Pompeii was an ancient Roman town, near the city of Naples, that got destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. I kept asking myself what could be so interesting about seeing a bunch of archaeological ruins? Surprisingly, this turned out to be one of the most fascinating places we visited! We hired a private tour guide for Pompeii, and I cannot stress the importance of this enough. Without her, we would have just been wandering around this huge excavation site without knowing anything we were looking at. There are acres and acres of ruins to explore, and our guide did a fantastic job of pointing us towards the most interesting and famous sites.
We left Montepulciano very early in the morning because we still had to turn our rental car in. Can you believe we made it all the way to the airport in Rome (one of the busiest in the world AND two and a half hours away!) without any wrong turns?? We came such a long way in our rental-car-in-a-foreign-country saga! After dropping off the rental car at the airport, we then had to take a train from the airport to the train station. The train shuttle from the airport is called the Leonardo Expressway, and you can buy tickets right there on the platform. The shuttle is only a thirty minute ride. Once we arrived at Termini (Rome’s main train station), we boarded another train for Naples. Termini is one of the busiest and most crowded places, and we couldn’t find the bathroom… so we had to use the bathroom on the train! Yuck! When we arrived in Naples, our driver met us at the end of our platform and helped with our luggage. Now we could finally relax… no more trains or rental cars! Our driver was so friendly and got us to Pompeii safely and on time.
Type A Tidbit
It’s extremely important to validate your ticket before boarding your train in Italy. The validation process is so simple… just find a validation machine on your train’s platform (they kind of look like parking meters). Then, insert your ticket into the machine so it can be stamped with the time and date. It reminds me so much of punching a time clock at work! Once your ticket is stamped with the date and time, you’re free to board the train. Tickets aren’t checked as you board so theoretically someone could buy one ticket and ride and ride and ride without ever having to pay for another ticket. That’s why you have to validate it. By stamping the date and time on the ticket, the train conductor knows exactly when you purchased the ticket. If you’re caught by the conductor without a validated ticket, there’s a hefty fine involved! The conductor doesn’t always check tickets, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Where to Eat
After dropping us off, our driver gave us a recommendation for lunch before parking in the lot to wait for us to get done with our tour. There aren’t a lot of choices for places to eat at Pompeii, so I’m glad he pointed us in the right direction. The food was good (not great), but the prices were reasonable and the staff was friendly. And our driver was right, out of all the places to eat in Pompeii, this was the best one.
Tour of Pompeii
Our tour guide waited for us to finish lunch before leading us to the nearest restroom and ticket counter. As we walked into the ruins, she gave us a quick history of the town before the eruption occurred. She brought a book with her that had pictures of what the city most likely looked like before it was covered with 20 feet of volcanic ash. The craziest thing she told us was that Pompeii used to be a fishing village. She even pointed out the docks where boats used to be kept. The reason I found this so fascinating is because Pompeii is now 1.25 miles from the ocean! This just shows how much this eruption changed the entire landscape.
Type A Tidbit
Use the bathroom before you enter Pompeii… there aren’t any restrooms available in the ruins!
There’s no shade in Pompeii so plan ahead and bring your own bottled water and an umbrella if you prefer. It gets very hot!
Fun facts about Pompeii:
About ¾ of the 165 acres have been excavated, but many of these areas are off-limits to the public. Sometimes new sites are randomly opened or closed so every trip to Pompeii could be a different experience.
During excavations, items were so well preserved that archaeologists found fruits and vegetables. That’s how they know what time of year the eruption occurred.
The people of Pompeii were pretty sophisticated for their time. Pipes for plumbing have been found, but despite their plumbing attempt, water and raw sewage still spilled over into the streets. Stepping stones were created so that people could cross the street without wading through the sewage. The stones were tall enough to be above the water line, but low enough so that wagons could pass over them.
Over time, wagon wheels cut into the stone streets and created grooves. This is where modern day engineers got the idea for our railroad system.
Erotic art was discovered all over Pompeii. Brothels were a huge part of their economy and they celebrated the gods of sex and fertility by carving erotic images into the sides of their buildings. The pictures also served as “street signs” or “advertisements” for the brothels.
Because the eruption happened so quickly and with no warning, people (and animals) didn’t have time to escape. Everyone perished under the 20 feet of ash that rained down on the city. Archaeologists made plaster molds of holes they found in the ash that had turned to rock. When the plaster dried, they were left with a cast of what had created the hole. Often times, it was where a person had perished. These molds were on display. In the one pictured below, this person has their hands over their nose trying to breathe while being suffocated by the ash. It was so sad to see this part of the ruins!
I never would have known any of those things without our tour guide! She offered to take our picture several times throughout the ruins, and she always pointed out the best photo opportunities. Our tour was so much fun, but I couldn’t help feeling a little eerie as Mount Vesuvius still loomed over us in the distance. It’s a little scary to know that it’s still active and could erupt at any time! The last eruption was in 1944, and it’s been quiet ever since… let’s hope it stays that way!
After our tour, we met back up with our driver to continue our trip to Positano. He stopped several times along the way so we could take pictures! The road was extremely windy and narrow so I made sure to take some car sickness medicine before we left. All I could think about was how I was so glad we didn’t have that rental car anymore! Next week’s post will be about our time on the Amalfi Coast. It was by far my favorite and most relaxing and serene time we spent in Italy! It’s hard to describe, but it was almost magical when we got our first glimpse of Positano.