With only two days in Naples, we had three things we wanted to do, and we started out with the museum. The next question was, would it be possible to see both Pompeii and Herculaneum in one day? Herculaneum was another city obliterated by Vesuvius in AD 79. It has the reputation of being a smaller, better-preserved ruin, and a very different experience than Pompeii.
Although it is theoretically possible, most of the advice sites suggested doing them on different days, and in the end we decided that we should assume that we will return (we still have Capri and the Amalfi Coast to see in this area, too), and we would regret not seeing Pompeii if we didn’t this time around.
So, we devoted an entire day to Pompeii, and even though I was excited to see it, it even exceeded my expectations. I don’t know where I got it in my head that the site was small, but it really is quite big, and we spent almost four leisurely hours there.
The commuter train from Naples takes about 35-40 minutes and drops tourists off almost right at the entrance. We had read that these trains are often filled to overflowing, so when it pulled into the station, we made sure to position ourselves advantageously and grabbed the first two seats together. We did not regret that strategy! It was helpful to know the length of the journey and the name of the stop before Pompeii since none of the stations are called out, and you don’t have too much time to get off the train.
You can rent a guide, rent an audio guide, or you can be cheap like us and download for free the Rick Steves audiotour for your MP3 players. He covers the highlights and says to leave at least three hours.
One of our questions has always been, if the city residents heard (and saw) the volcano explode, and the lava didn’t get to them for a day or so, why didn’t the people just run out of the city? Well, I guess many people did. Of the 20,000 residents, about 2,000 perished from suffocation as the ash covered them.
The entrance of the city leads right into the Forum, the main center of activity for the city. Here you get a great view of Vesuvius, the Temple of Jupiter, some great columns, and even your Home Depot garden dept. showroom of vases and statues (along with many other things).
We have now seen our share of Roman baths, but these were the best preserved we’ve seen so far.
Here are the fast-food stalls. Kitchens in most houses were pretty small, so after your activity, you stopped by to pick up some food that was kept warm in pots.
The streets were pretty straight, and we saw many grooves created by wagon/chariot wheels.
Frescos were in pretty good shape.
Even in the brothel.
There were arenas for entertainment.
And plenty of greenery around, from trees and gardens to vineyards.
The beauty of the site impressed us, and we look forward one day to seeing Herculaneum.
The only disappointment was that the plaster casts of the bodies were out for restoration (and not at the restaurant…).