Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Pompeii
The ruined city of Pompeii lies 20km/12mi southeast of Naples at the foot of Vesuvius, near the Gulf of Naples.
It is the finest example of a Roman town and its way of life, presented to modern eyes by excavation.
To the east of the ancient site is the newer settlement, known until 1929 as Valle di Pompei, with a conspicuous domed church, Santa Maria del Rosario, which is visited by countless pilgrims (particularly on May 8th and on the first Sunday in October).
Pompeii, probably founded by the Oscans, an Italic people, became Roman after the Samnite wars (290 B.C.), and by the first century A.D. was a prosperous provincial capital with a population estimated at 20,000. In A.D. 63 much of the town was destroyed by a severe earthquake, and rebuilding had not been completed when an eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 covered the whole town, as well as Herculaneum and Stabiae, with a layer of ash and pumice-stone 6-7m/6.5-7.5yds thick - though a proportion of the population were able to escape in time. The town was now abandoned, after some at least of the survivors had recovered objects of value from the loose covering of ash.
Since the 18th century something like three-fifths of the total area of the town (the walls of which had a perimeter of 3,100m/3,391yd) have been recovered by large-scale excavation, carried out systematically from 1860 onwards. Although the buildings are in a ruinous state and it is only in the more recently excavated areas (since 1911) that the internal arrangements and domestic equipment have, as far as possible, been left as they were found. Visitors to Pompeii get a more immediate and more vivid impression of ancient life - in luxurious mansions and more modest houses, in the markets and the streets, in baths, theaters and temples - than on any other ancient site; and much of what they see will strike them as astonishingly modern.
In November 1980 a severe earthquake caused considerable damage.
Division of the site
In modern times the site has been divided into several regions (I-IX) separated by the principal streets. The blocks (insulae) within the regions are, like them, numbered with Roman numerals (in the plan with Arabic numerals); individual houses have Arabic numerals.
The streets are paved with polygonal slabs of lava, with raised pavements on either side. At intersections and at other places along the streets are stepping-stones designed to help pedestrians to cross. Deep ruts in the paving bear witness to heavy traffic. At many street corners are fountains for public use. The inscriptions on the outside walls of houses, in the manner of modern posters, mostly relate to municipal elections.
The Roman house was entered from the street by a narrow passage (fauces, ostium), often flanked by shops and workshops (tabernae), leading into a large court or atrium with a roof which sloped inwards. In the center of the roof was a square opening (compluvium), below which, sunk into the ground, was a basin for catching rain-water (impluvium). On each side, and sometimes in front, were bedrooms (cubiculae); on each side too were alae, open spaces originally designed for the statues of ancestors. The fourth side of the atrium was entirely occupied by a large open apartment, the tablinum. Beyond the front portion of the house, in which visitors were received, lay the private apartments used by the family; these were built round a garden-like courtyard, known as the peristylium from the columns which enclosed it. Beyond this there was sometimes a garden (viridarium). Opening off the peristylium were the triclinium (dining-room) and sitting-room (oecus). The position of the kitchen (culina) and cellars varied. Many houses also had an upper floor with balconies.
It is interesting to compare the Pompeian single-storey house occupied by one family with the blocks of apartments built round a large central courtyard which became general under the Empire and are found at Ostia but not at Pompeii.
Tour of Pompeii
Street of Tombs
The Street of Tombs is lined with monuments dedicated to prominent people of the day. It is one of the highlights of Pompeii.