Wednesday, 14 November 2012


When Vesuvius erupted on 24 August AD 79, it engulfed the two flourishing Roman towns of Pompei and Herculaneum, as well as the many wealthy villas in the area. These have been progressively excavated and made accessible to the public since the mid-18th century. The vast expanse of the commercial town of Pompei contrasts with the smaller but better-preserved remains of the holiday resort of Herculaneum, while the superb wall paintings of the Villa Oplontis at Torre Annunziata give a vivid impression of the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthier citizens of the Early Roman Empire -
Vesuvius in the background
Pompeii can be summed up in a couple of words. Iconic. Historic. Tragic. Beautiful. Intriguing. Vast. And very poorly signposted. 

After making the rookie mistakes of: not asking for the free map and booklet in the information booth separate to the ticket booth (why they don’t give it to you with the ticket is a mystery), leaving the Lonely Planet behind in the car, and refusing to pay 100 Euros for a personal guide (arguably not a mistake but probably should have at least forked over the 5 Euros for an audioguide), we were pretty much let loose on Pompeii with no information. Surely a major tourist attraction like Pompeii would have maps and descriptive panels at all the important bits, I thought! How wrong I turned out to be.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing to walk through the streets of the ruined city and imagine what life must have been like 2000 years ago, but it really would have helped if they had tried to make the experience a little bit easier for anyone who doesn’t have a PhD specialising in the subject. Maybe it was our fault for not organising ourselves better, but would it have hurt to have arrows that actually made sense, or more decipherable map signs? There was a smattering of explanatory panels here and there, but not much. Then again, maybe it was better to just wander around soaking up the atmosphere?
Ruts in the ground for wagons
I know what amphoras are because of Asterix
The trick they did with bricks to make it earthquake proof - too bad it wasn't volcano-proof!
A well-preserved (or reinstated?) statue
Ancient Roman loo
Well-preserved frescos
Going into the ampitheatre
One of the things which did catch my eye though was a group of Chinese tourists huddled around something on the ground, furiously clicking away with their mega kitted out DSLRs. Of course, once they’d all dutifully shuffled off after their tour guide, I couldn’t resist going over and checking out the spot myself to see what the fuss was about.

James implored me not to take a photo, but like the other Asians, I couldn’t overcome the genetic instinct to grab a shot. Here it is:

I think these were supposed to point to brothels...
Yes, I can now tick ‘taking a photo of a stone phallus at Pompeii’ off my list of 1001 things to do before I die.

As with pretty much every other trip we’ve ever done, we encountered some friendly stray dogs which followed us around for a while.

Our temporary entourage
Funnily enough, we didn’t end up going to the ruins at Herculaneum even though we were pretty much staying just up the road from those ruins, having been ‘ruined out’ by both Pompeii and Paestum. Overall, while we did enjoy our time at Pompeii, next time I'll make sure we have a good guide (paper or otherwise) handy.
[Flickr set here]

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