Pompeii

With the enormous mass of Mount Vesuvius dominating the landscape around the Bay of Naples there is little need to be reminded of the devastation a volcano can unleash but if you do require a nudge then a visit to Pompeii will certainly do the trick. This Roman city was buried under a huge pyroclastic flow when Vesuvius erupted in AD79 and then lay hidden and forgotten until excavations began in the middle of the 18th Century.

 

The City

On entering the site the size of the excavations are quite shocking as the visitor immediately gets a sense of the scale of the devastation wrought on Pompeii. This was not a small village but rather a city with some 20,000 inhabitants which was wiped out in a matter of minutes by the volcano that rises up just 8 km from the city. Straight Roman roads stretch out before you lined by remarkably intact buildings, many complete with their roofs. Although much of the structures on the sight are not open to tourists there are still a huge amount to explore here and a comprehensive visit will take a full day at the very least.

It is possible to tour many houses and villas where kitchen equipment and frescos on the walls are still intact. The interior styles and art are a surprisingly eclectic mix of formal, recreational and practical. The visitor can also marvel at the genius of Roman engineering and construction with the grid system of the roads, the under floor heating in the buildings and the architecture designed to stay cool in summer with few windows and structures built around courtyards. Some of the larger villas have beautiful gardens to explore and you really get a sense of how the citizens of Pompeii lived in the 1st century. It is also possible to view a spectacular Roman theatre and even a brothel complete with sexually explicit art!

During the excavations many Human remains were discovered in voids in the accumulated ash. Giuseppe Fiorelli who was in charge of the project from 1863 quickly realised that these voids were the spaces left after bodies had decomposed and devised the technique of injecting plaster into the voids to create a mould of the human form. Many of the resulting casts can be viewed by the public including one of a dog and it is a very touching experience seeing ordinary people caught at the moment of death during an incident that they would not have understood.

Visiting

Pompeii can be reached by car or on foot from Pompeii Scavi station. The site receives over 2.5 million visitors each year and so can be really busy during peak times. The crowds coupled with the summer heat can make a tour very arduous and so this is a place best visited in the autumn when the crowds and the temperature have subsided. You will never forget a trip to Pompeii and you will marvel at surely one of the most unique visitor attractions on earth.