Italy: Visiting Vesuvius and Pompeii
by Rick Steves
The ancient city of Pompeii -- famously ruined in A.D. 79 when mighty Mount Vesuvius blew its top -- is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions. Few visitors make it to the top of the towering volcano, but those who do enjoy a commanding view.
You can get to Vesuvius with a train/bus/hike journey. You start by riding a rickety but reliable commuter train from Naples or Sorrento (because it circles under Vesuvius, the train is called the Circumvesuviana). From the Pompeii stop, a shuttle van takes you up the volcano to the end of the road and ticket booth (
Belly up to the crater's edge. Steaming vents are a reminder that while Vesuvius is quiet today, it's just taking a geological nap. The last eruption was in 1944, and it's only a matter of when, not if, it will erupt again. Italian authorities close Vesuvius to visitors when they think the volcano is acting too frisky.
A hike around the crater's lip comes with spectacular vistas of Naples, its sweeping bay, and Pompeii. Be still. Listen to the wind and the occasional cascade of rocks tumbling into the crater. As you observe wisps of smoldering steam, imagine the scene nearly 2,000 years ago, when Vesuvius sent a mushroom cloud of ash, dust, and rocks 12 miles into the sky. For 18 hours straight, spewed ash settled like a heavy snow on Pompeii. Most of the city's 20,000 residents fled as roofs and floors began collapsing.
But then, suddenly, the eruption changed. A red-hot avalanche of rock and ash raced down the mountainside at nearly 100 miles per hour. Pompeii and the 2,000 unlucky souls who had stayed behind were buried, leaving their bodies encased in volcanic debris. As the bodies decomposed, they left hollow spaces. Centuries later, archaeologists detected these spaces and gently filled them with plaster, creating molds that chillingly capture their anguished last moments.
Today, ongoing excavations of once-booming Pompeii offer the best look at ancient Roman life anywhere. Back then, Rome controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea, and Pompeii was an important, big port town. Not rich, not poor, Pompeii was middle class. And because it was a port, it was a sailor's quarter, with lots of bars, public baths, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment.
The best way to understand Pompeii is to walk the site; the entry fee is
There were no posh neighborhoods in Pompeii. The well-off and not-so-well-off mixed it up as elegant houses existed side by side with simpler homes. Pompeii's best-preserved dwelling is the
One of Pompeii's most impressive aspects is how abundant water was. In this well-plumbed city, lead pipes funneled water from an aqueduct-fed reservoir at the high end of town directly to neighborhood water tanks. With the tanks installed just below the level of the reservoir, gravity did the work -- and ensured good water pressure. Fountains provided a social center at street intersections, and a steady stream of water flushed the chariot-rutted streets clean. Pompeii's citizens enjoyed relaxing at its impressive public baths.
For archaeologists, Pompeii was a shake-and-bake windfall. They first got to work at the site back in the 1700s -- before Italy was united. The local king who ruled from Naples demanded: "Bring me the best of whatever you find!" That's why, as impressive as the ancient city is, the finest art and artifacts of Pompeii ended up back in Naples, at the
For lovers of antiquity, this museum by itself makes Naples a worthwhile stop. Considering how important the collection is, it's remarkable how ramshackle the displays are. But look past the dust bunnies -- the museum offers the best possible peek into the art of Pompeii. The collection ranges from grand statuary and exquisite mosaics to the most intimate details of everyday life. All the artifacts are a testament to the ultimate irony of Vesuvius: Even as the volcano's fury destroyed Pompeii, it also preserved most of what the world knows about this ancient town.
In Naples, Grand Hotel Europa is a gem located near the train station (moderate, www.grandhoteleuropa.com). In Sorrento (south of Pompeii), Ulisse Deluxe Hotel is the best cheap deal in town and convenient to the station (budget, www.ulissedeluxe.com).
Your best bet is to pack your own lunch before visiting Vesuvius or Pompeii. Otherwise, a restaurant at the Pompeii site serves edible sandwiches, pizza, and pasta, and a few mediocre restaurants cluster between the entrance and the train station.
- Top 10 Airlines: In-flight Internet
- Most Hashtagged Cities On Instagram
- Planning Your European Vacation Itinerary
- Europe's Best Public Squares
- The Peninsula Paris at a Glance
- Chateaux-Hopping Near Paris
- The Artistic Draw of France
- Alsace: Europe's Cultural Hybrid
- Languedoc: France's Hidden Corner
- France's Burgundy: Wine, Barging, and Beyond
- Nice: Capital City of the French Riviera
- Vibrant Vienna
- Another Golden Age for Amsterdam
- Berlin Germany Reborn
- Germany's Ultimate Christmas Market: Nutcracker Sweet
- Germany's Undiscovered Erfurt
- Denmark: Going Beyond Copenhagen
- 10 Great European Seaside Escapes
- Beyond Barcelona
- The Allure of Cordoba, Spain
- A Blitz Tour of Madrid
- The Joy of First-Time Cruising
- Italy: Visiting Vesuvius and Pompeii
- Italy's Civita di Bagnoregio: Jewel on the Hill
- Northern Tuscany: Volterra and San Gimignano
- Italy's Cinque Terre Revisited
- Despite Changes Venice Still Charms
- Sleeping Alternatives: Bunking with the Locals
- The Queen's English: Brilliant and Baffling
- Walk Across Prague
- Taking Europe Slow, With Limited Mobility
- Exploring the Past thru Europe's Folk Museums
- Road Trip: Driving in Europe
- O'er the Ramparts: Castles in Great Britain
- Cheers to Britain's Oldest University Towns
- England's Past Comes Alive
- East London: Early Winner in the Olympics
- Norway: From Peaks to Ports
- Photography Tips for Vacation Travelers
- Tips for Riding Europe's Subways and Buses
- The Best and Worst of Europe
- European Bed and Breakfasts
- Finding Great Art in Europe's Smaller Museums
- Digital Maps Make Navigating Europe a Breeze
- Croatia's Past Lives On in Modern-Day Split
- Mixing Cruising with Independent Travel
- Enjoying Europe on a Big-Bus Tour
- Time Travel on Rome's Ancient Appian Way
- Germany's Rhine River: Raging with History
- Great Sights in Dresden Germany
- Making The Most of Your European Vacation
- Going Local in Europe: Easier Than You Think
- Avoiding Lines: The Long and the Short of It
- Preparing For Your European Adventure
- Thrill-Seeking Vactions in Europe
- Mykonos: A Greek Island Treasure
- The Bright Side Of Greece
- The Cobbled Charms of Cesky Krumlov
- Europe: Cruising Through the Back Door
- Pack Light, Even for a Cruise
- What's New in France
- What's New in Great Britain
- What's New in Italy
- Literary London Celebrates Shakespeare
Article: Copyright © 2017, Tribune Media Services Inc.
Vacations & Travel "Italy: Visiting Vesuvius and Pompeii "