The long catastrophic eruption of the Vesuvius in the year AD 79 drowned the thriving and bustling city of Pompeii in 20 to 23 feet of ash and pumice. It was lost for nearly 1700 years before its accidental rediscovery in 1749. Since then four-fifths of the city was excavated and a walk through the excavations is a once-in-a-lifetime journey into the past, offering an insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire. Surprisingly, many objects (such as bottles, glassware and silverware) were found intact in the city’s homes, filled with splendid frescoes, some of which are on display in Naples’ Museo Archeologico Nazionale.
Being an important commercial centre in Campania Felix, Pompeii played a strategic role in the redistribution of goods between Rome, the inland cities and the ports on the Mediterranean. The life of the city centred around the Forum. Still today one can admire the remains of the Basilica, seat of justice and chamber of commerce, religious buildings and the Macellum, site of the marketplace. From the main square streets lead off to the ancient city, revealing majestic houses, such as the House of the Faun and the House of the Vettii, with their splendid frescoes. The shops in Via dell’Abbondanza, offer a lively impression of everyday life two thousands years ago. From here we carry on to the Stabian Baths, the oldest public baths in Pompeii, ending up at the massively impressive Amphitheatre, where even today, as in the Large Theatre, there are concerts and theatrical productions.
Just outside the city, stands the Villa of the Mysteries, the most ‘enigmatic’ monument in Pompeii, with its grand fresco celebrating the mysterious cult of Dionysus.
In summer the ruins can also be visited at night. ‘Suggestioni al foro’ is a theatrical production which, through sounds and voices echoing around the temples and houses, recreates the atmosphere of the ‘lost’ city. The visit ends with a multimedia show which reconstructs the dramatic phases of the eruption with special effects and filmed images. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Italy, with approximately 2,500,000 visitors every year.