Every historical landmark I’ve ever visited has, without fail, contained two staples: overpriced bottles of water and a few tourists who visit for the sole purpose of taking a few photographs that will increase their perception of sophistication upon returning home, but in reality, spend most of their time in the onsite café drinking the overpriced bottles of water and learn little more than the types of souveneirs offered in the gift shop.
Less than an hour into my visit to Pompeii I’m afraid to admit I was on the path to being one of these tourists as I made my way to the café around the corner from the Forum, ordered an espresso and some not too badly priced slices of watermelon, and sat in a defeated slump at the nearest table. I needed some tips for navigating Pompeii as I had none of my own.
Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near modern Naples. This thriving city in a beautiful capania region with very green grass had a population of 20,000 when a nearby volcano erupted in 79 AD. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius killed most of the residents and buried the city under 13 to 20 feet of ash and pumice.
Because of all this ash, there was a lack of air and moisture, and the city was near perfectly preserved for 1500 years until rediscovered in the 1500’s.
This makes Pompeii one of the most complete well preserved ancient sites in the world. It also makes it a confusing place for visitors to visit.
Pompeii is big dude. It once was a city that housed 20,000 people and most of it is preserved and open to visitors today. While an audio guide is a must to learn more about the ruins, it won’t be much help with navigating.
Desperate for help, I tuned my ears into the surrounding tables at the café and leapt up at the first sounds of English.
“Of course you feel lost,” a kind mother from the United Kingdom told me. “Everyone is lost on their first visit here. Don’t try to see it all, just try to get a sense for what the city was like.”
With her help I mapped myself a route through the town that allowed me to do that. Here’s my suggestions on what to see during a first visit.
The Forum – The main center of town, this area was the business, political and social hubbub for Pompeii. The ruins here are grand and the area is flanked by the most important temples.
Plaster Citizens – archeologists were able to make plaster casts of some of the victims of the volcano. Visitors to Pompeii can see several on display that show the victims in the position they were in at death.
Baths of the Forum – around the corner from the actual Forum, the baths contain the only original roof in Pompeii and offer insight into ancient bathing customs.
Villa of the Mysteries – a short walk from the Forum, this well preserved house contains stunning frescos and offers views of Vesuvius.
Brothel – Pompeii was not quiet about the fact it housed a brothel. The longest line I waited in was to peruse the stone beds and X-rated art here.