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Now Pompeii is definitely a place I am pretty sure every guide book to Italy tells you to visit and I one hundred percent agree. If you end up anywhere near Pompeii you have to go, even if its August and you feel like you are melting in the heat. Pompeii is so spectacular because in 79AD Mt. Vesuvius erupted and completely devastated the town. Well I shouldn’t say devastated, I should actually say buried. The town of Pompeii, along with four other towns, was completely buried by volcanic material. Now while this most definitely was a horrifying event for the people of the Roman Empire; who thought the gods were taking revenge on the people of Pompeii, it was a wonderful thing for us. It is so wonderful because the volcanic eruption left Pompeii perfectly preserved and shows us what life in the first century AD was like for the average person. Now I could go on about Pompeii but for now I will give you my five favorite reasons to visit and eventually I will hopefully get around to writing a little guide for Pompeii.
1. Villa of the Mysteries
The Villa of the Mysteries is a villa that actually stands outside the walls of Pompeii and is a bit of a hike to get to but don’t let that stop you from seeing it (remember all that pasta and pizza you will be eating) because it has some of the best preserved frescoes still visible at the site of Pompeii. Now I said Pompeii was left perfectly preserved and it was, until archaeologists discovered it in the eighteenth century and after that bits of Pompeii began to disappear. Frescoes and statues disappeared into the king’s home, marble was taken to decorate the king’s palace and then later a lot of it ended up in the museum, which I will talk about. So in terms of decoration a lot of it is now in the museum but the Villa of the Mysteries has some astoundingly well preserved frescoes showing the people taking part in the mystery cult of Dionysus. With the Villa of the Mysteries you can really start to see what Pompeii would have looked like right before it was buried.
2. The Amphitheater, the Theater and Odeon
These buildings were huge public buildings that were built for the people of Pompeii by wealthy citizens looking to win elections. Huge public buildings were often times funded by politicians looking for “support” in the ancient world and these three buildings in Pompeii are no different. The Theater and Odeon are located quite close to one of the entrances to the site of Pompeii and are usually the first thing visitors see. The Theater was a huge public theater where plays were put on for the people of Pompeii and you can pretty much explore the whole thing. If you head up to the top of the theater be sure to check out the original marble seats and you can actually see the seats were marked into the marble and numbered as well. The whole theater was originally full of marble seats but a lot of it was plundered for the king’s palace in the eighteenth century.
The Odeon is smaller than the theater and located just off to the right of it. It was used to hold intimate musical performances and is named after the Greek theater for musical performances. The Odeon at Pompeii has been preserved remarkably well and you can see all the original marble and the original box seats as well. Also don’t forget to check out the acoustic sweet spot in both theaters and you can tell that even at the way top all the performers would have been heard clearly.
The Amphitheater is located a bit away from the main city but that didn’t stop the people of Pompeii from heading there because this is where all the gladiatorial events took place. This amphitheater was one of the earlier stone amphitheaters built and it was even constructed about a hundred years before the Coliseum (the Coliseum was still being built when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79AD). Gladiator games really started down in Campania (the region Pompeii is located in) and were insanely popular. They also had all the major gladiator barracks of the empire down here as well and this is actually where Spartacus began his rebellion. Perhaps today however the Amphitheater is most well known because Pink Floyd played a concert here.
The baths are definitely something you should check out while in Pompeii. The baths are large public complexes which had both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, along with hot, warm and cold baths. They were open to everyone and the baths were routinely used for conducting business and for socializing. One of the bath complexes is located just off the main road leading into the forum and they actually just reopened after a restoration effort. They are fantastic to see because these baths have the only surviving roof left in the city of Pompeii and not only is it the only surviving roof but it is carved and painted as well. Be sure to check out the women’s section of the baths too and not just the more visited men’s section!
4. The Bodies
The “bodies” are a huge highlight of any stop in Pompeii and are spread out through the entire site so you will see some where ever you enter but they are not actually human remains. What the famous “bodies” of Pompeii are are plaster casts, basically molds of human remains. Pompeii was buried by volcanic ash when it was destroyed and it buried the citizens of Pompeii so quickly that when the people died they were instantly covered with this ash. Over time the ash then hardened and as the body decayed the hardened ash stayed in place leaving a hollow. When Pompeii first was excavated properly the archaeologist, Guiseppe Fiorelli, realized that there were hallows all over the site and decided to figure out why. So he injected the hallows with liquid plaster, let it harden and dug it up. What he discovered was the remains and last moments of the victims of the eruption. There is such a high level of detail on these bodies that you can see the clothes they were wearing, their expressions and occasionally their bones as well. The bodies are a startling reminder that while its great we have Pompeii to see today, the reason we have it was because of a horrific disaster.
5. Naples Archeological Museum
Now the Naples Archeological Museum is not technically in Pompeii, it is located in the city of Naples but the reason I am listing it here is because it holds all the treasures from Pompeii. This museum is mainly only artifacts from Pompeii (besides a collection of sculpture from the Roman Farnese Family) including grand frescoes and mosaics, everyday items and of course the secret cabinet. The secret cabinet is not really a secret at all but what it is is a collection of all of Pompeii’s erotic art, so if you ever wanted to see a sculpture of a man having sex with a goat this is the place to go. But besides the erotic art, the museum is filled with astounding examples of Roman artwork, including the famed Alexander Mosaic which shows Alexander the Great battling the Persians. Even the everyday items are decadent including a set of silver from one of the villas with over a hundred pieces. The museum is definitely worth checking out and even better it is almost always DESERTED. For some reason people do not head here that often which is a shame because it is considered the best archaeological museum in Italy but its good if you get to go because you get to enjoy the best art of Pompeii all alone.
So there are my five reasons to head to Pompeii, as I said I was a tour guide there so if any of you are planning a visit and have any questions do not hesitate to ask!