Visit Pompeii by Mouse
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Pompeii (Web site) is a Roman city that was covered by about 12 feet of hot volcanic ash in an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD and remained unknown until it was discovered in 1748. Since then, the city has been excavated and now is the most popular tourist destination in Italy. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are few places in the world like this where, with just a little imagination you have an opportunity to see it pretty much as it was on its last day. Vistors can roam virtually all of its streets freely. Pompeii was a pretty large city and the size of the excavation is daunting. Wear good shoes, carry water, and rest often.
 
We enjoyed our visit to the ruins. However, we might have not only enjoyed it more, but learned a great deal more about Pompeii if the administrators of the site had been more interested in teaching about it than they apparently are.  A map is provided but it is small and complicated.  We often found it difficult to relate where we were to points on the map. We also bought a guide from a private nearby kiosk selling souvenirs, and found the map in that to be very different from the map we were given upon entering.  There are virtually no signs on buildings explaining their functions and streets were not clearly identified.
Our advise is to explore both Pompeii and Herculaneum on the internet before going there. A good place to start is the section on External Links in the Wikipedia article in the Pompeii link above. We do not find the official web site, also in the link above, to be very helpful. Even when you click on English as the preferred language, many of the pages one links to are in Italian. The map provided identifies the buildings but, as was the case when we visited, we can find nothing about the buildings that are identified on the web site. About.com also has links to some useful articles.
There were many highlights for us. One of these were the deep ruts made by centuries of use by wagon wheels in the solid stones that paved the streets . Another were the paintings that decorated the walls and the mosaics that decorated the floors of many of the villas. Most of the paintings and mosaics you see in Pompeii are not originals. These have been removed to the National Archeological Museum in Naples, which we include on this web site. We also liked the luxurious atriums, gardens and pools that were part of some of the wealthier homes. The grafitti that you could see on the walls facing the streets, mostly political messages about who to vote for, were fascinating. We also were quite taken with some particular buildings and areas: The bakery where you could see how grain was ground into flour and the very oven in which the bread was baked; the open stalls on the streets from which liquids were sold; the huge stepping stones one used to cross the streets; the arena; and the theater. The plaster casts made of the human shaped openings caused by the rotting away of the people who perished when they were inundated by the tons of hot ash and pumice were gruesome, yet could not fail to reveal the human dimensions of the catastrophe. And looming over it all you could not help but see Vesuvius's ominous broken cone.
We lunched in the site's restaurant on a communal table where we met a couple from our state who had paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 for a two-hour guided tour. They were quite satisfied and said that they had learned a great deal from him. It made us think that perhaps having a guide would have been better than going it alone as we did. Later, in Herculaneum we met another couple who had hired a guide and had learned a great deal about Roman engineering of the extensive and clever water systems in Pompeii. Audio guides that you can download to an IPod player also are available.
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