A few days before, I contacted our driving company knowing they arranged tours, and despite an initial hiccup, they were able to secure a guide for a two plus hour private tour of the ruins.
It was such a great experience. Despite being older than the Roman Colosseum (founded in the 7th or 6th century BC), the 1500 years under volcanic ash went a long way in preserving it and you truly felt like you were stepping back in time.
Two hours seemed like a generous enough time for a tour, but if we ever go back, I'd love to set aside an entire day as there is just so much to explore. Parts of it were extremely crowded, but curiously enough that actually enhanced the experience: it felt like a bustling city!
Other areas were more isolated and gave off a beautiful but eerie vibe
There's really no rhyme or reason to my order in the below pictures. I just wanted to share and highlight some interesting tid-bits we learned from our guide. For anyone that is wondering, YES, I definitely had the "Pompeii" song running through my head all day! ("...and if you close your eyes...").
Our guide was great. He actually used to be a "restorer" and had hands on experience cleaning up excavated items from the site. He met us close to the Colosseum - it was about 150 years older than the one we saw in Rome and much simpler in design. There were less efficient entrances, no subfloor, and the areas where animals entered were much smaller.
We were also interested to see that they were able to find ancient grape seeds and brought the vineyard back to life! Apparently there are wine tours here and you can do a tasting! Next time...
As we made our way to the heart of the city, he explained that you could tell the difference between the ancient shops and homes by the width of the doorway. The wide ones indicated that it was a store, while the smaller ones indicated that it was once a home.
Restored street signs:
One of the more shocking things to discover was that so much of the original paint colors were preserved
In fact, the red signs above were ancient political signs. Apparently it was an election year and the fact that they were still up and not painted over with something else helped researchers nail down the time of the eruption.
The pottery painted in the pic above tells us that yep - this was once a pottery store.
Another shocking fact to us was that what were were seeing was only a portion of the entire city. They ran out of funding so the excavation just dead-ends as shown above. Who knows what else they will find if they keep on digging? Unfortunately, it's harder to get money for Pompeii because it's so far away from the more popular tourist attractions in Florence and Rome. Our guide laughed when asked about the Trevi fountain renovation in Rome. He said it was last done about 15 years ago and the reno is more of a PR move than anything else - it isn't needed just yet. You could definitely sense the bitterness that more effort and resources were not put into restoring this place. There is currently no excavation happening and no real plans for it. Sad.
We loved the glimpses into what daily life was like and how the city was engineered. Waste exited the homes and would pour into the streets which actually doubled as the drainage/sewage system (most of the roads sloped in a certain direction to carry the waste away). The streets themselves were constructed to be the width of wagons and sidewalks were set up for keeping the people out of the filth.
There were also stepping stones to allow citizens to cross the street without getting dirty - note that there is enough spacing to allow carts to get through:
Ancient fountain which has been restored and works! Tom actually filled his water bottle with this and gave it a thumbs down. Not very tasty, ha (clearly the spicket is NOT original).
Drain in fountatin that pours the extra water into the street and help disperse of the waste:
(Our guide) and an ancient "fast food" stand - Thermopolium :
Shelves and food storage at the stand:
Hot food system for serving - the opening at the end of the counter would have held a fire which would keep the containers hot to warm.
We also toured some of the homes. Again, we were so impressed that much of the original painting and murals were intact:
The homes typically had square openings in the roofs that allowed the rain water to be collected in the wells below. The excess would run off into the streets.
Backyard courtyard in one of the wealthy homes
Remains of what are thought to be looters or Roman excavators (based on their tools). These men had the roof collapse on them and no way to escape (they know that based on the crushed chests).
Tom owning the city :)
Ancient Bakery (the grinder is in the middle and would have had wooden poles that you would use to turn the dial and make flour...the oven is in the back)
Lockers and tub:
You can see the small space in the walls which allowed hot air to circulate and keep the rooms warm.
One of the more popular sites there was the brothel. There are actually several but this is the most popular. It was full of naughty pictures and graffiti :)
Graffiti ("for a good time call" or even reviews of the prostitute left behind by satisfied or unsatisfied visitors. You can see she didnt like some of the reviews because they are crossed out!)
What is believed to be some sort of "menu":
One of the more moving areas of the city, was "the garden of the fugitives" where 13 bodies were found preserved. It seems to depict a family trapped in time.
We discovered that in fact, many people were able to flee the city before it was too late. It took quite a while for the toxic gases to hit the city but unlike today where our money and stocks are easily accessed no matter where we go, the vast majority of the victims were the wealthy who took too long collecting their valuables or their slaves who stayed behind to guard the homes. Many other citizens however, were able to flee.
The common/public areas were actually some of the least preserved parts of the city. Because it was a part of the Roman empire and a public place, the Romans came back shortly after the eruption to save what they could - they were the first excavators!
What remains of the Temple of Apollo:
The mediators stand. If there was a dispute ("He cheated me - this isnt a full portion!"), he could measure it on the spot and settle the argument then and there.
Because excavations here as we know them today officially started hundreds of years ago, there are a lot of random items which haven't been catalogued correctly. No one knows where to put them or exactly where they were found. They are kept behind a chainlink fence and a peek inside was fascinating.
It was also sad. Some of the animals were left behind chained preventing them from escaping. Note the box with a preserved dog. Sniff!
NBD - just a body being stored on a shelf...
After all of that - it was time to go! Thanks to our guide for taking this shot!
Our minds sufficiently blown, we were ready to head to our Hotel in Naples located on the Napoli Bay. While I'm sure Naples is a great place to explore and while I really wanted to put some effort into finding a decent Gluten Free Napoli pizza, we decided to stay close to the hotel and grab dinner nearby as we were spent.
While my pizza was laughable (I'm pretty sure they went to the local Pharmacia and grabbed a frozen pizza crust to indugle me...Tom's thankfully was much better), the views were beautiful! We toasted our last night in Italy and after stopping for some gelato (of course) we called it a night.
Last sunset in Italy :(
Italia - you are a beautfiul, special place and we cannot wait to come back!