Sunday, April 30, 2017

A day exploring Scavi di Pompei

While Naples on its own turned out to be a delight, the key reason for me to visit Naples was to explore the neighbouring ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii was lost in the 79 AD volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius, that claimed not just Pompeii but also the settlements of Herculaneum, Oplontis and Stabiae.

This vibrant city was lost for 1500 years and was unearthed in 1599 when digging of an underground channel to divert the river Sarno ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions. However, intentional excavations only began in 1748 and honestly haven't ended. It has been a popular tourist destination for over 250 years now and attracts millions of visitors every year.

Scavi di Pompei lie just 45 minutes from the modern city of Naples. The metro took us back to Garbaldi station where we walked over to the Circumvesuviana platforms to board the train for Pompeii. Circumvesuviana trains are not part of the national Trenitalia network, so they have their own ticketing system. Tickets are inexpensive on this line and don’t require advance purchase or reservations, and the trains are all slow, regional trains.

The train to Sorrento, that would take us to Pompeii, runs every 30 minutes, so if you  miss one - there would be a long wait for  the next. The ride to Pompei Scavi-Villa dei Misteri was about 40 minutes long and since we had started after peak hour, we didn't find the train too crowded or uncomfortable.

It is a very short walk from the station to the entrance of the Pompeii site. There are two platforms at the Pompeii station, one for each direction of trains. The Pompei Scavi station is very small, though there is a bar and an information desk as well as restrooms available. There are a number of sit-down restaurants nearby to cater to the Pompeii tourists, though most are rather overpriced.

As soon as we got off the train, we came across a tour agency that runs guided tours in English (and other languages) for the excavation site. I decided to sign us up for same as I was advised by a friend to take a guided tour if possible. Luckily for us, the tour was about to commence in 5 minutes - so we quickly paid up 12 Euros per head and joined the group. The guide led us to the ticketing counter of the ruins where we paid another 13 Euros to gain access to the site. Within minutes, we were at the site.

The tour lasted for 2 hours and in that window, our guide could only take us through handful of the excavated structures. The ruins are spread over a huge area, there is a lot to look at and it can take all day to see everything. This is a walking site only and walking the old Roman stone roads can be quite exhausting. Even with cool weather, we were always looking for shade, not sure how bad it would be to see in summer. The old roads are uneven and have grooves in them where the carts ran, and the rocks are smooth and may be covered with fine sand. One needs good comfortable, footwear, sunscreen and hats.

After the tour, the group was left at the Forum - the exit closest to Forum leads to the train station. However, we chose to spend a few more hours at the site instead of heading back to Naples or visit Mt. Vesuvius. It was too early for the former and there simply wasn't enough time to do justice to the volcanic mountain that day. So we took out the map provided to us at the time of buying the ticket and continued to enjoy the ruins. In hindsight, I should have planned the visit better by doing some research online - it is just not possible to see everything in one day even if one has the energy to walk that much. It would have been better to select the sights upfront and map them out before landing at the archaeological site.

Below are some pictures that would provide some flavour of what to expect at Pompeii:

Quadrangle as we enter the site. The face is modern art and not a relic.

Small Theatre. Some of us stood in the middle and voiced a few words. Acoustics are amazing 

Larger Theatre -Theatre built in the hollow of a hill for acoustic advantage; it seated 5,000

A street in Pompeii. This runs north to south and would carry all waste water to river.  The sidewalks are higher than the modern sidewalk because the streets had water and waste flowing through them - they didn't have drains apparently

The big stones were used to cross the streets filled with waste water. The track marks show that one needed to use special local transport for goods. They would need to leave their own wagons outside the city

Thermopolium - literally "a place where (something) hot is sold. They could be simply take-away places or could have rooms in the back for service.

A large house. This one is Casa del Menandro

The two portions show that there was an existing city over which Naples was built. Which presumably had also vanished due to a former eruption of Mt Vesuvius

The wall below the brick is original, above is restored. One can find it happen vertically as well 

A common bath. Two levels- lower level for hot water

One of the 46 fountains used by regular folks for drinking water. Richer folks had water in their homes 

Mosaic on the streets.

Mosaic in the houses

The Amphitheatre of Pompeii is the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater and yes it's older than the Colosseum.  It was completed in 80 BC, measures 135 x 104 metres and could hold about 20,000 people. It was used for gladiator battles, other sports and spectacles involving wild animals.

No comments:

Post a Comment