Back in the days of middle school and high school I somehow thought it was a swell idea to take Latin instead of one of the other romance languages offered (Spanish, Italian, French). We explored the daily lives of a Roman family in the various editions of Ecce Romani! (Translates to “Look the Romans!”) and of course we touched upon the city of Pompeii. My Latin teacher even provided us with an English recording narrating the letter Pliny the younger wrote about the destruction. It was amazing seeing the site of the volcanic eruption in person! Guess what? This is also listed as a UNESCO World Site! I underestimated how large the actual site was but there’s a giant map of the grounds as you walk in. You could spend an entire day exploring, but it is unfortunately ruled by tour guides! There’s not much signage or support for you to go around at your own pace. Make sure you pack a water bottle and make your bathroom pit stop before hand as you’ll have difficulty finding one on site.
Johnny passed us off to the local tour guide Louisa, who was a tall, smiley, dark haired woman. She had a very cheery personality, however a strange penchant for calling our group her “babies” and “children”. (Keep in mind the demographic of our group was mostly retirees, grandparents, couples. Or some combination of those.) On such a hot day, she also wore jeans and a black cardigan to lead us through the Pompeii ruins for a few hours. To encourage us to keep going under the beating sun, she made a false patronizing promise.
“If you children are good, at the end of the tour we I will get us all some ice cream.”
Maybe she was joking the entire time, but I did not appreciate being deceived! The prices in the main restaurant area were also extremely expensive.
Louisa lead us through the main entrance way while competing in volume with other passionate tour guides (with no Whisper headset microphone) to a shaded area overlooking several columns with an open grassy field. She explained that it was mainly used for gladiatorial combat practice. How exciting!? It was like we were also reliving the dramatized version on the Spartacus TV Show. Those famous gladiators trained hard for 12+ hours a day to be in prime fighting shape for the performance in the theaters and stadiums. The next stop she showed us the “small” and “large” theater. The steps and seating were well preserved that we could easily walk up and down.
It’s amazing to see how well preserved all of the structures remained after the volcanic eruption froze the city in time. One of the prominent features we noticed through the city were holes on the ground. Louisa pointed out they were parking spots for the Romans to hitch their Chariot. There’s also uneven areas that were higher than others with stones. There would be flooding sometimes during the rainier months so shops and houses were elevated from the ground. In addition, there were pedestrian only walkways where chariots were not permitted. Of course no civilization is complete without their own rendition of phallic objects. The symbols on the ground actually directed the citizens and travelers to know where the brothels were located! One of the tour guides felt the need to point this out by a bottle of water on the symbol.
They even had restaurants in the town and Louisa noted that there were ovens and counter tops for patrons to dine. I was started to get very hungry at this point. I can’t tell you how much I sweated on that day. (Poor outfit choice – I look bald! Welp at least I didn’t need to slather on SPF since every inch of my body was covered.) I also decided then that I needed to get a hair cut badly once we returned from our honeymoon. We of course couldn’t visit Pompeii ruins without checking out the preserved bodies. The most haunting one I saw through the stalls was the one of the baby. They also had families and even pets! One of the most interesting stops, was at a wealthier Roman’s house. You could see intricate mosaic on the floor entrance. It took us almost 20 minutes to wait and see this since another tour group was hogging the spotlighted area! Yes it doesn’t look as impressive in the photo… Maybe it was more the anticipation.
Our last stop was the thermal baths! We also had to wait to enter as other tour groups occupied the space. We finally got a break from the beating sun. There were 3 separate rooms for a hot bath, cool bath and I believe a men only lounging area. The Romans were ingenious to figure out how to take advantage of the aqueducts, natural lighting, and dome architecture to conduct heat. I was dripping in sweat at this point so I would have jumped in the thermal baths myself. Louisa continued her ice cream charade even after the last stop to solicit tips. She left us disappointed and ice cream-less so we sought out Gelato in the restaurant area. Horrified by the prices we passed for this location. How sad no ice cream promised and no Gelato.
What a shame that Pompeii has become such a tourist trap altogether. We ordered a quick lunch from the pizza place. They fired up the expensive personal size pizza at €13 in the oven right behind the counter. It wasn’t the tastiest pizza compared to the one from Naples. To satiate our sweet tooth we shared a cannoli. We still had time to kill so Dana bought another hat similar to his own for his father from a street vendor. Afterwards we browsed the gift shop. There were several portions one for expensive artwork and regular trinkets. One of the employees handed us free samples of their flavored liqueur. We loved the melon and chocolate liqueur so we purchased a 2-pack and consumed the rest back at sad excuse for a hotel room.
Overall Pompeii is a must-see if you are interested in the history! Seeing the preserved ancient town is a sight to behold. However, you will need to find a way to schedule a tour or else you be lost. I suppose you could look up tons of guides beforehand to recognize what to look for. The maps are hard to come by so you could also get lost! It’s definitely uncomfortable to walk around in the middle of summer so I would recommend coming here off-season during the cooler months!
Rating: 3/5 ★★★
Average rating mostly due to our annoying and deceptive local tour guide. Plus not impressed with the overly touristy atmosphere. As a reader aptly pointed out Hurculaneum is also another excellent alternative to consider when visiting the ruins as a day trip!