Ever since I did a project on Pompeii when I was 10, I’ve wanted to visit the ruins there. I was certainly not disappointed, but there were a couple of things that made me prefer the ruins at Herculaneum over Pompeii. Firstly, there was some ridiculous modern art exhibit going on at Pompeii, which meant there were giant pieces of art lying around getting in the way of good photos and detracting from the whole experience. I’m sure some people would have appreciated the recently created bronze sculptures lying around the place, but I found that it made the place look messy and made it harder to imagine how the city would have once looked.
Herculaneum was more compact, so it was easier to see in a shorter space of time without getting too fatigued and ‘ruined out’. Pompeii seems more famous than Herculaneum, given that there were far more tourists here. Of course, the tourists flock to Pompeii for a reason – Pompeii is amazing. So with those few negatives aside, I have to say I’m extremely glad we went.
I was surprised when we entered Pompeii at how huge the site was. One thing we learned about museums and historical sites in Italy is that certain areas seem to be opening and closing at different times, possibly due to the availability/shifts of staff required to supervise the area, so it pays to ask when you enter the site if there are any areas that are closing early or only opening at specific times.
It was a great experience to walk down these old streets and think about how life would have been. The wealth of some of the home owners seems amazing, given the size of some of the houses and their gardens. Everything was a lot grander than I imagined. Pompeii must have been quite a bustling city.
The amphitheater (pictured in the header of this post) is one of the oldest in the Roman world, built in 70 BC, and it could hold around 20,000 people. Many would come from nearby towns to watch the entertainment. Apparently in 59 AD there was a fight between the people of Pompeii and those from Nocera who went there to support their favourite gladiators, which resulted in the Roman Senate deciding to close this arena for 10 years. However, it opened up again in 62AD after the earthquake which caused severe damage to both Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Of course, Pompeii is well known for the casts showing the last moments of some of the poor people who died here. They are quite moving to look at. We were lucky that we visited in low season, so there were relatively less tourists (still plenty), which meant we were able to have plenty of space to view everything.
Most places you go in Italy, you tend to see cats walking and living among the ruins. Pompeii was no exception and I was happily surprised when a sweet white kitty came up to us while we were inside the House of the Cryptoporticus. I made the mistake of crouching down and said kitty jumped on my knee and then refused to get down. I would have sat there all day, but thankfully one of the staff members came over to give him a cuddle and told us he lives there. All the cats we saw looked well fed, so I’m not sure if they are fed by the staff or if there are just lots of mice around. You gotta love the friendly cats of Italy.
We spent all day walking around Pompeii. Covering the whole area, figuring out what you’re looking at and where you are on the map takes a lot more time than you’d think. Even though we tried to plot our path and keep track of where we were going, there’s so many streets and we did find ourselves doing a bit of backtracking to see things we had missed.
Our hosts had told us not to miss the Villa of Mysteries, so we made sure to check what time it was closing and exited via the Herculaneum Gate which leads to the Villa of Mysteries. Seeing the ruins in Pompeii was wonderful, but sometimes it is a bit of a stretch to imagine daily life from a few crumbling rocks. This was one reason why the Villa was worth seeing, as it gave us a better idea of how Pompeian living spaces would have looked.