After my third visit to the Pompeii Excavations a month ago, I could say that now I have a better idea of what’s Pompeii and decided to write a list of the unmissable sites to see in a practical itinerary, because the Archaeological site of Pompeii covers 22 hectares that you cannot see in just a few hours.
What is Pompeii?
The Archaeological site of Pompeii, included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, is located in Naples surroundings at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, just in between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Sorrento. The ancient Pompeii was one of the most populated cities of the Roman Empire: the population was estimated at 11,000 people distributed in an area of 64 to 67 hectares. In 62 AD a violent earthquake struck the entire area and the city was hardly damaged, but the population didn’t finish to rebuild their houses when in 79 AD the sudden eruption of Vesuvius buried Pompeii and its inhabitants under a thick layer of ash and lapilli.
The ancient city remained buried until the end of the 16th century, even though the excavations started in 1748 under the King of Naples, Charles III of Bourbon, and are still continuing. Nowadays the Archaeological area of Pompeii stretches over 66 hectares, but only 49 hectares have been excavated. As you may notice on the map the city is divided into regiones representing the neighborhoods and insulae representing the blocks. The names of the sites, like House of the Small Fountain, were inspired by the site’s peculiarities when the owner was unknown.
Here below I made a list of the unmissable sites of Pompeii, listed in chronological order, i.e. from the first to the last I recommend you to visit. The itinerary is planned to save time and don’t get lost because it’s very easy; it’s impossible to visit the entire site in one day or just a few hours: TooMuchPomepii!. The best option is to enter from the Amphitheatre Square and exit next to Villa of the Mysteries.
The unmissable sightseeings in Pompeii
- The Amphitheater (Regio II)- it’s one of the oldest and largest amphitheaters from the Roman times; it could hold up to 20,000 people and has been the setting for a famous live performance of the Pink Floyd in 1971.
- Via dell’Abbondanza – it’s the main street of Pompeii, where there were the shops with their windows and signs and where the most important figures of the city had their villas. By walking along this street you see some of the most important sites in the archaeological area and you easily reach Forum.
- House of Venus in the shell (Regio II) – the house takes its name from the beautiful and large fresco depicting Venus in a shell, that decorates the back wall of the villa’s courtyard. The Goddess lies in a shell, accompanied by two cherubs; she is completely naked, wearing only a tiara on her head and some jewels on the neck, wrists, and ankles.
- House of the Orchard or of the Floral Cubicles (Regio I)- the house takes its name from the two cubicles decorated with elegant and rich painting of the garden: you notice several birds singing, lemon and strawberry trees, with Egyptian style motifs.
- Small Theatre or Odeon (Regio VIII) – it was the theater for miming representations, as well as musical and singing performances; notice the inscriptions of past spectators on the plaster of the external masonry.
- The Civil Forum (Regio VII) – this was the pulsing heart of the Roman Pompeii. It’s a large pedestrian area, that measures 143 meters in length and 38 meters in width, overlooked by the main public buildings and places of worship. From the southeastern part of the square you admire the Mount Vesuvius; stop by the Sanctuary of Apollo, one of the oldest worship’s places in Pompeii, and the Temple of Jupiter.
- The Mensa Ponderaia and Granary – the Mensa Ponderaia was used to measure food and goods in trade; every container corresponds to a specific measure used both for liquid and solid food. Next to it, there is the large granary where you see the impressive casts of victims of the eruption such as a little child and a dog.
- House of the Faun – it’s one of the largest house in Pompeii and takes its name from the bronze statue at the entrance representing a dancing satyr of fuan; not to be missed the large mosaic depicting the battle between Alexander the Great and King Darius.
- House of the Small Fountain (Regio VI) – the house takes its name from the richly decorated fountain in the house back. The fountain is decorated with shells and colorful mosaics and is surrounded by frescoes depicting beautiful landscape views. Please note that this house has opening times (generally from 9am to 1.30pm).
- Villa of the Mysteries (Regio VI) – this villa is unique: it’s richly decorated with ancient and impressive paintings that depict mysterious rites related to Dionysus. Extremely beautiful the female figures in the main room.
Side note about the Lupanar – this is the renowned brothel of Pompeii, decorated with explicit paintings depicting erotic scenes; it’s a small house where you can just pass through from one side to the other without having the time to stop by and observe the details of the decorations. It’s overcrowded and most of the times you need to wait in line your turn to get in. So my suggestion is: skip the Lupanar and see the decorations on your pc.
Book Pompeii tickets in advance – the excavations of Pompeii are visited every year by over 3 million people and there are long lines at the entrances. I booked online the tickets of Pompeii Ruins with Italy Travel.
Plan your visit – plan the day and what to see in advance to save time; you may download the free official map here and the official English guide book here. Please note that some sites have opening times, that you should check when entering by asking at the ticket office.
Wear comfortable shoes and bring water – under the Pompeii sun you burn: wear hiking, or very comfortable shoes, because you have to walk a lot on irregular walking surface; bring with you lots of water, that you may refill at the fountains inside; bring sunscreen and a hat to protect from the burning sun.