Two thousand years ago Pompeii was a beachside resort town, a playground for ancient Rome’s rich and powerful, akin to the French Riviera today. Built in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius and on the coastline of the Tyrrhenian Sea, it was a fertile and prosperous city of more than 10,000 people. As the city is built on a fault-line between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates, the inhabitants were used to regular earthquakes, but none could have expected the events of October 79 (though this date is in dispute).
Following a precursor earthquake in the morning, Mt Vesuvius violently erupted in a blast 100,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima-Nagasaki bombings. An incredible animated recreation of Pompeii during the eruption can be found here.
The city was absolutely devastated and buried by 6m of ash and pumice. The destruction and coverage was so severe that aid workers sent by Rome were unable to even find the city, and the exact location of this once luxurious city remained lost for centuries.
Out of the (literal) ashes, however, gave rise to the greatest archaeological site on earth; the ruins of Pompeii. The remnants of the city had been fossilised, along with many of its citizens, immortalising a day in the life of ancient Romans.
Over the past year or so I’ve become a bit of a Roman History nerd (in addition to many other nerdoms), so I was beyond excited to visit the city.
To get a true perspective, we started our journey by hiking up Mt Vesuvius, staring into the smouldering crater which had wrought so much destruction. From its peak we looked down over the towns which still surround the volcano, and could easily imagine the smoke and death blanketing the area to the horizon.
The hike was surprisingly easy, and is worth it simply for the view it provides of the Campania region.
The crater (summit) of Mt Vesuvius.
The following day we awoke early, hoping to beat the crowds by entering Pompeii as soon as it opened. Unbeknownst to us it was actually an Italian Holiday (Liberation Day), which meant that entry to Pompeii was free. Whilst we were able to save some money (entrance is 13 Euro per person), it seemed that every person in Southern Italy was also visiting that day, so there was a crowd of over 100 people lining up at the same side entrance that we chose.
Fortunately Pompeii is large enough that you can always find your own space, however it did get particularly crowded at some of the more popular sites.
Walking through the many streets of Pompeii, you get a real sense of what life was like in the city 2,000 years ago. So much has survived, and honestly it makes you realise how little society has changed. We walked a short distance from the amphitheatre to several wine stalls, with stone benches lining the street to serve the crowds heading to or from a gladiatorial match. It immediately brought back memories of heading to Caxton street after watching footy at Suncorp Stadium.
2,000 years old and still better than half the NRL Stadiums today
An ancient bar – The stone holes were used for holding wine jugs
While many archaeological sites may have several ancient exhibits with explanations for each, in Pompeii literally every step you take reveals another piece of perfectly preserved history. The most minute details, commercial laundries to cattleyards and even ancient Roman graffiti remain intact; it’s easily the most immersive museum on earth.
The Temple of Apollo
We chose to download the Premium version of the Discover Pompeii App which provides a in-depth map of the park, as well as detailed audio-guides for almost every building and site.
This was probably the best of both worlds, as it gave us all the information we wanted, whilst providing far more freedom to wander and independence than joining a tour, at the fraction of the cost of a private guide.
Not being part of the group also allowed me to play our theme song for the week (Pompeii by Bastille) on repeat, much to, what I assume was, Ash’s delight.
This dog couldn’t care less that he’s resting against 2,000 year old wall art – He just knows it’s comfy.
Since the discovery of the ruins in 1748, Pompeii has been considered the absolute epitome of archaeology. The preserved details range from the mundane, such as cooking utensils, to the extremely confronting; human bodies cowering in fear.
Every aspect of Roman life is on display here, and anyone with even the slightest interest in history, or curiosity for how much (or little) life has changed in the last two millennia should absolutely check it out.