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The Pompeii Ruins are one of the cornerstones of the collective imagination about ancient Rome: the history of the rich and flourishing commercial city suddenly buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD has fascinated all Roman history enthusiasts for centuries. Maybe you can recall the heartfelt story that Pliny the Younger handed down to us about that tragic event that inspired novels and films.
The presence of Pompeii and its dramatic fate in mass culture is still extremely relevant, so much so that the Pompeii Ruins are still one of the main museums in Italy for number of visits. With their 17 square miles and their exceptional state of preservation, the Pompeii Ruins undoubtedly represent the ideal place to visit if you want to fully understand what life was like 2000 years ago.
Pompeii was founded in the 8th century BC by the Osci, an ancient Italic people. The city grew and gained prestige over the centuries, thanks also to the various influences exerted by several peoples: firstly the Greeks, later the Etruscans, and finally the Samnites, who gave Pompeii its status as a commercial town. In the 3rd century BC it was the turn of the final conquest by the Romans, who supported the further development of Pompeii as a strategic port for trade routes.
As we have seen, the history of Pompeii ended within a single day, traditionally fixed on August 24, 79 AD. On that day a violent eruption of Mount Vesuvius covered the entire city with a thick layer of ashes and lapilli, and left behind a desolate landscape that would not have been repopulated for a very long time.
We’ll have to wait until 1748 to see the first archaeological excavations in this area, which took place at the behest of King Charles III of Spain and continued also under the French domination of Joachim Murat, a Napoleonic marshal who had been proclaimed King of Naples. It was during this period that Pompeii’s fame spread throughout Europe, making it one of the obligatory destinations of the Grand Tour, the customary educational trip made by young European intellectuals.
The excavations continued even after the Italian Unification and beyond, experiencing a setback only in 1960s. Especially after the 1980 Irpinia earthquake, which significantly damaged the archaeological site, it was decided to concentrate all the resources on restoring the buildings already discovered rather than continuing the excavations. To further ensure this protection, in 1997 the Pompeii Ruins became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A visit to the Pompeii Ruins will allow you to fully immerse yourself in the daily life of the ancient inhabitants of this flourishing port town. The thick layer of ash and lapilli that covered the city following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius has in fact allowed an exceptional preservation of the entire city, protecting it from the outside world. This is the reason why the Pompeii Ruins still show us the entire urban structure of the ancient city: public buildings, private dwellings of every social level, places of worship, thermal baths, arenas.
There are many must-see attractions in this extraordinary archaeological site, but for the sake of brevity we will only mention a few of them. As for the areas reserved for the shows, you can visit the impressive Pompeii Amphitheatre, an arena that could hold up to 20,000 spectators, and the Large Theatre, which still nowadays hosts classic dramas for special events. You can also admire the Pompeii’s Forum, focal point of the daily life of the ancient inhabitants, and the Stabian Baths where they went to relax. As for private homes, you can’t miss the House of the Faun, a majestic and richly decorated villa of about 32000 ft², and the Villa of the Mysteries with its enigmatic frescoes. Particularly noteworthy is also the House of the Menander, which is believed to have belonged to the relatives of Poppea (Nero’s second wife), and the elegant House of the Tragic Poet. Extremely suggestive are also the Temple of Apollo (probably built by the Etruscans), the Temple of Isis and the Necropolis located near the city gates.