Pompeii has fascinated me for over two decades and for many years it was the number one place I wanted to visit in the world.
This fascination was fueled by my Italian heritage and love of the ancient Latin language- my favourite subject in high school. When translating Roman texts, I was terribly intrigued to read Pliny The Younger’s description of the 79 AD eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, where the ash falling on nearby Misenum was so thick that he “rose from time to time and shook them off, otherwise we should have been buried and crushed beneath their weight”. In Pompeii itself the scene was much more horrifying with a firestorm of poisonous vapors and molten debris raining down on Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum and Stabiae. The inhabitants of Pompeii (estimated to be around 10,000-20,000) were suffocated and the towns buried for nearly two millennia. The excavations, which began in the 18th century have revealed the terrible history of the area, and it is harrowing to see the plaster casts of the volcano’s victims. Despite it’s horrible end, Pompeii provides an incredibly well-preserved and fascinating window into an ancient period and culture.
We decided to explore Pompeii in the afternoon, when the crowds had thinned and the sun was cooler. As my Roman history is quite rusty these days, we met a local archaeologist for an Uncrowded tour of the less known sites of Pompeii. I found the tour through AirBnB and it was the best tour I’ve ever done. And I’ve done a lot of tours. Roberto was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about Roman history, yet at the same time the tour was relaxed and easy-paced, full of smiles and laughs.
As there’s so much to take in and hidden things you wouldn’t notice without a guide, I can’t stress enough how highly I recommend getting a guided tour- even if you do spend some extra time exploring alone.
We learnt things like how to identify where shops were from the grooves in stone at the front of the buildings (from ancient roller doors), detailed information about each room of the bath houses and how sailors arriving in the port town would find their way to the city’s brothels (first picture below!).
Entry costs: 15€ for adults. You can’t leave and come back in, so if you want to explore on your own before meeting a tour group and have phone reception you could meet your group inside the gate. Note, there are several entry gates so make sure you’re inside the right one! Tip: on the first Sunday of every month entrance is free.
Getting there: there are two train options from Naples which both cost around 3€ for a one way fare. The circumvesuviana train is quite old, dirty and crowded and tickets can’t be bought online (as far as I found), but only at the station. However the advantage of this train is that it arrives very near to the entry gate Porta Marina Inferiore (2 minute walk).
TrainItalia is a much cleaner, comfortable train and can be booked online. It arrives in the modern town of Pompeii which is a 20 minute walk to the entry gate Porta Nocera. However, the nearby town is actually really beautiful, and you can walk to the archeological site via a tree-lined street full of markets and delicious icecream shops.
So my advice would be to arrive in the modern town of Pompeii via TrainItalia and then when you are exhausted from exploring, leave by the nearby circumvesuviana.