During our holiday to southern Italy, which included our adventures in Capri, we made sure we set aside time to take a day trip to Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius, which I discovered during my visit is mainland Europe’s only active volcano!
Pompeii visitor top tips
Pompeii is located south of Naples, Italy and we got the train there early as we’d heard there isn’t much shade and didn’t want to be walking around in the midday heat. However, this amazing archaeological site is so popular that there was still a great deal of activity even at that time. Pompeii top – visitors under 25 get in for a discounted price, so make sure you have ID on you if you fall into this bracket!
Visiting Pompeii – what to expect
Even though there isn’t a great deal left of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Pompeii is still stunning. You’re able to actually explore the structures that are left and the sheer size of the city takes your breath away.
As soon as you walk into the first building you are transported into what feels like another world. Beautifully intricate mosaics adorn a lot of the walkways in the more prestigious houses and buildings – I felt bad for walking over something so stunning.
In the Forum (town square), there were several huge barn-like buildings full of artefacts that had been excavated from the site, even an ancient measuring system which I thought was genius! I was amazed that most of it was completely intact, but because of the lack of air and moisture in the layers of ash that engulfed the city so long ago, a lot of the objects that lay beneath were well preserved.
Even though excavation began in 1748, more than a third of the site is still to be excavated and we saw several digs in progress as we walked round.
Are the bodies in Pompeii real?
The amphitheatre and colosseum were incredible structures and so intricately built. There was an exhibition inside the colosseum, which depicted the first excavations made by Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre in 1748. It housed several plaster cast bodies of people who died in the eruption – sorry to tell you, but all the bodies you see are copies, not the real thing. Even so, seeing them like that was actually really moving.
Getting to Mt Vesuvius
After we’d got a glimpse of the scale of damage Mt Vesuvius had caused it was time to visit the volcano itself. As you might imagine, Mount Vesuvius is pretty hard going to get to, but I never thought the experience would be so hilarious!
We got the shuttle bus from Pompeii station to the base of the volcano where we swapped to a more heavy-duty bus. The wheels were as tall as me and each bus was painted in an army green. I thought this was a bit much, but as soon as we set off to the halfway point I realised why such robust vehicles were needed.
A bumpy drive
The road was the bumpiest I had ever travelled – you really did need your seatbelt fastened as we were literally being thrown out of our seats for every one of the 30 minutes it took to get to the drop-off point. The road wound its way up the almost sheer face of the volcano and it seemed the only way the drivers had found to combat the steepness was with speed. So off we thundered up the still active volcano, which incidentally, is overdue its next eruption. We stopped every now and then at designated passing places as other huge busses whizzed past, then off we lolloped again.
Hiking to the summit of Mt Vesuvius
The buses only take you so far and then you have to walk to the summit, which takes about 20 minutes. In my opinion, it’s a pretty moderate hike, so most people can get there without too much trouble.
Once there our guide took us over to the crater and told us what we were looking at was created in the 1944 eruption and is 600m in depth and 300m across. During the tragically famous Pompeii eruption of August 24th 79 AD, a 900 degree cloud of gas and pumice was ejected at a rate of 1.5 million tons per second from it and buried the city of Pompeii under six meters of ash and debris.
Could Mt Vesuvius erupt again?
Our guide also mentioned that they are waiting for the infamous volcano’s next eruption – something we were told over and over again, by everyone. Very comforting, I have to say. He explained that there are actually almost 300 quakes a year which show at less than one on the Richter scale and apparently experts think that the next quake will force an eruption from the side. It seems however, that there are several plans in place ready for when this finally does happen (and it’s a when, not an if!) so our guide wasn’t worried!
Visiting Pompeii and Mt Vesuvius – costs and opening times
For more information on opening times and entry costs for Pompeii visit http://www.pompeiisites.org/ and for Mt Vesuvius you can head to http://www.vesuvioinrete.it/visiting-mt-vesuvius.htm.