The world-renowned ruins of Pompeii teleport visitors to the exact moment when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
On August 24, 79 AD, after centuries of dormancy, a cataclysmic eruption of Mount Vesuvius instantly buried the bustling Greco-Roman metropolis of Pompeii beneath a shower of ash and pumice. In just seconds, thousands of residents were instantly crushed, asphyxiated, or trapped alive under 9 feet of debris.
The following day, pyroclastic flow and heated gas engulfed the city, killing all remaining survivors sheltering in their homes or retreating to the nearby coast. An additional 9 feet of ash and volcanic rock covered the ruins of Pompeii in the days following the eruption of Vesuvius, turning the ancient city into a silent crypt. The exact death toll remains unknown.
For centuries, Pompeii remained buried beneath the towering shadow of Vesuvius, a wasteland of pumice and volcanic soil. In the late 16th century, the ruins were discovered by architect Domenico Fontana, and the beginning of a long and extensive excavation began in 1738. Archeological excavations of Pompeii are ongoing even today, and new artifacts, ruins, and bodies are still being uncovered from the ashy graveyard, which is now a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site treasured and acclaimed throughout Italy and across the globe.
Perfectly preserved for centuries, the maze-like ruins of Pompeii offer a poignant glimpse into life in southern Italy at the peak of the Roman Empire. Just beyond the outer walls of the city, an Antiquarium guides visitors through interpretive displays and houses fragile relics as well as haunting plaster casts of the mummified victims of Vesuvius’ sudden destruction. The city stretches a grand 2 miles in circumference, and around every corner, crumbling foundations of 2,000-year old homes line the ancient streets along with pillared temples, bath houses, gardens, and courtyards.
On the far side of the city, the oldest surviving Roman amphitheater appears virtually unscathed by the volcanic torrent of Vesuvius’ eruption. Likely constructed in 80 BC, the arena once seated 12,000 spectators for performances and gladiatorial events, and the space is still used today for small concerts.
One of the most decorated and well-preserved homes in Pompeii is the House of Menander, which once belonged to a wealthy merchant whose status is displayed opulently through frescoed interior walls, pillared walkways, and a spacious rear garden. A walk through the ancient theaters and homes of Pompeii is a solemn journey back in time to the city’s simple way of life just before one of the deadliest natural events in European history.
The ruins of Pompeii are open to the public, but those wishing to make the most of their time in Italy’s Lost City can also participate in guided tours of the archeological site as well as its neighboring volcano. The seven-hour Mount Vesuvius and Pompeii day trip from nearby Naples guides a small group through Pompeii and ends with a hike up to the crater of mighty Vesuvius.
For those looking to recharge after a day trip through the ancient city, the highly praised Varnelli Pizza Bistrot & Restaurant offers an array of pizza and pasta dishes with vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options just 5 to 10 minutes from the UNESCO site.
After almost three centuries, the city’s excavation continues to uncover the grandeur that once was Pompeii, a tragic modern-day time capsule of civilization lost. A trip to the Gulf of Naples wouldn’t be complete without a quiet and reflective tour of the Pompeii ruins, where time will forever stand still among the entombed city streets beneath the looming presence of Mount Vesuvius.