If you are a fan of ancient Roman ruins, Pompeii is a site like no other. Preserved so well after the violent volcanic eruption from nearby Mount Vesuvius covered the entire city in more than 50 feet of ash, the city escaped the usual ravages that 1,500 years would deliver.
The roadways are still neatly paved with fitted flagstones and there are rows and rows of intact buildings on either sides of the streets. Taller buildings have their roofs caved in but other than that, many are still standing.
As usual, I had a greater interest in the temples rather than the individual homes though it was an unusual sight to see so many “regular” houses at a place like this. Most ruins are made up of palaces, castles, temples and other such buildings. It really made it feel like a true Roman town.
Anyway, it was the temples that drew my attention. They were in pretty poor shape but most had their stairs, foundations and some columns standing to mark their place. As I learned during our tour, the grand temples of Jupiter and Apollo fared so poorly because they had actually collapsed in an earthquake several years before the eruption.
Even though I focused on the temples, some of the houses were impressive. The House of the Faun is one of the best ones known in Pompeii, named for the statue found in the front yard water basin. Inside this, and many other buildings, are extraordinary mosaics used to decorate both the interior and exterior. This particular house covered an entire city block and illustrated the wealth that some of the Pompeii residents enjoyed.
The large amphitheatre was a grand sight and looked like it could have been used just yesterday. The high banks of seats fanned out in a semi-circle around the center stage, and I could easily visualize the place filled with excited Pompeii citizens waiting for some sort of performance.
The plaster casts made from the actual victims who died at Pompeii were both fascinating and tragic at the same time. Those who died were covered in hot ash at the time, which eventually turned solid around their remains.
As they were excavated, these natural molds were used to create plaster casts of the victims. Many of these have been left in place, so you can see exactly where people died and in what poses. I find it gives a sense of gravity and respect to the town but it’s also more than a little creepy.
Not all parts of Pompeii are open to visitors at all times, and the open areas can vary from time to time. Even with some sporadic closures, you can easily spend a full day seeing the city. If you like to see every single ruin (like us) in detail then you should schedule two full days so you don’t have to rush.
The city of Pompeii is absolutely remarkable and without a doubt the most complete site of Roman-era architecture in the world. Though the ruins and buildings themselves are extensive, you may want to visit the Naples National Archaeological Museum to see the huge collection of personal items found during the city excavation.
There are Roman ruins found in dozens of countries, ranging from the UK down as far south as Egypt. Have you visited any of them during your travels? If you could see any particular site of ruins, which one would you see?