When we first found out we were docking in Naples on our cruise aboard the Carnival Vista, a visit to Pompeii was a must.
Pompeii is a Roman town frozen in time, thanks to the devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and is the only place in the world where you can begin to understand how the Roman’s lived as much of it was frozen in time after it was buried under a layer of lapilli (burning fragments of pumice stone).
We decided to take an organised tour arranged by the ship which included a guided tour of the site which has had 20ft of ashes and pumice stone excavated so you can explore houses, Roman shops, baths and brothels.
We arrived at 10am and the queues to get in were already huge but thankfully being in an organised group meant we entered the site without having to queue for long. We were provided with a set of headphones, a bottle of ice-cold water and a knowledgable guide and set off.
Much of Pompeii is in open air so I strongly recommend you apply plenty of sunscreen, wear cool comfortable clothes and a hat, sensible shoes and take a bottle of water as it is extremely hot. You don’t need a huge bottle of water as there are plenty of ancient street fountains where you can stop and refill.
Having a guide had its perks, we found out lots of information that we would not have done otherwise. For example, the streets had large stepping-stones to make crossing the road easier, because the streets were often running with water and waste which no-one would want to step in.
They had many shops selling all sorts goods but lots of their equivalent of fast food restaurants which were open to the street, and had a large counter area with a reception area in the middle where the food and drink would be cooked and served.
The first impressive site we saw was that of the Odeon which could seat around 1000 people and would have been used to host plays and music events.
One thing that surprised me was just how big Pompeii is. Having a guided tour was great for finding some of the best sights, however, I would have liked to go off the beaten track and explore the less touristy areas of the city as I did feel that we were herded through the streets like sheep.
The houses we saw were really impressive. The Roman’s atrium had an open skylight in the ceiling, which was directly above an impluvium – a square basin set into the floor that would collect rainwater for household use. There were also wall paintings that could still be seen and even impressive walled gardens in the middle of the house.
It also seemed that Romans liked their brothels and if you look carefully you can spot phallus images carved into stone or on the side of houses that point to where you can find them. Once inside the brothel, there are five small cubicles and images on the walls that depict services on offer.
The Roman thermal bath buildings were fascinating and were divided into two sections: one reserved for women and one reserved for men. Each of these contained a series of rooms with different functions:
- apodyterium or changing room
- frigidarium or cold bath room
- tepidarium or tepid bath room
- calidarium or hot bath room
The system of heating the rooms – which was fairly ingenious -worked by running heated water through the cavities in the wall.
There are richly decorated vaulted rooms for a good steam.
One of the most famous sights in Pompeii are the “dead bodies” you can still see on the site. An ingenious 19th-century excavator had the bright idea of pouring plaster of Paris into the cavities left in the lava around skeletons, where flesh and clothing had decomposed – and, hey presto, the shape of a living human being was miraculously recovered.
It is the Temples of Pompeii that are perhaps the most impressive sights, framed by Vesuvius looming in the background which had a very well positioned cloud sat above on our visit which made it look like it was erupting.
As I mentioned before, it was very, very busy so getting photographs with no-one in them was very difficult.
It was off the beaten track that was quieter.
One place our tour guide neglected to take us was to the amphitheatre which would have seated around 12,000 people who would go to watch sporting events and comedy plays.
I would advise that you do not take young children to Pompeii as although mine were well behaved, they got bored and it was extremely hot, with very little shade. The streets are cobbled so unsuitable for children in pushchairs and we saw a few parents struggling to get around with them.
I would love to return and explore all the bits we missed but the guided tour was very knowledgable and informative. In my opinion, I think it would be better to work out an agenda in advance and find your way around with a map.
If you are on a guided tour, also be aware of the Cameo factory directly outside the entrance to Pompeii as you get ushered into the building to see how cameo’s are made and although they do not pressurise you to purchase one, it is positively encouraged!
My top tips are:
- Wear sensible shoes, the streets and pavements are uneven and cobbled
- Take a bottle of water
- Wear plenty of sunscreen and take a hat
- Take your time and explore, it is quieter where the tour guides don’t go. Maps are available at the entrance
- Don’t take young children – I would recommend for ages 7+
Our Carnival Cruise took us to the following ports, click the links below for our excursions:
- Naples – Pompeii
- Civitavecchia – Rome
- Livorno – Pisa
- Palma de Mallorca