Pompeii: A Moment Frozen in Time

On December 5, 2013 by Oren and Cassie

Do you know what it’s like to walk through an ancient Roman town that was frozen in time in 79 AD? Unless you have your DeLorean prepped and ready to go, visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii, Herculaneum or Oplontis is as close as you’re going to get to time travel. Most people have read about or at least heard of Pompeii. But, we found that even the small ruins of Oplontis had their own charm. The eruption of Vesuvius blanketed all of these sites in a thick layer of ash, preserving one terrifying moment in history.

versuvius-pompeii

Vesuvius towers over the cities it destroyed.

THE RUINS OF POMPEII

pompeii-petrified-mother

The final moment of a mother-to-be.

We took the train to Pompeii Villa Misteri and the train literally dropped us off in front of the entrance to Pompeii. We’d been warned about the crowds that made it impossible to enjoy the ruins in summer, but on a rainy day in late November, Pompeii was nearly empty. It felt like the ghost town that it truly is. One of the most famous pictures of Pompeii is a petrified woman who died with her hands to her face, the stomach that held her unborn child plainly visible. To see this in person is more than powerful. It is ghastly. In the last moments of her life, this unnamed expectant mother did everything she could to protect her baby. You see a mother’s greatest love and her worst fear all at once. Maybe in that final instant she was holding back tears, realizing there was nothing she could do.

Make sure to see the public baths and the amphitheatre, still impressive after all these centuries. For something a bit off-color, check out the ancient brothel with its erotic frescos on the walls. We definitely got a kick out of it, especially when we overheard a tourguide ask “What is the world’s oldest profession?” Hmmmm….yeah. Also, be sure to hop, skip or jump across the ancient crosswalks of the city. These raised stones allowed people to move throughout the city on foot, keeping their shoes clean. Oh, and it’s definitely worth buying a map of the site for 2 euros so you don’t get lost.

pompeii-crosswalk

An ancient crosswalk… and Cassie.

THE LUXURY OF OPLONTIS

The Torre Annunziata Oplonti train stop is just one over from Pompeii. This is the least touristy of the three locations but it was our favorite. It has such little signage, it may be a bit difficult to find. After getting off the train leave the train station and take an immediate left. Walk to the end of the street and turn right. Walk for a few blocks and then you’ll see a fenced in sunken area on your left. This is Oplontis (Oplonti). The area was a villa, said to belong to Nero’s wife, Poppaea Sabina.

oplontis-from-above

Oplontis from above.

The luxury here is evident. Well-preserved frescoes cover the walls in rich colors. Oplontis was closer to a palace than a home. We spent about 2 hours wandering around the rooms and the courtyard. The villa was buried with the rest of the ruins in the 79 AD eruption, but no one is thought to have been there at the time since no bones have been recovered. The site was only recently excavated and there are very few descriptions or markers around the site. But, in my opinion, it is an extremely enchanting ancient site and absolutely worth the visit.

HERCULANEUM BY THE SEA

Our final stop was visiting the ruins at Herculaneum, so we hopped off the train at the Ercolano Scavi stop. The town, founded in the 6th century BC, was located right near the water. As you walk the streets, you can easily imagine what daily life would be like for people living here. We picked up a small, free guide with detailed information about key ruins within the town, which helped us a lot as we navigated through the streets.

herculaneum-restaurant

Lunch anyone? So many jugs to choose from.

My favorite ruins were that of the eateries and restaurants throughout Herculaneum. Most people in that time ate lunch out and these restaurants served buffet-style meals in huge ceramic jars. The jars are still very well-preserved and still sitting in the buffet-style design. Another key discovery at this site happened in 1980. The skeletons of more than 150 people were found in the ancient boathouses at the waterfront. It is thought that during the volcanic eruption, these people decided to hide in the vaults instead of escaping into the sea. Their remains can be seen today when the boathouse doors are open.

GETTING TO POMPEII AND THE RUINS

If you plan to visit any of these ancient ruins, the best way to get there is by train starting from Naples. After arriving at the Naples train station, you need to find the Napoli-Sorrento line. This is a special line through the private company Circumvesuviana. Follow signs for this train line and stop at the Circumvesuviana information desk.

Hopefully, the man at the desk will be the same witty and helpful character we met. Tell him you want to go to Pompeii Villa Misteri. He will give you a train map and timetable. This will include the stops for Herculaneum and Oplontis as well as other ancient ruins. Buy and validate your train ticket and hop on the blue line toward Sorrento.

pompeii-main-entrance

The main entrance to Pompeii.

TICKET OPTIONS

If you plan to visit more than one site, the most budget-friendly option is to buy the 3-day global ticket, which includes entry to five of the ancient sites: Pompeii, Herculaneum, Oplontis, Stabia, and Antiquarium of Boscoreale.

It costs 20 euro. Visitors cannot enter the same site twice, but even if you only see two major sites (Pompeii and Herculaneum), the global ticket saves you a euro or two. If you have the time and are interested in seeing more than Pompeii, definitely take advantage of the global ticket.

Check out our Pompeii photo gallery.

-C.K.

One Response to “Pompeii: A Moment Frozen in Time”

  • I have never been to Pompeii. And somehow I don’t often see the travelers’ stories from there. Thanks for the info. The image of a petrified woman is so powerful! and Vesuvius’ missing top tells everything…
    I’d love to see more photos.

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