The archaeological ruins of Pompeii are among the most visited attractions in Italy, welcoming millions of visitors every year. A guided Pompeii tour with an archaeologist is sure to introduce you to all the main attractions inside the ancient city. Seeing how popular the ruins are, particularly during the summer months, you might be wondering if there are any hidden gems left to explore in the area.
The simple answer is yes, there most certainly are! This guide will introduce you to the best hidden gems awaiting you in the area surrounding Pompeii. Don't hesitate to contact our hand-selected local guides to arrange an immersive tour of these hidden attractions.
While everyone who is headed to this region of Italy has heard of Pompeii, surprisingly few are aware of its close neighbor, Herculaneum. Located about a 20 minute drive from the Pompeii ruins, Herculaneum was also once a thriving Roman city. Like its more famous counterpart, it was also buried under a thick layer of ash during the 79 CE eruption of Vesuvius. Considering how famous Pompeii has since become, it might come as a surprise that Herculaneum was actually the first Roman city buried by Vesuvius to be discovered. Herculaneum was discovered in 1709, followed by Pompeii in 1748.
So what makes Herculaneum worth visiting? For a start, the city has been remarkably well preserved. In fact, Herculaneum is arguably even better preserved than Pompeii. The ash that covered the city carbonized several organic objects, including those made from wood and papyrus. The ash even preserved some food items! What's more, Herculaneum offers a more intimate look at life in ancient Rome, whereas Pompeii is a testament to a more lavish lifestyle. The fact that Herculaneum’s remains are far less crowded than those of Pompeii is simply the icing on the cake.
Miguel Hermoso Cuesta, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
While the Archaeological Park of Pompeii is home to several famous villas displaying the extravagant lifestyle of the Romans, far fewer people are familiar with the villas of Oplontis. This ancient Roman city turned archaeological site is located less than five kilometers from Pompeii. It is home to two Roman villas which were preserved under volcanic ash for centuries until being rediscovered at the end of the 1500s. Remarkably, a proper excavation of the villas were not initiated until the 1960s. Compared to Pompeii, the two Oplontis villas were more impacted by the volcanic eruption, with walls, columns, and roofs having collapsed as a result.
The villas of Oplontis are simply known as Villa A and Villa B. Of the two, Villa A is the more famous one and is often referred to as Villa Poppaea. The oldest parts of the villa are thought to date all the way back to 50 BCE. This was a lavishly decorated villa that is thought to have still been under construction during Vesuvius's fateful eruption, as several tools have been discovered on the premises. Villa B is more modest in comparison and unlike its counterpart, this house was occupied during the eruption, with 54 human remains having been discovered on site.
AlMare, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Stabiae was once a seaside Roman settlement housing beautifully designed villas. Located about five kilometers from Pompeii, Stabiae has become an important archaeological site, though it still remains under most travelers' radar. The villas of Stabiae are most notable for their impressive artistic and architectural features. Several artifacts discovered in the villas have since been transported to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, which is also a great addition to any Pompeii itinerary.
Many villas have been discovered among the ruins of Stabiae. Two of them are open to visitors. Villa San Marco is one of the largest houses to have been discovered in the area. This impressive structure covers some 11,000 square meters and was extravagantly decorated with mosaic floors and frescoes, including some impressive work adorning the villa's baths. Besides Villa San Marco, you can also visit Villa Arianna which features some of the most impressive Roman frescoes found anywhere in the area.
Archaeological Park of Pausilypon
Salvatore Capuano, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Archaeological Park of Pausilypon is a fascinating historical site set in a stunning location. It is located on a dramatic headland overlooking the Gulf of Naples on the outer edge of Naples. The entrance to the site alone is impressive. Visitors arrive through the Grotta di Seiano, a near 800-meter-long tunnel built by the ancient Romans. Interestingly, the tunnels were used as air raid shelters during World War II, before being made into the official access point to the archeological park in 2009.
Once you exit the tunnel, you will encounter the well-preserved ruins of an ancient Roman villa called Pausilypon. This Greek word loosely translates as "what makes pain disappear" and can be considered a testament to the building's stunning surroundings. The archaeological park also features an amphitheater which can seat 2,000 people. Being a more obscure site to visit (and more challenging to get to), we definitely recommend visiting Pausilypon with a private guide.
Associazione Culturale Borbonica Sotterranea, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The Bourbon Tunnel goes under most travelers' radar - literally. This is a historic underground tunnel system built beneath the streets of Naples. The tunnels were originally built in the 1800s during the rule of King Ferdinand II of Bourbon. At the time, the crown was wary of a revolution and decided to build secret passageways to escape from the Royal Palace of Naples in case of an uprising. Later on during World War II, the same tunnels were used to protects citizens from bombings.
After the war, the Bourbon Tunnel was used to store eclectic objects and debris, with old cars and obscure war time paraphernalia still scattered throughout the passageways. Today, the tunnels are open to the public. Guided tours are the best way to get the full effect and understand the historic importance of these imposing structures buried deep underground.
The ruins of Pompeii are among the most important archaeological sites in the world. It's little wonder then that so many people dream of visiting this fabled location. If you are looking for a more under-the-radar setting, there are luckily some hidden gems waiting to be discovered in the area as well.
The easiest way to make the most of your trip to Pompeii is to tour the area with a private guide. A private tour allows you to explore the area to the fullest without having to waste any time worrying about schedules or logistics. Connect with our guides today to start planning your trip!