We arrived in Naples, full of excitement, with planned stops at Mt Vesuvius and Pompeii. Fire and brimstone lay ahead.
Getting to Mt Vesuvius
Visiting the top of Mt Vesuvius at 1280m above the Bay of Naples had been on our bucket list for some time. Even though the volcano last erupted in 1944, it is still considered an active volcano.
It was winter, but we hadn’t factored in the freezing temperature that high up, above the relatively warm bay below.
All prepped, at least we thought we were, for Mt Vesuvius, we left the camper Estatico Campsite and walked 15 minutes to the Portici Bellavista train stop. Then we caught the Circumvesuviana train to Ercolano Scavi at a cost of €1.30 per person, one-way. On arrival at Ercolano Scavi, we then had to plan the trip to the Mt Vesuvius summit.
The Trail to Mt Vesuvius
Right outside the train station, a travel agent offered us a round trip by bus which included the volcano entrance fee. Perfect. This also guaranteed 1.5 hours at Mt Vesuvius summit and a chat with a guide, all at a cost of €20 per person. It was a pretty good deal, so we paid up and were on the bus 15 minutes later.
The bus trip to Mt. Vesuvius took around 45 minutes. We soon found ourselves a good way up the mountain with the last drop off point in a dirt car park (our altitude was around 1000m above sea level).
Stepping out of the bus, the freezing cold air hit us immediately. Ok, we knew it was winter but we weren’t ready for that sort of cold. We quickly realised we had vastly under catered our needs to combat the temperature at this altitude, but with dogged determination, we took to the trail.
We picked up the pace and strode towards the summit. Ten minutes later we found ourselves at the guide’s hut. The explanation about the volcano only took about five minutes. The guide, a volcanologist covered all our questions by explaining the whereabouts of the original old volcano sited nearby and covering the history of Mt Vesuvius.
After the talk, we had an hour to walk the path of a few hundred metres length around the crater rim. We had envisaged lava spurts, bubbling mud and drifts of sulphurous fumes. However, we soon saw that we had none of that. It was a dry, inactive crater and the closest thing to sulphurous fumes were the low clouds hovering in and out of the crater. Nevertheless, it was still impressive, with a diameter of 700m and depth of 200m.
The cloud base was at times quite low and rising air currents caused them to drift upwards and spill over the crater rim. Actually, much like liquid nitrogen poured from a beaker. Quite eye-catching and slightly made up for the lack of bubbling lava.
Even though our hands were aching from the cold, we continued to take photos. True professionals at work.
Our time at the summit was finally up, thankfully because we were like ice blocks, so we set off back down to the car park below. However, I did feel sorry for the people getting off on the next tourist bus to arrive. The weather down below had likely warmed up because some just had thin shirts on. However, the weather up here was now drizzly and freezing!
We got back to the van in Portici and set off towards Pompei.
Driving south from Naples towards ancient Pompeii, we found a camper stop, Camping Spartacus . It was perfectly situated right opposite the ruins. Locking up the campervan, within a few minutes we were at the ruins entrance parting with €13 each.
As you enter the Pompeii ruins, you can see the mighty Mt Vesuvius looming in the not too distant background.
In AD79, after the eruption of Mt Vesuvius, the town was buried and the remaining inhabitants of Pompeii perished under tonnes of ash and mud (4 to 6 metres deep). Most of the town’s inhabitants (estimated at 18,000 people), had already fled at the first sign of eruption, leaving about 2000 people still in Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius blanketed it with ash.
Pompeii of Old
Ancient Pompeii had a population of around 20,000 people. You begin to get a feel for this number as you walk the many streets of the town. With the number of different commercial buildings, public and aristocratic villas, peasant dwellings and market gardens in the city you can imagine a thriving community where people lived and worked.
The excavation and restoration work has been extensive, so you walk the streets as did the original people so many, many years ago. A surreal and solemn feeling.
These stone-covered streets, with large protruding stepping-stones and high side-walks, were designed so that people could walk above and step across the road without having to muddy themselves. Long ago, these streets were regularly flooded to wash away the dirt and debris.
With the narrow roads, ruts were cut into the road to guide the carts and chariots wheels to make sure a safe distance was kept from the people on the footpaths … ingenious.
In 1748, the restoration of Pompeii began. There was a remarkable state of preservation of the artefacts and buildings due to the lack of exposure to air and moisture. To date, about two-thirds of ancient Pompeii has been excavated.
One can see the thought that was put into the different exterior designs. The town must have been a visual masterpiece in its day.
Within Pompeii, you have free reign to wander around most of the town. However, access to some of the ancient relics and frescoes is restricted by rope barriers and sometimes glass enclosures. At some locations, guards were keeping a watchful eye on the tourists but this was to be expected and didn’t detract at all from the experience.
We spent a good half day gazing at the homes, structures and gardens that were once Pompeii’s pride.
Exploring Ancient Pompeii
Being out of tourist season (January), we walked the quiet streets with only a few tourists.
On the edge of the city, you’ll find the brothels. We were told that the brothel hallway walls sometimes depicted scenes of erotica to encourage the customers and showcase the services on offer.
In various locations around the Pompeii ruins, you will find the casts of those who fell victim to the sudden eruption and devastation caused by Vesuvius. Forever posed as they were in death.
The amphitheatre could hold up to 12,000 people and dates back to 80 BC. It is one of the oldest buildings in existence. Circus shows and gladiatorial games would have been held here with the dignitaries sitting in the lower rows and the plebeians at the top.
After walking around this ruined city you are left with a real sense of what life must have been like in early Roman times. Ancient Pompeii ranks as one of the must-see places in Italy. Definitely a remarkable and memorable experience.
Good To Know
We stayed at the following campsites:
Estatico Campsite, Portici – Coordinates, (N40.82765 E14.35101)- Friendly managers, close to train to Mt. Vesuvius, 24-hour security, with the gate closed at night.
Spartacus Pompei Camping -coordinates N40.74683 E14.48393- site with washers and dryer. Right opposite Pompeii Ruins
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