Regular readers may remember a trip to Rome I wrote about in last month’s travel-themed issue. As August is traditionally a holiday month, and I’ve been desperate to write about it for some time, I’m dedicating this month’s column to Pompeii, another place we visited during our Italian expedition.
My husband had wanted to visit for a long time, and I’d been fascinated by Pompeii ever since I read that discarded guidebook I mentioned in last month’s column.
An ancient roman city and UNESCO heritage site that was buried (and preserved) when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it’s over two and a half hours from Rome, so we decided to split our Italy trip in half, spending three nights in Rome and three nights in Naples, where the journey to Pompeii takes 40 minutes by train.
Our day started with cake for breakfast in a room that overlooked the ocean. I saw my first hummingbird, and my feet had almost recovered from our many miles of walking in Rome. But by the end of the day, they would be very, very sore indeed. If you’re planning a visit, or this column inspires you to plan one – and I hope it does – heed my advice; wear sensible shoes!
Once we arrived at Pompeii, we weren’t really sure where to start, so we followed the crowd and found ourselves in a big, open space dotted with big, beautiful sculptures of mythological characters by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj.
There are tours available where you spend a couple of hours in Pompeii, but unless you’re in a rush, I’d advise going on your own and taking your time – there’s just too much to look at.
To begin with, I found the sheer size of the site overwhelming. Helpfully, it’s split into zones, with each one containing something different (just as you’re starting to think ‘Ok, I’ve seen a few of these’, something new appears).
We decided to tackle one zone at a time to make sure we saw as much as we could, but despite spending eight hours in Pompeii, we still didn’t see everything. We did, however, meet a lot of beautiful animals, who were pottering around the site. I tried to make friends with a white kitten, but he was having far too much fun sunbathing.
Many of the buildings display stories about the sorts of people who lived or worked there, which really helped bring the site come to life. One thing that struck me as we wandered around the remains of temples, houses, shops and amphitheatres, was how well preserved the city is. I know it’s what Pompeii is famous for, but I was surprised to see how clear the wall paintings still are, and how bright the mosaic flooring is.
Much of the city is very peaceful. The gardens are quiet and still, while the thermal baths are cool and calm, with the only light pouring in from the open ceiling. Because it was so busy while we were there, it was easy to imagine Pompeii as the bustling city it once was, but as the afternoon drew to a close and visitors began to leave, it became eerier, almost haunting.
Not too far away from Pompeii is another preserved city, Herculaneum, which is apparently smaller and better preserved. We’d intended to visit both in one day, but as we left, eight hours after we arrived in Pompeii and having walked 15 miles, we agreed that Herculaneum will have to wait for our next visit. I’m already counting down the days!