artifacts were extremely well preserved. Nowadays, Pompeii is one of the most popular tourist attractions and around 2.5 million people make the trek to see it. In 1997 the Archeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata were inscripted as a UNESCO World Heritage.
When to go
It can be over 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) during the summer months and you won't find much shade on the site, as there are no trees and the houses mostly don't have roofs. For a comfortable trek around the ruins I would recommend going during spring or summer. The park is open all day from 9.00 am to 7.30 pm during the summer and to 5 pm during the winter. As there is just so much to see, I would definitely try to arrive as early as possible. You can find more detailed information about the opening hours, ticket prices and open buildings on the official website of Parco Archeologico Di Pompei.
Everybody and their brother's dog go to Pompeii so if you - like me - think strangers in your pictures are an unbearable insult, you might want to consider planning your trip during an off-season as well. Another plus - you don't have to wait in line for several hours to get your ticket.
What to do
You can pre-book a guided tour, hire a guide on the spot, get an audio guide or just go along with the free map and pocket guide that come with your ticket. I thought the latter was an excellent match for us as it leads you number by number through the most important sights at Pompeii. For the smart amongst you - there's also an app. If you opt for a DIY tour, you might find Google Street View helpful for planning ahead.
Definitely check out the Forum, which was Pompeii's commercial, political and religious center as well as the Amphitheatre, where gladiators had bloody battles. It used to hold around 20,000 spectators and is the oldest building of its kind in the world! I also liked the Temple of Jupiter and the House of Octavius Quartio. I was stunned that due to signet rings or mosaic messages some of the buildings can be attributed to actual people, which made it much more personal and real. Another highlight for me as an admirer of the linguistic arts was the Teatro Grande.
How to get there
By train: It's easy to go to Pompeii by train. If you come from Sorrento in the South or Naples in the North, you can easily take the Circumvesuviana local train. Get off at Pompei Scavi - Villa Dei Misteri station for a close walk to the ruins. If you take the Naples - Poggiomarino line, use the Pompei Santuario stop. However, you can also get off at Pompei station, which serves the modern town but is still within a 20 minute walk to the ruins - plus you get to see the modern Pompeii as well!
By car: Take the motorway A3 Napoli-Salerno and exit at Pompei ovest. If you come from the south, take exit Pompei est.
A day trip to Pompeii from Naples was definitely worth our time! I loved exploring the ruins and diving into the history of this place. As we went during off-season it was neither too crowded nor too hot during our visit. You can find even more artifacts in the Naples National Museum of Archeology.
Would you like to go to Pompeii or have you been? If so, how did you like it? And have you visited other UNESCO World Heritage sites?
Kate recommends: Here comes a special one - my perfect fit for a visit in Pompeii is "Niels Klim's Journey Under the Ground" by Ludvig Holberg. As it was originally published in Latin in 1741 ("Nicolai Klimii Iter Subterraneum"), I had the honor of translating it during my (thankfully long gone) Latin lessons in high school. Even though it wasn't that fun back in the day, it's actually quite an interesting piece. It's a satirical science-fiction/fantasy novel, which describes an utopian society from an outsider's point of view. It mocks at morality, science, sexual equality, government and other cultural topics, which I probably didn't quite get back in the day. Thus, it was definitely worth a re-read (my Latin teacher would be proud).