For anyone who loves history or has ever dreamed of becoming an archaeologist, visiting the ancient city of Pompeii is an absolute must. Located about 250 kilometers south of Rome, Pompeii was famously buried under several meters of volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE. The ash helped preserve the city to a stunning extent, making it one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Today, Pompeii's ruins offer a fascinating look at life in ancient Rome, the city eternally frozen at the exact moment Vesuvius erupted.
In this article, we will introduce 7 attractions you simply must include in your Pompeii itinerary. You can explore the ancient city and all its fascinating landmarks with one of our private guides who will be able to give you a deeper understanding of the city than any guide book ever will.
The forum was once the main square of the city. It is only fitting then that it continues to be the most crowded place in Pompeii, as this is where all the tour groups and visitors gather right after entering through the main gate. Back in the day, all life in Pompeii revolved around this central square, be it political, religious, or cultural. Today, it is one of the best-preserved Roman forums found anywhere in the world. The central square is lined by many of Pompeii's most notable buildings, including temples dedicated to Apollo and Jupiter.
Villa of the Mysteries
This evocatively named structure stands on the outer edge of Pompeii. Whereas much of Pompeii was excavated during the 18th century, the Villa of the Mysteries was brought to light as late as 1909. This is a well-preserved Roman villa which takes it curious name from the famous frescoes which adorn its walls. The paintings are thought to depict a young woman's initiation into a cult known as the Dionysian Mysteries.
Temple of Apollo
The Temple of Apollo is thought to have been built in 120 BCE, making it one of the earliest temples to be erected in Pompeii. The temple was dedicated to Apollo, a Greek and Roman god. Apollo was considered to be the god of music, truth, light, healing, and poetry (among other things), as well as being one of the only gods to retain the same name in both Roman and Greek traditions. The temple is located adjacent to the forum and it's characterized by its 48 imposing columns. Inside the temple you will find a marble altar with Latin inscriptions alluding to the magistrates who first dedicated the temple to the gods.
Lupanar is one of the more scandalous sites to visit in Pompeii. These are the ruins of an ancient Roman brothel, "lupanar" being the Latin word for brothel or wolf den. Whereas early historians were generally reluctant to even discuss the brothel let alone study the suggestive art found inside the building, it has now become one of Pompeii's most visited attractions. Research also suggests that back in the day, there used to be quite a bit of pedestrian traffic just outside the brothel, making this one of the livelier parts of ancient Pompeii. The lupanar is now most famous for the erotic paintings and graffiti which still adorn its stone walls.
This impressive stone structure located on the outer edge of the city is one of the oldest surviving Roman amphitheaters found anywhere in the world. The amphitheater was originally built around the year 70 BCE, which also makes it one of the earliest structures of its kind to be built from stone. The structure is impressive for its sheer size alone, measuring 135 meters long and over 100 meters wide. In its heyday, the amphitheater was used as an arena for large-scale entertainment. This included gladiatorial fights, with posters painted on the arena's walls depicting the nicknames and catchphrases of popular fighters. Though the building is now most notable for its archaeological value, it has also been used to host concerts. Everyone from Pink Floyd to Frank Sinatra have played at the Pompeii amphitheater.
The Garden of the Fugitives
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Garden of the Fugitives is one of the most moving sites in Pompeii, providing heartbreaking insight into the devastation caused by the fateful eruption. This is where you will find the cast images of 13 victims lost to the tragic explosion of Vesuvius. When the victims were originally found in 1961, they were first only visible as hollow cavities in the hardened ash, their actual bodies having long since decomposed. The figures that now reside in the Garden of the Fugitives were created by pouring plaster of Paris into those cavities. The 13 victims include both adults and children, with their forms now frozen in time trying to escape the eruption's wake.
House of the Faun
The House of the Faun is named after the dancing faun statue which graces the building's courtyard. The statue is a replica, with the original housed in the National Archaeological Museum in the city of Naples. Similarly, many of the building's most important artworks, including the impressive Alexander Mosaic, have been transported to the Neapolitan museum. Don't let this dissuade you from visiting the House of the Faun though, even without the original artwork, this impressive structure is still one of the best-preserved luxury estates to have survived from the Roman period. It has even been said that this building provides more insight into how wealthy Romans lived than any of the relics found in Rome itself.
The archaeological ruins of Pompeii are spread over a large area. The well-preserved site offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the ancient Romans. Besides the most obvious landmarks, there are so many finer details here which you can easily miss unless you have a knowledgeable guide to point them out for you. If you want to make the most of your visit to Pompeii and forgo all of the stress, talk to one of our local guides. Private tours of Pompeii are the best way to make history truly come alive!