Pompei is situated on the southern outskirts of Naples. Today, a modern and attractive town surrounds the famous archaeological site which is one of the most popular tourist sites in Italy. It has been a popular destination for 250 years, when it was a favourite destination on the Grand Tour. Today, it is no less popular, receiving more than 2.5 million visitors a year. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Temple of Athena - Photo: www.understandingitaly.com
Pompei, along with nearby Herculaneum, was completely buried in volcanic ash during an eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. The eruption lasted two days and buried the towns under five metres of ash and pumice. Although the event was observed and written about by Pliny the Younger from the northern end of the bay of Naples, the exact location of the towns remained unknown until 1599, nearly 1,600 years later, when Pompei was accidentaly rediscovered by Domenico Fontana. Deliberate excavations did not start until 1748 and have been continuing, on and off, ever since.
Garden in Pompei - Photo: www.understandingitaly.com
Today, visitors can walk around a roman town that seems almost complete. Pavements, doorways, main roads and side streets are all visible. Different types of houses can be entered and explored and many have attractive gardens behind them. It is actually a very pleasant town and wandering around it's possible to get a real experience of what living in a roman town was like. You can also clearly see Vesuvius, menacingly quiet, only 8 kilometres away. Amongst the ruins lie some of the eery plaster casts that were taken from the bodies as they were discovered. They show very clearly the lasts moments of terror of those who failed to escape. Also among the ruins are some of the infamous erotic frescos depicting the steamier side of life in roman Pompei. Much of the actual material recovered from Pompei is on show in the nearby Naples National Archaeological Museum.
Plastercasts from Pompei - Photo: www.understandingitaly.com
The archaeological site is easy to reach. There are many car parks within walking distance and there is a train station at Pompei. The 'Circumvesuviana' train, which covers the whole of the Vesuvius National Park, stops directly at the site at the station called 'Pompei Scavi'.