In this section we want to give you an overview of the excavations of Pompeii and guide visitors also in the modern city, so that you can combine the archaeological discoveries with the flavours of a unique land.
Under the ashes: the most visited excavations in the world
The history of the excavations of Pompeii begins in 1738, when Charles of Bourbon started the works with the real intent of enriching the first nucleus of what will be the great National Museum of Naples with new precious objects. In this period, however, the first important archaeological finds take place, even in nearby Herculaneum.
Pompeii was founded by the Osci around the eighth century BC. and its fortune was the position on the sea, which contributed to transform it in one of the main ports of the centres of the Campania hinterland in competition with the Greek cities of the coast. It was conquered by the Etruscans and then by the Romans and experienced a period of great economic growth. The welfare led to a big development of public and private buildings: it is in this period, in fact, that the Temple of Jupiter, the Basilica of the Forum, (fulcrum of the economic and political life of the city), and the House of Fauno, a stately home of great prestige, were built. How not to mention, the House of the Vettii and the House of the Menander, so named for the presence of a portrait of the Greek playwright in the back side of the peristyle, which testify the comfortable life of the Roman lords and which give us back some wonderful frescoes with mythological scenes. And then, on the top of the rock on which the city was born, the area of the theatres: Teatro Grande, the Odeion – a covered theatre for musical auditions – and the Amphitheatre. Just outside the city, the necropolis and not far away also the extra-urban residences, such as the famous Villa dei Misteri.
This and much more was Pompeii when there was the eruption of 79 AD. The inhabitants of the city, surprised by the tragic event, tried to take refuge everywhere, ran away, ran towards the sea but were reached by a violent wave of incandescent gas and covered by a heavy blanket of ash and lava. Many of the buildings we described were undergoing renovation due to a violent earthquake that hit the city in 62 AD. The archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli, the first to give a systematic and scientific rigor to the excavations and numerous discoveries carried out in the nineteenth century (he also founded the first Italian School of Archeology in Pompeii, 1875), thought of putting liquid gypsum into the cavity in which the bodies were: the inhabitants of Pompeii took shape again, giving us a real buried city.
Pompeii continues to amaze! The latest sensational discoveries
After 2000 years Pompeii continues to give us wonders. In December 2020, the discovery of Thermopoly, a sort of ancient fast food restaurant, which prepared “ready-to-go” takeaway dishes. It is located at the intersection of two streets, on a small square with a fountain, a water tower and a cistern. The find is perfectly preserved and, surprisingly, traces of the food preserved inside the amphorae were also found, which were sold on the street. It was in fact the habit of the Pompeians to consume hot and cold food and drinks outdoors, the thermopoly was a very widespread place in the Roman world: only in Pompeii there are about 80 thermopolies, but none with the counter entirely painted like this. The extraordinary decorations of the counter present on the front the image of a Nereid on horseback in a marine environment and, on the shorter side, the illustration probably of the same shop, as a sign. Other valuable life scenes with representations of animals probably butchered and sold in the room, also emerged.
Various pantry and transport materials were found, such as amphorae, a bronze patera, two flasks, a common pot. The new technologies available and the new figures of experts of an interdisciplinary team will make it possible to carry out detailed analysis on these finds and reveal interesting secrets about the Mediterranean diet and the habits of life of the ancients.
In these days, moreover, an extraordinary parade float, painted red and covered with erotic-themed decorations, was found in the excavations of the villa of Civita Giuliana (at the gates of Pompeii), perhaps destined for the cult of Ceres and Venus or, most probably, used for an aristocratic wedding ceremony. Elegant and light, amazing for the complexity and refinement of the tin and bronze decorations, and incredible in its completeness, it presents the traces of the pillows, of the ropes to hold the wreaths, even the imprints of two ears of wheat left on a seat. It could be a Pilentum, or a ceremonial chariot, used only by elites on exceptional occasions. In Italy it is the first, but it can be compared with a similar chariot found in a tomb in northern Greece. We know that the Pilentum were painted in blue or red, as in the case of the Pompeian find. They were reserved for the wealthier classes, they were used for religious cults, but they were a bit like a car of high representation. The discovery opens the mystery about the owners of this large villa built at the gates of the ancient city and soon we will know much more about this story.
Modern Pompeii: the call of the Sanctuary
The Municipality of Pompeii was born in 1928 with a special law of the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele III.
It developed in the area east of the excavations, around the famous Sanctuary of the Beata Vergine del Rosario, built between 1876 and 1939 by the will of the Longo spouses, who wanted to play a role in the diffusion of the faith. It is a destination for pilgrimages from all over the world due to the presence, on the main altar, of a votive table of the Virgin and Child and, on the sides, San Domenico and Santa Caterina da Siena. It is said that a girl went to the Sanctuary to ask the Virgin to cure her of epilepsy and was recovered. From that time, the church became an international pilgrimage site. The faithful enriched the picture with all sorts of votive offerings, such as gold, jewels, and precious stones.
The sanctuary attracts many tourists also for its majesty: it has a basilica with a Latin cross and three naves, with a mighty 5-storey bell tower. The façade is divided into two orders: the lower one in Ionic style and the upper one in Corinthian style and the central dome is 57 meters high. Since 1901 it has been a Pontifical Basilica (it means that it can grant a plenary indulgence).
A few culinary suggestions: what food eat in Pompeii
To eat in Pompeii you will have a lot of choice. There are many restaurants offering typical dishes of the Neapolitan culture, they are easily found in all the streets. Here we try to narrow the field to the truly “unmissable” places.
Who loves wine must have a stop at Vincanto (via Nolana, 89), where the owner, a great lover of high quality wines, has been able to transform his passion into a job, with the creation of a place where to offer aperitifs using products that must be protected. The noble milk ricotta, the Neapolitan papaccella (a particular short and sweet pepper), the anchovies of menaica, the Roman “conciato” (cheese seasoned with oil and vinegar and placed in amphorae), the giant lupine of Vairano, and many other Slow Food products that change according to availability. A way to bring young people closer to uncommon products, thanks to a universal ritual such as that of the aperitif. Moderate prices, high quality.
For bread lovers, how not to mention the Esposito bakery (Via Lepanto, 138), a modern bakery that prepares its products with the times and techniques of the past. They use an ancient natural yeast called “criscito”, apparently the first known form of leavening agent, it is made with hot water, flour and salt, left to rest for 48 hours at room temperature. Then the bacteria necessary for leavening are formed. With this simple procedure and with the use of selected Italian grains, this bakery produces its best products, such as Panis Pompeii. It is a specialty of ancient Rome, the result of a careful study of the ingredients used 2000 years ago: spelled flour, noble milk, fresh butter, fresh eggs, honey, Sorrento walnuts, almonds, dried figs, raisins from the Vesuvian hills. With this product, the bakery captured the interest of numerous Italian television programs (including that of Alberto Angela) and foreign broadcasters.
For desserts we recommend the De Vivo pastry shop, (via Roma, 36). Here a wide selection of typical Neapolitan products is offered, such as babà, sfogliatelle and pastiere, made with mother yeast and skilled workmanship. Easter doves are also very famous. The café offers delicacies such as cinnamon brioche every morning. In short, it is really worth stopping to taste something!
Getting to Pompeii ruins
Rent our scooter. We will show you the best route to reach Villa dei Misteri comfortably aboard our scooters.