When Vesuvius popped its top in August, 79 AD, it spewed ashes in all directions, neatly destroying Pompeii. For more than a thousand years, Pompeii was buried, then re-discovered and excavated in the 18th century.
There's something about a ghost town that's very appealing. Pompeii has a lot to see, so take your time. We've mentioned our favorite things to see, but kids will enjoy exploring the warren of ancient buildings, and tromping down the main street, Via dell'Abbondanza to the Amphitheater.
Forum - Make your first stop the Forum, civic center of Pompeii. To the left, Basilica (law courts) and Temple of Apollo (bronze statue of Apollo), and at the far end, Temple of Jupiter (later Capitolium dedicated to three gods Jupiter, Juno and Minerva). Kids can imagine this huge area, covered with sparkling white stone pavement, two-story colonnaded buildings on either side, bustling markets, school for boys, processions to the temples, public elections.
Temple of Vespasian
- In the center of the temple is a white marble altar with a relief, showing the sacrifice of a bull.
Forum grain warehouse
- On the west side of the Forum was the granary, a warehouse to store grains (bread was essential to the Pompeii diet). Today it houses archaeological findings, including amphorae in all shapes and sizes, and plaster casts of victims of Vesuvius.
House of the Tragic Poet - This is one of the best places t for kids to see a typical Pompeii house. A narrow entryway leads to the atrium (where water was collected), beyond is the tablinum ("home office") and peristyle garden with lararium (household shrine). Right of the garden is a dining room, and kitchen, plus small latrine (single hole in the ground).
At the entryway to the house, check out the mosaic with a guard dog, and the words in Latin Cave Canem - "Beware of the dog."
On the left side of the garden is an alcove, this the lararium, household shrine. The shrine would have displayed offerings and small statues of the lares, guardian deities that protect the house and bring prosperity.
House of the Faun - This the biggest mansion in Pompeii and occupied for over 200 years. After the entrance, in the atrium pool is the lively "dancing faun" statue, to the left, lovely mosaics with birds, and beyond that a garden and the Alexander mosaic.
The Alexander mosaic depicts the battle between Alexander the Great, and King Darius of Persia (Darius loses). The mosaic here is a replica, the original is in the Naples Museum, plus other mosaics from the House of the Faun.
Keep going to next big garden, surrounded by columns, and notice there's a back door, where you can exit out to the street.
Thermopolium - Kids can relate to the thermopolium, snack bars in the neighborhood that served inexpensive hot food and drinks, as well as staples such as nuts and grains. Archaeologists have found over 150 thermpolia in Pompeii - look for rectangular marble counters with holes, which would have held big round pottery containers (dolia).
Water fountains - Exploring Pompeii, you'll see numerous rectangular water fountains on the streets. Pompeii was connected to a large aqueduct that brought water into the city. In upscale houses, pipes brought water into the house, but many streets had public water fountains, continuously running for people to fill their water jugs.
Bakeries - Bread was baked every day, and bakeries are located all over the city. Some bakeries ground the flour, as well as baked the loaves, others just had ovens for baking. (There was also home delivery for bread.)
Typically, the bakery would have cone-shaped stone mills for grinding grain into flour. The stone mills were powered by mules, donkeys or slaves.
The bakery also had tables for preparing the dough, a big oven for baking the bread, and tables to stack the round loaves.
Baths - Public baths for men and women (separate sections) were an important part of social life in Pompeii. Bath time was typically in the early afternoon.
- Behind the Temple of Jupiter are the Forum Baths, with hot, warm and cold baths, dressing room, public latrine. The large marble basin in the caldarium is engraved with the names of the donors and check out the bronze benches with cow feet!
- These baths, the oldest ones and situated on Via Abbondanza, were a huge complex, with separate areas for men and women, changing room with cubbies for clothes, different rooms for hot water and cold water baths, sauna, scraping room, exercise area, swimming pool, and shops. Rooms are decorated with elaborate stucco designs and paintings.
Temple of Isis - A jewel-like rebuilt temple to the Egyptian gods Isis and Osiris, enclosed in a courtyard. It's said there was a sacrifice burning in the temple when Vesuvius erupted. The paintings in the temple were extraordinary, and they've been removed to the Naples Museum.
Amphitheater - It's a trek out to this huge Amphitheater (could hold 20,000 spectators), but kids will see where gladiator games were staged. Three levels of seating were available, the best seats were on the lowest level, near to the arena. In the arena, gladiator shows and wild beast hunts (bulls, bears, boars) were staged.
Next door to the Amphitheater is the Palestra, a large exercise and training area, which had a swimming pool in the center.
Necropolis - Street of the Tombs - From the Herculaneum Gate (Porta Ercolano), walk down the street lined with funerary monuments. The ancient Romans did not bury the dead inside the the city gates; instead, important roads into a city were chock-a-block with family tombs, decorated with marble statues, paintings and inscriptions.
Outside the city walls - Just after the Herculaneum Gate, on the east side is a gateway and sign "fuori la mura." Go through the open gate, and there's a path that goes along the outside of the city walls that enclosed Pompeii. This is a super walk, with stunning views of Mt. Vesuvius and the city ruins, plus a two story watchtower from the 2nd century BC. At the Vesuvius Gate, go right, and walk back down Via del Vesuvio.
Villa of Mysteries - Villa of Mysteries has the best examples of wall painting at Pompeii, due to extensive restoration. The famous Pompeian red and yellow colors glow, there are life-size figures of gods, dancing ladies, cupids, satyrs, musicians, but what the scenes really represent is not known - teens will be delighted with the paintings, but younger kids will find it "a mystery."
Plaster casts - In the 19th century, archaeologists discovered they could make molds of the people of Pompeii who died from the mud and ash. Throughout the ruins are different plaster casts - some are stretched out, others are sitting, there's even a dog on a leash.