How can Pompeii be told in short? The simple answer is – it can’t! It is an ancient maze of streets, squares, rich and poor houses, gardens, diners, temples and other public buildings. Scientists say it was a very average city for within the Roman Empire, but it took us three days to barely go through it. And you should have in mind that some of the ruins have not yet been excavated and exhibited; some of the sites do not offer visitor access, and a considerable number of houses open only on certain days.


That is why I chose to show you some aspects of my choice. We start with the Pompeii street. As it was usual in the Roman Empire, most streets – and especially the central ones – are strictly perpendicular to each other; there are sidewalks for pedestrians and the “roadway” is for carts only. You will notice that the road is well below the level of the sidewalk, which is because it also served as a cloaca. For this reason, the pedestrian passes are made of high stones, placed at some distance from each other so that the carts can still pass.

Ancient Roman street

The streets lead to the impressive public spaces of Pompeii: the Central Forum and the smaller squares, theaters, the paleastra (sports schools) and the porticoes (spaces surrounded by covered colonnades). The scale is serious, despite the scientists’ allegations of an ordinary city. The corresponding provision of different temples is also well-obvious. This, for example, is the temple of Isis, and reflects the Romans’ habit of appropriating all deities they liked from foreign pantheons. They did the same with our Thracian Horseman, but this is another story.

Temple of Isis, Pompeii

And as we mentioned the care for the soul in the form of temples, it is also appropriate to pay attention to the care for the body. There is a large central bath in Pompeii and several smaller ones. In imperial times, the common thing was to go to a public bathroom. Not that the rich could not afford personal hygiene facilities and some did, but the tradition of warm, hot and cold baths, rest rooms and a large relaxation pool required the corresponding spaces. Now, have you ever found yourselves in a queue for the bath?

The bathroom queue

Taking care of your body undoubtedly includes eating well. The lands around Pompeii were very fertile even before the fatal eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The findings sealed in the many meters of solidified volcanic material lead scientists to claim that the Pompeians ate quite well and even healthily. Abundant seafood, fruit, nuts, wine from the many vineyards on the slopes of the volcano and, of course, bread. Although not as toasted as we find it today.

Volcanic bread

We’ll go back to the rich again. If nowadays we go to a restaurant when we have the money, and otherwise we eat whatever is available at home, in ancient Rome it was the other way round. Only those who had money could afford to have kitchens and tricliniums or dining rooms at home. All the others ate outside, in the diners called thermopoliums and the wineries called tabernae. In Pompeii they are found on almost every corner. You will recognize them by the “counters”, covered with pieces of marble, with built-in clay vessels in which the food was kept warm.

A diner in Pompeii

Now let’s have a look into the private property. The eruption caused terrible damage, but at the same time preserved everything below. You will not see many furniture – they were still mostly wooden and got charred. There are pieces of big wooden gates here and there, but they look like muddy partitions. The stone remained. Columns, architraves, swimming pools, stairs to the upper floors, fountains, statues and garden furniture. The gardens that the current hosts in Pompeii will offer you are not exactly the olden ones. But close enough.

A modern Roman garden

To my greatest joy, the tragic conservation of the city has preserved many of the interior decorations. The Romans loved to have decorations everywhere, when they could afford it. The floors – with mosaics, the walls and ceilings – with murals. Not all are masterpieces of fine or applied arts, but all carry the charm of a rediscovered ancient world. Including the bright glowing colors of almost 2000 years of age. And some are even beautiful.

Home decoration at Pompeii

There is so much more to tell about Pompeii. The fountains at the crossroads, decorated with faces. The public laundry. Bread bakeries combined with mills. The public brothel. The necropolises beyond the city walls. The personal belongings, most of which are in the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Like I said, it just can’t be short. The ancient Pompeians were just like us and their lives were just as multi-layered. To the extent that they regularly wished each other health, prosperity and luck, only in a slightly different way than we do. For example like this:

Roman wish of health and happiness

You may read more about our trip in the region of Naples here.