Pompeii Introduction Walk I, Pompei

Pompeii Introduction Walk I (Self Guided), Pompei

Modern-day Pompei is best known for its ancient predecessor, the Roman city of Pompeii, that fell victim to the massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The ruins of Pompeii, first uncovered in the late 18th century, were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. Presently, this is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy, drawing annually up to 2.5 million visitors.

The early history of Pompeii is little known. The first stable settlement on the site, presumably by the Oscans, emerged in the 8th century BC. The name “Pompeii” is a masculine plural Latin noun rooted in the Oscan word for number five, pompe. This, in turn, suggests that either the community consisted of five hamlets, or, perhaps, was settled by a family group (gens Pompeia).

The arrival of the Greeks, circa 740 BC, brought in Hellenic influence. The most important structure of that period is the Doric Temple, built in 525 BC. Later, under the Romans, it became the Triangular Forum, whilst retaining the colonnade, a characteristic feature of Greek architecture.

Starting about 30 BC, the process of urban development of Pompeii accelerated, producing remarkable landmarks, such as the Amphitheater with Palaestra, the Odeon Theatre, and others. By 79 AD, when the catastrophe struck, Pompeii was a wealthy town, with a population of 20,000. The eruption lasted for two days, covering both people and buildings in twelve layers of tephra, up to 6 meters (19.7 ft) deep.

Over the following centuries, the name and location of the city had been forgotten, until in 1763 the remains unearthed during excavations at the site were identified as those of Pompeii. The Temple of Isis, a small Roman shrine dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, preserved almost intact, was one of the first findings, in 1764.

More exploration took place when the French ruled over Italy, from 1806 to 1815. Back then, parts of the Via dell'Abbondanza were exposed. The Lupanar building, a brothel, was discovered in 1862. Excavations continued until 1960, rendering most of the city uncovered.

In 2018, more targeted digging in prioritized areas led to new discoveries. In 2020, many sights were carefully restored, including the House of Julia Felix, the Garden of Fugitives (with plaster casts of the victims still in situ), and more. In 2021, several long-closed locations, such as the House of the Ship Europa, were re-opened after restoration.

To study more closely these and other sights of Pompeii that were once buried under the thick layer of ash, take this introductory walking tour part 1.
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Pompeii Introduction Walk I Map

Guide Name: Pompeii Introduction Walk I
Guide Location: Italy » Pompei (See other walking tours in Pompei)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 17
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.0 Km or 1.2 Miles
Author: Ella
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Amphitheater
  • Great Palaestra
  • Via dell'Abbondanza (Street of Abundance)
  • Villa di Giulia Felice (House of Julia Felix)
  • House of the Venus in Shell
  • House of Loreius Tiburtinus
  • House of the Ship Europa
  • Garden of Fugitives
  • House of Julius Polybius
  • House of Menander
  • House of the Ceii
  • Odeon - Teatro Piccolo (Small Theater)
  • Great Theater and Quadroporticus
  • Triangular Forum and Doric Temple
  • Temple of Isis
  • Stabian Baths
  • Lupanar (Brothel)
1
Amphitheater

1) Amphitheater

The Pompei Amphitheatre is the oldest building of its kind to have survived from the Roman era. Pompei houses many of the best preserved examples of Roman architecture, after the city was buried under volcanic ash for almost 2000 years. The Amphitheatre, one of Pompei’s most well known attractions, predates the Coliseum in Rome by over a century. It is believed that the success of the Pompei Amphitheatre, the first stone arena built within the Roman Empire, was the inspiration for a larger stone-built arena in Rome itself.

A circular structure with arches and stairways creating several entrance points, the Amphitheatre is still considered by crowd control analysts to be a near perfectly designed venue. Built around 70 BC, it was initially known as the Spectacula. Paid for by wealthy local statesmen Quinctius Valgus and Marcius Porcius, it was primarily used to host gladiatorial games and ceremonies. Twenty years before the eruption that destroyed Pompei, games were banned at the Amphitheatre, following a brawl between locals and residents of nearby Nuceria. In recent years, UK progressive rock band Pink Floyd became the first people for almost two thousand years to perform at the arena, filming a live concert here.
2
Great Palaestra

2) Great Palaestra

The Great Palaestra is a large rectangular building, flanked by porticoes on three sides, with a pool at its centre. Like many buildings in the city, it was commissioned under the empire of Augustus Caesar. It was used as an exercise complex by the youth associations which he set up, a Roman version of the youth branches of political parties we still see today. There was even a room, in the centre of the western portico, set aside for worship of the emperor. Behind the portico, a double row of sycamore trees provided a shaded area for attendees to relax and unwind.

The tree roots have been recreated with plaster casts. Like many natural organisms, from plant life to human beings, the roots were buried under the ash layers left by the deadly volcanic eruption, and decomposed. This left behind air pockets which were filled with plaster, creating exact replicas of the tree roots. At the time of the eruption in 79 AD the eastern portals and north wall were being restored, having been damaged in the earthquake of 62 AD. The complex even had toilet facilities – a latrine, served by water carried from the pool, can be seen on the south side of the building.
3
Via dell'Abbondanza (Street of Abundance)

3) Via dell'Abbondanza (Street of Abundance)

Via dell'Abbondanza is the main artery of ancient Pompeii. Almost every modern-day visitor to the city has a chance to stroll along at least some part of it now. Stretching for almost 900 meters, via dell’Abbondanza is the longest street in the city and 2,000 years ago was also its liveliest.

Translated as the “Street of Abundance”, this bustling thoroughfare did live up to its name, lined with grand public buildings and shrines, numerous elite residences, shops and workshops run by representatives of all strata of Pompeii’s society. Leading all the way up to the Forum, the connecting crossroads of via dell’Abbondanza led to the Triangular Forum, Palaestra, Amphitheater and other prominent locations.

The two public properties, standing at the intersection with the Forum, are the Eumachia Building and the Comitium. Also, there is a large public bath complex, known as the Stabian Baths. Furthermore, this street is a home to one of the earliest sites excavated in Pompeii, the Praedia di Iulia Felix (House of Julia Felix).

It is fair to say that no place in Pompeii, other than via dell'Abbondanza, can provide a better illustration of the diversity of life once enjoyed in this ancient city.
4
Villa di Giulia Felice (House of Julia Felix)

4) Villa di Giulia Felice (House of Julia Felix)

The House (Praedia) of Julia Felix is a large property, originally a private residence, that is named after its former owner. The latter had the building partially converted into tenement, leaving the other part for public use, following a major earthquake in 62 AD, precursor of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD that ultimately destroyed the city.

The site represents a combination of indoor and outdoor areas built around the atria – courtyards onto which the main rooms opened, with enclosed gardens and private water supply. Sections of the praedia allowed for indoor and outdoor seating, with frescoes depicting landscapes of leisure and gardens.

The sumptuousness of the architecture and the quality of decoration indicate that the building was meant for rich and high status residents. The walls are still almost completely covered in frescoes. The tablinum, facing onto the large garden to the east, must have been spectacular with its particularly fine paintings – the Fourth-Style frescoes consisting of dados painted with green plants on a black background, a central zone of red and yellow panels with villas, sanctuaries and flying figures with a set of Apollo and the Muses, and a frieze of still-life panels.

The summer triclinium and baths were some of the most extravagant elements of the tenement house. The fully equipped baths were intended for respectable citizens only. The latter must have come here often, since most of the public baths in Pompeii were closed for repairs after the damage caused by the earthquake of 62 AD.

The dining room was elegant and welcoming, and like those of the elitist villas in the countryside or on the coast, overlooked the gardens with small pools and waterfalls. The large garden at the rear had fruit trees enclosed in large squares, formed by low wooden fences.

The remains of the House were uncovered during archaeological excavations in 1755.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
5
House of the Venus in Shell

5) House of the Venus in Shell

The House of the Venus Marina is a domus horne – a dwelling designed for a single family. It is typical of the more conventional dwellings found in Pompei, alongside the larger, more heavily decorated villas owned by the wealthy. More compact and understated than the other notable houses found in Pompei, it is still centred around an atrium and peristyle. This suggests that these features were present in all Roman architecture, and not reserved for the wealthy alone.

The house has earned its name from the spectacular fresco found on the rear wall of the peristyle. It depicts Venus, the Goddess of Love, in an aquatic scene. Reclining on an oyster shell, she is pictured wearing jewellery and a shawl, and has golden curled hair. On either side of Venus, Cupid and a Nereid on a dolphin are pictured. This depiction of Venus, as an aquatic creature, has been recreated in numerous artworks, and is perhaps the image most commonly associated with the Roman goddess, who was widely worshipped in Pompei. Described as the ‘protectress of Pompei’ in inscriptions found elsewhere in the city, it is perhaps ironic that, while much of Pompei was destroyed, her likeness has survived almost entirely intact.
6
House of Loreius Tiburtinus

6) House of Loreius Tiburtinus

The House of Loreius Tiburtinus is found on the via dell’ Abbondanza, or street of abundance. The main thoroughfare running across the southern half of the city, it was surrounded by large houses owned by apparently wealthy landlords. This area, close to the Palaestra and Amphitheatre, was the prosperous centre of Pompei in its final years. Occupying an entire insula, or block of the city, like many large residences it contained many stores and restaurants around its perimeter.

The name of the house derives from election slogans found daubed on the façade. These were fairly common in Roman times, although the suggestion is that Loreius and Tiburtinus may refer to two separate politicians. Many historians refer to the dwelling as the house of Octavius Quarto, the last known owner. The interior of the building has many of the features found in other grand Roman villas, including an atrium with an impluvium at the centre for collecting rainwater.

The house is perhaps best known for its extensive gardens, complete with a number of ornaments. Behind the summer triclinium, two fountains were discovered. Known as Euripi, these large, decorative water features housed fruit trees and a number of artworks. Two frescoes painted on the upper fountains are the only artworks in all of Pompei to be signed. The paintings of Narcissus, and Pyramus and Thisbe, stand on either side of the fountain, and are signed ‘Lucius pinxit’ – painted by Lucius.
7
House of the Ship Europa

7) House of the Ship Europa

The House of the Ship Europa is found in the south east of the city. It is named after a large drawing on the north wall of the peristyle, which depicts a ship bearing the name Europa. It is not thought to be a real ship, but instead an allegory of the goddess Europa, who was kidnapped at sea by Jupiter, disguised as a bull. Beyond the peristyle lies the feature for which the house is renowned; a long, narrow garden, several times larger than the buildings at the front of the house.

This garden was used to grow an impressive array of fruits and vegetables, including beans, onions and cabbage, as well as grapes, used to produce wine. In the Roman era the production of wine was largely home based, with many houses having the facilities to press grapes. Trees bearing exotic fruits such as cherries and apricots are believed to have been planted here, having arrived from the Far East from the first century BC. Lemons were also grown here; the Romans continued the Hebrew tradition of using lemons to kill bacteria and thus fight infection. The stalls at the back of the garden were used to rear animals.
8
Garden of Fugitives

8) Garden of Fugitives

The many historical wonders of Pompei tell us much about how people lived in this ancient city. One quiet corner amongst its maze of buildings gives a poignant insight into the disaster that destroyed this city overnight. The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD is believed to have been one of the most catastrophic volcanic events of all time. It threw a deadly cloud of ash and stone up to 20 miles into the air, and ultimately released enough thermal energy to make a hundred thousand atomic bombs. Those unable to flee Pompei, just a few miles from the volcano, were killed by lava flows that swept through the city. When the ash cloud fell to earth, it buried Pompei, and an estimated 16,000 victims of the deadly eruption.

When they began excavating Pompei in the 19th century, archaeologists began finding decomposed bodies of people and animals. By pouring plaster into air pockets left in the rubble, they were able to create casts of many victims. At the Garden of the Fugitives, an area thought to have been a small orchard, thirteen bodies were found, and their casts have been laid out as they were discovered. It is a poignant memorial to those that perished in the eruption that preserved the city for modern visitors. A woman can be seen holding her child, whilst others were clearly trying to protect themselves, in vain, from the deadly lava flow.
9
House of Julius Polybius

9) House of Julius Polybius

The House of Julius Polybius is located on the north side of the Via dell’ Abbondanza. Only fully excavated in 1978, it has two entrances from the street which lead into two separate parts of the house. The western side, which once had an upper story but is disconnected from the peristyle at the centre of the house, is believed to have been used as servants’ quarters. The eastern side was used by the owner, named in an elaborate fresco as C. Julius Polybius.

The house features artworks in a number of different styles, which suggest the building was redeveloped during its history. Rooms to the east of the atrium are decorated in the first and second styles, but these paintings had been covered over with plaster, suggesting the rooms were only used for storage. Rooms around the peristyle are decorated in the later third and fourth styles, and the art works here are much better preserved.

The building has a number of rooms on its eastern side, including a master suite separate from the main triclinium. The House of the Vettii has a similar side room, believed to be reserved for more intimate gatherings with friends and family. A number of artifacts were unearthed in the triclinium, including a bronze statue of Apollo, and a number of lamps and drinking vessels, also cast in bronze.
10
House of Menander

10) House of Menander

The House of Menander is a large villa, built in the Classical Greek style. It is located in the southern half of the city centre, close to the Large Theatre and Stabian Baths. An unusually large property so close to public amenities, it is believed that the owner, who remains a mystery, may have been one of Pompei’s wealthiest residents. It is notable for the large columns in the peristyle, a hallmark of the Doric style of classical architecture.

It is also entirely possible that the owner was a tourist, and the house is a very early version of the modern holiday home. Tourism played a major part in Pompei’s development – the Greek influence on architecture stemmed from Greeks visiting the city from the 6th century, whilst residents of Rome would visit Pompei in summer due to its hot Mediterranean climate.

The house features a number of intricate frescoes, including, in a niche on the peristyle wall, an image of Menander, the Ancient Greek dramatist. He is pictured seated and reading, against a red and yellow background typical of artworks in many wealthy homes in Pompei. A neat slogan, of the type for which Menander was renowned is inscribed, in the atrium by the owner – it simply says ‘welcome, money’.
11
House of the Ceii

11) House of the Ceii

The House of the Ceii is a small dwelling opposite the House of Menander on Vicolo Meridionale. The house’s name derives from a political slogan painted on its façade. The slogan is in support of L. Ceius Secundus, a local politician who may have owned the property. There are a number of fine third style paintings throughout the building. In the triclinium, there is a fresco of Bacchus offering wine to a tiger. A cubiculum adjacent to the garden has a number of excellent depictions of satyrs and maenads, both mythical beasts.

The walled garden features the house’s most spectacular artworks. All three walls have large frescoes in keeping with third style art, depicting Egyptian themed landscapes. A number of animals native to Africa feature, including wolves, wild boars, lions and tigers, a hippopotamus and a crocodile. The floors in the compact house are also notable, with many tiled mosaics forming geometric patterns. There is also a staircase leading to an upper floor, believed to be under construction at the time of the eruption of Vesuvius. The eruption destroyed all upper floors within the city of Pompei; only the presence of staircases shows that buildings in Pompei had upper floors.
12
Odeon - Teatro Piccolo (Small Theater)

12) Odeon - Teatro Piccolo (Small Theater)

The Odeon theater in Pompeii is also known as Teatro Piccolo. Back in the Roman times, it was colloquially referred to by locals as theatrum tectum (“roofed theater”), for its four-pitched tiled roof.

The theater was built during the early years of the Roman colony, around 80-75 BC, and had a seating capacity of about 1,500. The construction was commissioned by the two local magistrates (duumvirs), Marcus Porcius and Caius Quinctius Valgus, who also facilitated the construction of the Amphitheater.

The venue was well designed for poetry recitals, operas and other musical performances, allowing every sound uttered on the stage to be heard in each part of the building. Largely adding to the acoustics was the roof. The Odeon is also said to have been used for mime shows, the most popular theatrical genre of the time.

This perfectly-balanced, Greek-style structure used to have four lower rows separated from the upper 17 rows by a high parapet, of which now only the left part (relative to the stage) has remained. It was richly decorated with multicolored marbles, whereas large male tuff figures (telamones) supported the steps. Remarkably, the plaster of the external masonry retains many graffiti left by the ancient spectators. Some of the people are believed to have traveled many miles from distant parts of the country to see the shows here.

The site was excavated in two phases, starting from 1769 and then in 1792-1795.
13
Great Theater and Quadroporticus

13) Great Theater and Quadroporticus (must see)

In contrast to the nearby Odeon, this venue was known as the Large Theater. It was built in the 2nd century BC, in the style of ancient Greek amphitheaters. Set in a natural indentation of the land, it features tiered stone seating on sloping sides, leading to a central horseshoe-shaped performance area.

The theater reached its peak under the reign of Augustus Caesar, being refurbished and extended by the Holconius brothers, rich wine growers from the region, who fitted the rows of seating with marble tops. Following the earthquake of 62 AD, however, the theater was damaged and the marble was removed. Simultaneously, the stage was rebuilt and a grand façade added, complete with columns and statues.

The Holconius brothers also added an upper circle and two side boxes for guests of honor. The Large Theater could hold up to 5,000 spectators within segregated seating areas. The eldest Holconius brother had his own reserved seat here, inscribed with bronze lettering. Back then, the theater was covered by a large canopy, protecting the audience from the sun. The opposite side of the amphitheater housed dressing rooms and access to the outer courtyard.

The Quadriporticus, a large four-sided courtyard, is flanked by colonnaded buildings, typical for most Roman dwellings. While there is some uncertainty over its function, it is known that portions of the complex were used as barracks for the town’s gladiators. The courtyard itself was used for their exercises, being ideally located next to the theater where gladiatorial games were held regularly. It is depicted in the ancient painting, now housed in Naples’ National Archaeological Museum, featuring a swimming pool in the center. The pool might have been covered after the site was damaged in the earthquake of 62 AD.

Graffiti carved by the gladiators in the columns of the Quadriporticus hint at public opposition to, and even condemnation of the violent games. A large quantity of gladiatorial armor found at the site, including helmets, belts and shoulder protectors, all marked with the letters NER, suggest that the gladiators came from the Neroniam, Nero’s imperial school, in nearby Capua.
14
Triangular Forum and Doric Temple

14) Triangular Forum and Doric Temple

The Triangular Forum stands at the highest point of Pompei, on the brow of the hill on which the city was built. It is even visible from ships passing along the coast. A central public space, it has a number of important buildings around its perimeter. The large theatre connects to the forum via a stairway, whilst two gymnasiums and a bakery also back onto the open space. This was at odds with the Triangular Forum’s main purpose as a sacred, reflective spot.

A number of intriguing features remain in the Triangular Forum today. There is a mysterious tomb like structure at the foot of the ruined temple, thought to be a monument to the founder of Pompei. You can also find the remains of three tuff stone altars, dated to the pre-Roman era, and a well flanked by Doric columns. Behind the well, a semi-circular tuff stone seat offers the city’s finest view over the Gulf of Naples to the west.

A Doric temple built from Sarno limestone stands in the centre of the forum. It is one of the oldest buildings in Pompei, and is believed to have stood here since the sixth century BC. At this time, Pompei belonged to Greece, and was part of the powerful state of Cumar.

The temple is believed to have been a place of worship for Hercules, the mythical founder of the city, and later Minerva, goddess of wisdom and war. Reconstructed during the Samnite period, it appears that the temple fell out of usage in the Roman era. Unlike many Roman temples, which often feature a podium at their centre, the entirety of the Doric Temple is raised several feet off the ground, and accessed by broad stone steps on each side.

The temple was once flanked by short, wide columns, though now only stumps remain. At the centre, the cella is divided into two chambers. One chamber features a large flag, embedded into the floor. In front of the temple, there is a small walled enclosure, similar to a cella. This is thought to be a heroon, a small shrine to an idol or hero – in this case, Hercules.
15
Temple of Isis

15) Temple of Isis

The Temple of Isis is a small Roman temple, though unusually, it is a place of worship for an Egyptian goddess. Isis was worshipped in Ancient Egypt as a form of universal mother goddess, benevolent to all in Egyptian society. She became worshipped by many Roman communities, particularly those, like Pompei, which had strong trade links with Egypt. One of the first buildings discovered in the excavation of 1764, its origins were revealed upon the discovery of an inscription one year later.

The Temple of Isis is located behind the Large Theatre. Originally built in the late 2nd century BC, it was destroyed by the earthquake in 62 AD, and was in the process of being rebuilt. This work was funded from the personal fortune of a freed slave. The temple was thought to have been particularly popular with slaves, servants and the working classes of Pompei.

Like many temples in the city, the Temple of Isis is built in the Hellenic style, and features a cella where sacred statues of the goddess were kept. The temple also features a columned podium, accessed from a stairway, in its centre. Excavation works at the site also unearthed a number of unusual treasures, including a marble hand, bronze candlesticks and a human skull, believed to have been used in cult rituals.
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Stabian Baths

16) Stabian Baths (must see)

The Stabian Baths are the oldest bath complex discovered in Pompei. Covering 3500 square metres, they are also the largest in the city. Located on Via Stabiana, like the nearby Forum Baths, they are divided into men’s and women’s facilities. The two newer baths in Pompei, the Central and Suburban Baths, both had one large changing facility.

At the entrance to the baths, there is a courtyard, which would have been used as a gymnasium. The yard is surrounded on three sides by colonnades, with a 1.5 metre deep swimming pool on the other side. A door in the right hand corner of the longest colonnade leads to the men’s bath house. The frigidarium, a room for cold bathing, is round, with four corner niches and the bath in the centre. This is the only room for which there is not an equivalent in the women’s section.

Both sides of the bath house feature a whitewashed apodyterium, a tepidarium for warm baths and a caldarium, furthest from the entrance, which was used for hot baths. The baths are richly decorated, with many statues discovered in the ruins. The building has vaulted, ornately decorated ceilings throughout. It was believed to have been built as a symbol of the wealth of Pompei’s ruling classes.
17
Lupanar (Brothel)

17) Lupanar (Brothel) (must see)

The Lupanar is the largest brothel within Pompei. It is located close to the Forum, on via del Lupanare, a street which bears its name. Whilst it has been established that prostitution was in existence during the Roman era, there has been some debate over the prevalence of brothels in a settlement like Pompei. A number of homes and bath houses in the city featured erotic artworks on their walls. Early excavators initially believed any building with erotic frescoes to have been a brothel.

When thirty five buildings with erotic artworks were discovered, it became apparent this couldn’t be the case. Further investigation has led experts to suggest that the Lupanar was the largest of ten brothels in the city, with many of the others single room establishments. The Lupanar has ten rooms, all plainly decorated, with brick platforms serving as beds. It is thought that brothels were mainly frequented by ordinary townspeople, rather than rich or well known figures. Graffiti found on the walls gives an insight into the activities that went on here. The term ‘lupanar’ is derogatory towards prostitutes – it means ‘house of the she-wolves’, a nickname given to prostitutes, who were considered predatory in Roman times.

Walking Tours in Pompei, Italy

Create Your Own Walk in Pompei

Create Your Own Walk in Pompei

Creating your own self-guided walk in Pompei is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Pompeii Introduction Walk II

Pompeii Introduction Walk II

Frozen at the moment it was buried under the thick blanket of ash and pumice, the city of Pompeii (now excavated) remains a unique window into the past, offering a snapshot of everyday life back in the 1st century AD Roman Empire. Aside from causing quick and unexpected death to the city, the huge eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD did have one positive outcome – it preserved everything (properties,...  view more

Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.3 Km or 1.4 Miles