So last month, part of the reason I had to reduce my Camp Nanowrimo was that I was going away to Italy. I spent most of that time on the island of Ischia, but before that, having arrived in Naples, I took a day to visit something I’ve always wanted to see: the Roman ruins of Pompeii.
Getting from Naples to Pompeii isn’t difficult: you take the Circumvesuviana railway in the direction of Sorrento, and it’s about 40 minutes to ‘Pompei Scavi’, for only a few Euros. In the morning, I got down to the platform to find it extremely crowded: among the people there were a group of girls wearing Hawaiian flower necklaces, apparently having a hen party. The bride was blindfolded – a surprise trip, presumably – and a couple of boys on the platform posed for photos with her and the rest, at one point sticking sunglasses over her blindfold.
I never found out exactly where the hen party got off, because when the train arrived, it was clearly very crowded already; so I hurried down the platform to the two front carriages where there was more space. That space had filled up by the time the train left Naples, and with so many stops between there and Pompeii, it got tighter and tighter. I was left standing in an ever shrinking corner, strongly reminded of Manchester to Preston at rush hour, and wondering if I would even be able to get to the door when my stop came. Thankfully, I did.
This is the Forum, the main square. And in the background, of course, is the whole reason Pompeii is still here in the first place. Vesuvius is an impressive sight, no matter what angle you’re looking at it, but also a slightly unnerving one. You stand in the Forum and try to imagine people standing on that same spot in AD 79 when Vesuvius exploded, when the sun was blocked out and ash and rock came raining down everywhere. And you can’t forget that Vesuvius is still an active volcano, which last erupted in 1944 and is going to erupt again at some point, hopefully not on the day that you’re standing there.
This is what’s left of the Temple of Jupiter – Jupiter being the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Zeus.
Some of Pompeii’s streets – I don’t know if those larger road-crossing stones are original Roman, but they were certainly convenient at times.
This is the Great Theatre, used for plays and the like.
And this is the Amphitheatre, where gladiator fights took place. Pompeii is a very large site (some of which is still being excavated), and much of the “interesting” stuff (I use the word in a comparative sense, because of course it’s all interesting) is quite spread out. The Amphitheatre is right on the other side from the main entrance, about a 15-20 minute walk at a good pace – it was a very hot day, making the walk an exercise in grabbing what slivers of shade were available.
This is the Great Palaestra, an exercise park not far from the Amphitheatre.
This is actually the grounds of a house, clearly belonging to one of the city’s richer occupants.
When I first went into Pompeii, I debated whether to get an audioguide before finally deciding against it; I had enough to carry as it was. Looking back, part of me wishes I had picked up one – but while I was certainly there to learn, I was there for the experience too: to stand in the place and know that this is an actual preserved Roman city, that this is how the buildings were laid out, that this was where people would walk in their day-to-day business and what they would see. It was brilliant, and if you’re the slightest bit interested in Roman history, a must-see at some point in your life.