Walking through the streets of Pompeii is a great experience because, although aware that it is “only” an archaeological site, among the most important in the world, in truth it is a modern and suggestive representation of a real Roman city, with its characteristic avenues, its amphitheater, its houses, its shops. Going through the Decumanus (photo 1), that is the main street of the city (the one that follows the east / west axis and which is called Via dell’Abbondanza in Pompeii), it almost seems as if one could personally experience the daily life of the citizens of that time, listen to the noise of their chariots, the noise of the traders, the shouting of the citizens, see the faithful who come to the temple.
In short, Pompeii gives a very precise idea of what the normal daily life of Roman citizens should have been, before the explosion of Vesuvius, in 79 AD, covered it with ash, lapilli and fire, burying it for centuries. Paradoxically, that tragedy, which caused the death of thousands of people, represented the key to the immortality of Pompeii and many of its inhabitants, thanks also to the masterly testimony of Pliny the Younger who, in a series of letters sent to Tacitus, makes of the volcanic eruption a very detailed description, almost “journalistic”, in a story in which he mentions “ash falling on the ships increasingly hot and dense“.
It is an archaeological site that has few equals in the world, thanks to its perfect state of preservation which makes Pompeii an indispensable stop for anyone passing through here. It is no coincidence that in 2018 Pompeii was the most visited archaeological and museum site in Italy with over 3.6 million visitors, second only to the Colosseum in Rome.
You have to visit Pompeii in the early morning, i.e. when the gates are opened, in order to enjoy the site and avoid, especially in summer, the hottest hours of the day.
Pompeii has several entrances, Porta Marina, Piazza Anfiteatro and Piazza Esedra. This description is that which provides the entrance from Piazza Anfiteatro which presents some advantages, a large parking in front of the entrance, the possibility to see immediately the most impressive monument of the entire archaeological site (the Amphitheater), the possibility, once left the site, to be able to go to the nearby Sanctuary of the Madonna del Rosario, a few hundred meters from the entrance.
The official site of the archaeological site is here where you can get up-to-date information on opening times and prices. Online ticket purchase is also possible.
Pompeii is so large that it is easy to get lost. In general, Pompeii is divided into nine districts called “Regiones“. Each “Regio” is in turn divided into blocks called “insulae“. Therefore, the whole city is clearly identifiable by the indication of the Regio and the insula which represent the geographic coordinates of the city. The official map of Pompeii, which is delivered free of charge at the entrance, is particularly useful and well designed.
Immediately after entering, after a few meters, you soon come across the most monumental example of the entire site, the Amphitheater (photo 2). It was built in 70 BC and represents the oldest amphitheater among those known in the Roman world (the Colosseum, for example, was built in 70 AD, then about a century and a half later). It could hold 20,000 spectators.
In front of the Amphitheater there is the “Gym” (photo 3), a large square surrounded by arcades. It was the place for the physical and intellectual training of young people.
Then there are innumerable houses, shops and gardens that follow one another along the avenues of the city. Obviously we cannot dwell on everyone. I will therefore try to represent the most interesting ones.
First of all the Menandro’s House (I Regio, Insula 7), with a splendidly frescoed atrium (photo 4). The house owes its name to the presence of the portrait of Menander, an Athenian playwright. It is perfectly preserved and also includes a small spa area.
Not far away, the “Vetutius Placidus’ House and Thermopolium” (photo 5). It is a shop where drinks and hot food were served, preserved in large jars set into the counter and clearly visible in the photo below. A large number of coins was found in one of the large jars, probably the collection of the shopkeeper’s day before Vesuvius swept away the entire city.
It is very interesting the “Stephanus’ Fullonica” (photo 6), a production facility for washing dirty clothes, a real modern laundry. At the center of the atrium there is a large basin where workers, often slaves, trampled for hours the fabrics and clothes put under a liquid used as detergent.
Continuing along the Decumanus we reach the “Forum” (photo 7), what we could define today as the main square of the city. The Forum in ancient Rome, and therefore also in Pompeii, was the nerve center of the civic life of the city which was overlooked by the most important buildings, the courthouse, the market, shops and places of worship.
The North side of the Forum is delimited and dominated by the Temple of Jupiter (photo 8) and behind it the majestic Mount Vesuvius rises, the true protagonist of Pompeii.
The Small Fountain House (VI, 3), located along Via Mercurio, is particularly striking for the precious fountain that gives its name to the house, covered with colored mosaics and shells and decorated with a small bronze statue (photo 9).
Finally, a visit to Pompeii is not complete without a visit to the “Lupanaras” (photo 10), a place where prostitutes practiced their profession. The building consists of two floors, upstairs there are the rooms of the owner and prostitutes, on the lower floor there are five rooms with a built-in bed. On the walls of the corridor there are erotic depictions that arouse the visitor’s curiosity.