How to visit Pompeii, the Roman city that was taken by surprise by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79?
Today, the exceptionally well preserved Roman city of Pompeii, near Naples, attracts around 2 million visitors per year. Yet this fragile UNESCO World Heritage site could disappear a second time. Before this happens, here’s how to visit Pompeii!
Also read : The 14 best things to do in Naples
Presentation of the Pompeii site
More than just a historical relic, Pompeii encompasses the remains of an exceptional tragedy that killed several thousand people in one day. Founded before the 6th century BC in the Campania region, the city of Pompeii was built on fertile land, along an important trade route for Rome. At the time, Campania was a flourishing region of the Roman Empire, at the height of its power.
In just a few minutes, Mount Vesuvius violently spewed forth a deadly, 33-kilometer high cloud of super-heated tephra and gases. During 18 hours, the volcano ejected molten rock, pulverized pumice, and hot ash at 1.5 million tons per second, burying Pompeii under 5 to 6 meters of pyroclastic surges and ashfall deposits. Buried under volcanic sediments, uneroded by bad weather and the passing of time, the city was forgotten for more than 1,500 years. It was rediscovered in the 17th century in an exceptional state of preservation.
Archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli (1823-1896) was the first to launch excavations and make plaster casts of the found decomposed bodies. The exhumations and archaeological excavations brought to light a flourishing ancient city, offering a detailed illustration of the ancient Roman civilization. The site has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
The destruction of Pompeii, or the story of an unpredictable tragedy that claimed the lives of several thousand people
Thanks to the writings of Pliny the Younger, the famous Roman writer, archaeologists, and historians have been able to understand the course of the eruption of Pompeii better. Visit Pompeii to experience what a Roman city was like, in the instants before it was both wiped from the surface of the Earth and preserved forever.
The 79 AD eruption was preceded by a powerful earthquake seventeen years before, in AD 62, which caused widespread destruction around the Bay of Naples, and particularly to Pompeii. The writings of Pliny the Younger offer evidence that earthquakes were recurrent. At the time, no one realized that these premonitory tremors were the signs of an imminent eruption of the volcano. Besides, Mount Vesuvius was actually considered extinct, the last known eruption at that time dating back to 217 BC.
While visiting the site, you will be surprised by the state of preservation of the edifices and by the incredible conservation of the bodies of the former inhabitants, instantly killed after been exposed to hot surges of at least 500°F. Burnt alive, the victims remained “frozen” in suspended action. Their bodies have thus remained in their original postures ever since, covered in solidified ashes for the past 19 centuries. An open-air museum, Pompeii offers a vivid impression of ancient life, whether in its homes, shops, and public places of the town. Discover the ruins of taverns and theaters, mosaics and frescos, stables…
The bustling and flourishing daily life in Pompeii, at the time populated by 25,000 inhabitants, was forever extinguished in a terribly short amount of time. 1,900 years later, Pompeii’s eternal silence still grips every visitor.
What to see in Pompeii?
During your visit to Pompeii, make sure you visit the following must-see monuments:
- The amphitheater, which could host up to 20,000 people
- The “Large Palaestra” which use to serve as the training ground for Pompeian athletes
- The House of the Vettii
- The House of the Faun
- The Forum
- The very well preserved thermal baths
- The Mystery Villa (outside the walls of Pompeii)
- The Lupanar of Pompeii
- Calcified human remains into natural molds
- The bakery
- The House of the Tragic Poet
How to visit Pompeii?
One could easily spend a whole day in Pompeii. However, a 3 or 4-hour visit is already enough to see the main part of the archaeological site. The site itself is entirely pedestrian. Though it is possible to rent a bike, the typical Roman cobbled paths are not ideal if you want to visit Pompeii on two wheels. We recommend bringing a good pair of shoes for a comfortable walk: some visitors may indeed find walking through Pompeii to be tiring, especially during the blazing hot summer days. Note that disabled travelers should enter the site through the Piazza Anfiteatro entrance, where a special itinerary has been designed to meet the needs of people with reduced mobility (also open to parents with strollers).
Upon purchasing your ticket, you will receive a map of the site along with a brochure listing the main attractions. A site map is essential if you want to see a maximum in such a short period. Even with a map, visiting Pompeii is a bit like walking through a labyrinth. Many paths which may appear to be open according to the map can be blocked due to excavations or works.
How to get to Pompeii?
If you prefer to opt for a self-visit of Pompeii, without a guide, here’s how to get to Pompeii from Naples:
- By train.
Purchase a €2.60 one-way ticket from Naples Central Station: a direct train will take you to Pompeii in about 40 minutes;
- By bus.
SITA buses go once or twice per hour from Naples to Pompeii. Tickets cost €2.80.
NB: if you are staying in Rome and would like to visit Pompeii, there are day tours to Pompeii and Naples from Rome.
To access the site, you can choose between three entrances, which are all situated south of the archaeological site. The first is to the southwest, towards the Porta Marina (the closest to the station). The second is located 200 meters east of the first. To get there, you have to get off the road that leads to Piazza Esedra (where the bus from Pompeii takes you). The third entrance is even further east, towards the large amphitheater (Piazza Amphiteatro). Due to the usual crowds, you will have to wait at least half an hour to get your ticket.
Pompeii: rates & opening hours
- Full price : €11
- Students aged between 18 and 24, as well as teachers : €5.50
- EU nationals under 18 years of age: Free
- first Sunday of the month : Free admission for all
Guided tours in English are organized from Naples or Sorrento.
The entrance fees to Herculaneum are the same. You can purchase a €21 ticket that allows you to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Boscoreale, and Stabiae on 3 consecutive days. This 3-day pass costs €30 if you choose the “skip-the-line” option.
OPENING DAYS AND HOURS
- April to October:
- November to March:
open from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm (the ticket office closed at 6 pm)
open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm (the ticket office closes at 3:30 pm)
The site is closed on January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th.
GOOD TO KNOW
– A complete visit to Pompeii can last for about four hours, the site has lots of things on display and we would recommend not rushing as many of Pompeii’s highlights are slightly hidden or simply take a while to enjoy.
– The paths and roads in Pompeii are cobbled and were built about two thousand years ago, they will be bumpy and it can sometimes be tiring to walk around the city, with all the blocked off areas and elevation which is why we recommend you bring good walking shoes and pace yourselves.
– Please note that luggage and bags are not permitted and must be left in the cloakroom (the service is free of charge).
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