Catching the metro from Salerno, I enjoyed a comfortable ride to the city of Pompeii. Once off the train, I bought a ticket from what I thought was the station ticket desk for a bus to the entrance of the historic site. I’d seen on a map that it was relatively close to one of the entrances to the historic site of Pompeii, but the man at the desk advised it was exit only and while I could walk to the entrance, it was a 20-minute walk and I’d be better off starting the day fresh as I’d be walking so much once in the complex.
Rookie Tourist Error #1 – I bought the ‘bus’ ticket. After waiting with another couple for the private transfer, it turned out it was just a taxi that had been sat there for while two men argued over something in a very Italian fashion. It took us to the main entrance, which was in fact a bit far for me to walk knowing I’d be wandering around the site all day, and I grabbed my ticket before heading in.
If I’d done a bit more planning and research, I would have booked on to a guided tour of Pompeii. As it was, I strolled around on my own seeing the different areas and trying to navigate with the provided map. I would occasionally pass by tour groups and hear snippets of information, and it was always really interesting and insightful.
One thing I hadn’t realised is just how big the historical site of Pompeii is. Like…huge! I started my visit with a wander around the main area of the site, learning about how the roads are the original roads that the Romans would have walked along, with the original grooves still left from the numerous carts that were pulled up and down the road. Things like this absolutely blow my mind, that 2000 years ago someone was walking exactly where I was. Crazy!
Some of the streets still have the original streets and walkways, obviously recovered once the volcanic debris was cleared, while others have bits filled in to make it easier to walk along. The buildings have been recovered as best they can, with some now just part of the shell of the home they once would have been, while others still have a significant amount of their original character. As you walk along the Main Street, you pass by what would have been shops, bars, homes and other social spaces.
After a walk along the Main Street, stopping to hear the information the tour guides around me were reeling off, I made my first stop at the old baths. After a quick walk around the complex, I carried on to stop by the local brothel. I didn’t realise what it was until I joined the queue and stepped inside to find a number of small rooms with stone beds, and the tell-tale artwork of people making use of the beds. Wandering along the street behind the brothel, it made me laugh to see some original Roman graffiti that was their equivalent of ‘Becky woz ere!’
Continuing with exploring, I wandered further up the main street to an area that was much quieter and barely any other tourists had bothered to walk to. In the distance I could see Mount Vesuvius, the reason I had come to this otherwise tiny town, and wondered what it must have been like to see it erupting in the distance. I wandered around some of the larger stately homes that had been recovered in this area, my wind whirring with thoughts of what day-to-day life would have been like for those who lived here, then made my way back to the noisier centre.
The main hub of the historic site is impressive, and you can only imagine how breathtaking it would have been in its heyday, with a large church, temple and columns. Whether the Romans would have felt the same awe is another thing, maybe to them it’d be like us seeing Covent Garden every day.
By this point in the day, I was tired. Not just sleepy tired, but full body tired, where moving my limbs was a real effort. I decided I had to make the most of my time and see as much as I could possibly see, so joined the crowds to see the artefacts that had been salvaged. As someone who loves history, I found this just as fascinating as the rest of Pompeii. Not only do I like to see the pots and pans that they used, but I love imagining people in their homes using them. There were so many things to see, but a couple of really surprising things were plaster casts of an adult, dog and child.
Not everyone who lived in Pompeii had managed to escape, and those who remained were buried under the layers of ash that spewed from the volcano. These layers helped preserve the bodies of those who died, and when the town was being excavated they realised that although the flesh had long gone, the space where the bones were found was like a mould of the person who’d been trapped there. Plaster was poured into some of the holes, and casts made of the person. These plaster casts are on display around the site, and are quite heart-wrenching. Although adorable, the dog was obviously caught mid-act, and the adult and child are a reminder that this isn’t just an interesting thing that happened thousands of years ago, but that this was a catastrophic event that changed and claimed the lives of so many people.
Realising that I was now nearing the end of my energy reserves, I made my way to the furthest exit and took the scenic route past a few pubs and take-out places – another eavesdropped tour guide nugget of knowledge – through a large stately home with stunning gardens and out towards the amphitheatre, a staple in any large Roman town. I wandered through the ‘exit only’ gate to Pompeii to realise I’d been mugged off somewhat by the ticket man as it was both an entrance and an exit.
After a quick wander through the modern town of Pompeii, I stopped in at a local church to find that a service had just started, so made my way for a coffee and a snack to get a bit more energy for the journey back to Salerno. It had been an amazing day and I was so happy I’d been able to visit such an epic and thought-provoking site of history.
Now I just needed a sleep!