Exploring the Phenomenal Ruins of Pompeii

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Written by: Sophie Felton

I’ve always been a bit of a history geek.

I first heard of Pompeii in primary school when we studied it as a topic, and I’ve been enthralled ever since.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Pompeii was a small town on the Amalfi coast of Italy – very close to Naples – right under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. In 79AD, Pompeii and its neighbouring town of Herculaneum were completely devastated when Vesuvius erupted.

Rather than being buried under lava and rock, the settlements and populations were engulfed in a monumental cloud of ash and debris, and over 2,000 people perished. Both towns remained abandoned for thousands of years, until explorers rediscovered the site in the 18th Century, finding them perfectly preserved under a thick layer of dust. Buildings were intact, bodies were preserved as they fell and everyday objects littered the streets.

Untouched and unaltered for 2,000 years

From a historical perspective, it’s incredibly exciting to have a place where things are preserved so perfectly. Personally I struggle in some places to believe that I’m really in a place that people lived hundreds of years ago, and find it hard to picture amidst the rubble and modern life that usually surrounds it, so that’s one of the reasons Pompeii has always fascinated me.

The excavation of Pompeii is still ongoing to this day – a process that has taken almost three centuries – and people remain just as captivated by the city’s eerie ruins as they were in the 18th Century.

A friend and I were looking for a short holiday in Europe and couldn’t decide where to go. I’m not very good at just lying on the beach for a week, although we did want somewhere we could relax, and so Sorrento – not far from Pompeii – seemed the perfect choice, mainly because I could finally visit the ancient ruins and see them for myself!

Visiting Pompeii on a day trip

We did some reading up beforehand, and most guidebooks said to allow around 3-4 hours for the whole tour. Normally guidebooks over-estimate a little, so we reckoned we could take our time around Pompeii, and then head over to Vesuvius in the afternoon. The area is very easy to get to from Sorrento – the train towards Naples stops just outside, and it’s just another 20 minutes on the same train to Ercolano for Mount Vesuvius and Herculaneum.

We headed over there for around 10am, thinking we’d be finished by lunch time, and have enough time to head to Ercolano before the last bus left for Vesuvius at around 3pm. We decided not to go with a tour group (that many people in a group always irritate me, despite the benefits of having a guide) and plumped instead for hiring an audio-guide. It’s a minimal fee, and you just need to leave your passport with them to ensure they get it back. I also picked up a free map with the different talking points labelled on it, and we were good to go.

Exploring the ancient ruins

Once we were inside, I couldn’t believe my eyes. You are hit, instantly, with ruin after ruin, preserved to the point that you can practically see the people living in them! As we moved from one point to the next, listening to the audio-guide when prompted, we were filled with awe at how amazing Pompeii actually is – it definitely lives up to its reputation. In some of the villas, the paint was preserved, and the colours and murals were absolutely stunning. I constantly had to pinch myself and remember that this wasn’t just hundreds of years old, but thousands! It really sent a chill down my spine, and I didn’t want to stop looking.

We managed to find a brothel that was preserved almost perfectly – you can spot it by the huge queue of people waiting to go inside… I didn’t get as close a look as I wanted, as there were so many people coming through, but you could clearly see the erotic drawings on the walls – although the beds didn’t seem the comfiest!

The map wasn’t perfect; we did get lost a couple of times, and I’m pretty sure we listened to the audio-guide in a couple of the wrong places, but we managed to get the gist, and the things around us were so amazing that we weren’t particularly bothered.

One thing that we couldn’t believe however, was the sheer scale of the place. We followed the audio-guide and map geographically rather than chronologically, but after 4 hours we’d still only seen about three quarters of the place. I’m sure the heat wave slowed us down a bit but if you really want to look at everything properly I’d really recommend taking a full day for Pompeii.

Finding reasons to return one day

We left around a quarter of it unseen (which gives a nice excuse to return one day), although we felt we’d seen everything we wanted to see, as we were simply too hot and tired to go round any more. We’d been sensible and covered up, brought water and worn comfy shoes, but four hours was still enough. If you’re going in the height of summer, dedicate an entire day so you don’t have to rush and so you can recuperate in the shade for an hour at lunch time.

It is without doubt one of the most amazing places I have ever been to, and I would highly recommend it to anybody.

Near the entrance, there’s a flat area surrounded by temples and other ruins, with Vesuvius looming in the distance, and you can just imagine how people would have felt on that fateful day in 79AD – the sheer panic caused by the cloud of lava, ash and dust rushing towards them.

It was quite upsetting to see the plaster casts of the bodies, still curled up in protective positions as they tried to escape death, but it only brought the reality of the place more to life. I genuinely can’t believe how well Pompeii has been preserved. If you ever want to imagine life in Ancient Italy, don’t watch a film or read a book – head over to Pompeii and experience it for yourself!

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