You could say that there are actually two different cities called Pompeii. Of the more famous of the two, only ruins remain, having been buried under a huge layer of ash and lava some two thousand years ago. This ancient city is located on the territory of the current city, which has the same name (except for being spelled with only one final i, but would hardly be visited by tourists were it not for the ruins.
All about Pompei
Town hall: P.zza Bartolo Longo, 36 – 80045, Pompei (NA). Tel. +39 0818576111. Area code: 081. Postal code: 80045. The city has the following suburbs: Mariconda, Messigno, Ponte Nuovo, Treponti, Fontanelle, Parrelle, Ponte Izzo, Ponte Persica, Fossavalle and Chiesa della Giuliana.
By car/public transportation
By car: The motorway A3 between Naples and Salerno passes through Pompeii. From the capital take the A1 motorway to the south, then follow the Naples ring road until you reach the exit for the A3. A slower road is the SS18 (Tirreno Inferiore), which connects Naples with the southern tip of the Italian boot.
By train: There are regular regional trains from Naples to Pompeii, but if all you are interested in is the excavations, you should use the Circumvesuviana train. From Rome, the easiest way to reach Pompeii is to take the train to Naples and then the so-called Circumvesuviano train to Pompeii itself. The trip will take between 1 and a half and 3 and a half hours, depending on the kind of train you take and it will cost you between 12 and almost 50 Euros.
The train schedule can be found on the Trenitalia website, which is rather user-unfriendly and does not give you all possible options straightaway, so after the first search result comes up make sure to click on “tutte le soluzioni“.
A brief history of Pompeii
The history of Pompeii is almost entirely dominated by the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius, which buried the city under a thick layer of lava in the year 79. After this the area was only sparsely inhabited until the present town was founded in the 19th century.
Pompeii was founded by the Oscans and during the first years of its existence conquered successively by the Etruscans (an excavated necropolis from the 6th century still shows traces of this), by the Greek colony Cumae, and by the Samnites.
After the Samnite wars (5th century BCE), Pompeii was forced to adopt the status of socium of Rome. The city did retain its administrative independence.
In 89 B.C., after General Lucius Cornelius Sulla’s incorporation into the Roman Republic, Pompeii’s infrastructure was greatly improved.
Pompeii finally became a colony of the Roman Empire in 80 BC, under the name Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeianorum.
In ancient times, Pompeii was closer to the coast than it is today. The city was considered an important port from which goods arriving by sea were transported further along the Via Appia to Rome or southern Italy.
The earth around Pompeii was very fertile and agriculture and oil and wine production were very important.
August 24th, 79 AD
Pompeii was buried and frozen in time Aug. 24, 79. The scavi expose the minute details of daily life, through inscriptions and graffiti on doors and walls, and even on wine jugs.
Many Romans had their vacation villas in Pompeii which at the time of the eruption probably had about 20,000 inhabitants. The volcanic eruption is thought to have killed about two thousand people.
It was not the first time the city had been hit by nature’s destructive powers.
Pompeii’s inhabitants were used to small earthquakes but on Feb. 5, 62, an earthquake caused significant damage to the bay and especially to Pompeii. Fires broke out, and many buildings were damaged during the ensuing panic and chaos.
Two sacrifices had been planned for that day, one for the anniversary of Augustus’ appointment as “Father of the Nation”, and one, rather ironically, to honor the city’s guardian spirits.
Although in the intervening years repair work had taken place, not all damage had been repaired yet when the famous eruption took place in the year 79 and the entire city was destroyed.
After the quake
It took 15 centuries before a few ruins were discovered by chance. After this, it took two more centuries before organized excavations began (1748).
The area, which was also inhabited in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, became almost completely depopulated when the area around the Sarno River turned into an unhealthy, swampy ground.
Towards the end of the 19th century, a new settlement arose around the Santuary founded in 1873 by Bartolo Longo where an effigy of the Vergine del Rosario is preserved and which has become one of Italy’s most famous pilgrimage destinations.
Although the area is very fertile, thanks to the volcanic soil, agriculture has increasingly had to give way to industry. Thanks to the Santuario della Vergine del Rosario and of course the excavations of the ancient city, the region is largely dependent on tourism as a source of income.
What to see in Pompeii
Until ancient Pompeii was destroyed, it was a flourishing port. Because the solidified lava ensured that the ruins were well preserved, the (still far from finished) excavations show exactly what an ancient Roman city must have looked like. The second major attraction is the Santuario della Beata Vergine del Rosario.
A claim could be made that the biggest tourist attraction of the city is not in Pompeii itself, but in Naples. The National Archaeological Museum is where you can see most of the artworks, frescoes, statues and other objects found at the excavations.