OK, so yes, we all read about Pompeii in school and were surely glued to our seats as our teachers rambled on about a city frozen in time (no offense to all the amazing teachers out there, especially you Mom). I enjoyed seeing the pictures in our textbooks and hearing about the explosive power of the volcano in class, but I never actually expected to visit this historic city. As we travelled into Naples, Whitney and I thought we should definitely check it out on our way to the Amalfi Coast…it was on the way, so we couldn’t turn it down. Then, after reading a few blogs and speaking to a few friends we decided to see both Herculaneum and Pompeii.
The “best” way to get to Herculaneum and Pompeii is via the Circumvesuviana Trains that connect Naples to Sorrento, our connection to the Amalfi coast. (Best is in quotes only because it was a rickety, but reliable train without any air conditioning, so we were nearly baking in the heat). We packed up in Naples and caught an early train to the Ercolano Scavi stop. From there it was about a 15minute walk down the hill to the archeological site of Herculaneum. We purchased the combo ticket allowing entry to all 5 sites in the area for 21 euro (Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabiae, Oplontis, and Boscoreale) as it’s slightly less than buying the two we wanted individually. If you are seeing both as we did, we recommend going to Herculaneum first if you need to purchase a ticket as the line at Pompeii was quite long.
Herculaneum, Ercolano in Italian, is a smaller archeological site a little north of Pompeii that was covered in the pyroclastic flows of dust and ash during the eruption of 79AD. The volcanic material as much as 20 meters in depth and absent of any lava preserved many of the structures including frames, doors, roofs, some furniture and even some skeletons along what was the seashore. We entered the small streets without any clue what we would see. We turned down the audio guide and wandered through on our own. Tip: Be sure to download some information or an app prior to arrival as the audio guide is 8 euro, a steep price at nearly the same cost as our entry. (I only know the above information because I had to read about what I had seen after we left). It was very interesting to see this city frozen in time as was described in school. There were wooden frames remaining over doorways, a few roofs intact on homes and even dusty frescoes covering a few walls. As we were exiting, we passed the skeletal remains of many individuals that appeared to be hiding from the volcanic storm engulfing the area; it was a little eerie for me.
Overall, we spent a couple hours here; then had a quick lunch near the Ercolano Scavi station, 5 euros for pizza and coke, before catching the next train to Pompeii. The train comes just about every 15 minutes and was standing room only for all of our trips so be prepared, especially if it’s during the summer since there is no air conditioning.
Pompeii also suffered from the pyroclastic flows from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius being covered in as much as 4-6 meters of ash and pumice. This town was much larger and a significant amount has been uncovered for visitors to explore. For this visit, we were able to pick up a free guide booklet and a map at the entrance and I took to the role of tour guide for the day. We made our way through many of the small streets at times walking on the sidewalks as the people of that time would have done. Then at other times we walked the center of the streets where grooves from the chariots still remain. Entering numerous sites of old homes of apparently wealthy individuals with their gardens and frescoes covering the walls. Then passing the remains of markets where street food was prepared and grains were measured and sold. We toured through a large roman bath of which were so popular in the distant villages of the Roman Empire and imagined the trouble that would arise in brothels that existed in this large port town.
At the far side of the city we viewed a huge garden as well as an amphitheater that would have hosted gladiator competitions of the times. We eventually came to the Orto dei Fuggiaschi, the garden of the fugitives, where 13 casts of victims both adults and children lay frozen in the position they perished. Before exiting, we snapped a few final pictures looking out of the Basilica that would have been the place for business as well as the administration of justice.
Overall, it was absolutely worth the visit to both. I feared it was just a tourist trap, but it really didn’t feel like it at all. We highly recommend seeing both, just make sure you read up prior to arrival or download some sort of app to guide the visit. Alternatively you might want to sign up for a professional guided tour, especially in Pompeii as it is a huge sight and you’ll want the history and insight behind the ruins.
After our tour of Pompeii, it was back to the Circumvesuviana train headed to Sorrento…drenched in sweat, we hopped on and hoped for the best… next stop was Praiano on the Amalfi Coast!