Our Blog - Naples, Pompeii, and Herculaneum, Italy - October 2007

Another trip to Italy, and this time to Naples. The weather was chilly and a bit rainy (go figure!) but the trip went along smoothly until we got to spend 24 hours at the airport. Our return flight to Paris was canceled due to an Air Traffic Controller strike across Italy for 4 hours.


The weather was initially bright and sunny in Naples as you can see in this picture of the five-towered Castel Nuovo. The building of this started in 1279 and completed in only 3 years.

This is the Spire of the Immaculate Virgin, and it stands at the center of the Gesù Nuovo square (there are also a couple churches there). It is the tallest and most ornamental of the three "plague columns" in Naples which were built to invoke the Lord's protection from the plague. This one was completed in 1750 after many decades of construction.

As with most European cities, there are lots of Churches. This is one such church and it was interesting because of the unique shape. The interior is quite tall and rectangular.

The Il Duomo was built from 1272-1315. This amazing chapel has unfortunately lost most of its original Gothic structure, now exhibiting more of a Neo-Gothic style.

This is Piazza Plebiscito, and is the largest square in Naples. We didn't get to walk around it much, as they were setting up for a visit the following day from the Pope.

This is just a picture of the buildings opposite the Plebiscito Piaza.

Naples resides on a hill and as we were walking on the hills the first night we got this great view of a sunset.

The view from our hotel window over the Naples Bay.

In the Naples museum is the famous floor mosaic from Pompeii showing the battle between Alexander the Great and Darius at the battle of Issus.

This is a statue in the Naples National Archeological Museum. It was quite interesting to look at.


Pompeii was a thriving Roman city when, in AD79, it ceased to exist. It was located 6 miles southeast of Naples on one side of Mount Vesuvius and was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 62 AD. Then, in August of 79AD, Vesuvius erupted, burying Pompeii in ash and pumice which killed around 2,000 of it's residents. It remained buried for almost 1700 years, until it was discovered by accident. It is much larger than Herculaneum, and much better excavated.

One of the larger buildings in Pompeii was the Basilica which housed a meeting place, trading hall as well as a court of Justice. Shown here is the Tribunal which is where the presiding judges would sit.

Near the Basilica is the Temple of Apollo, the city's major religious building. The worship of Apollo was very important in this part of Italy and the Temple had existed on this spot since the 6th century BC. Pictured here is a copy of the statue of Apollo.

The Temple of Jupiter is a short walk from the Temple of Apollo, the Temple of Jupiter was in the middle of being rebuilt after the devastating earthquake in 62 AD when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. In the background you can see Mount Vesuvius.

The center of Pompeii's political, religious and economic life was the Forum, which stood at the intersection of the city's main roads. It was approximately 100 feet by 450 feet in size and was completely arcaded.

A close up view of one of the remaining statues in the Forum, showing the detailed handiwork. Most of the statues in the Forum were toppled from their bases in the earthquake in 62 AD and had not been renovated when Vesuvius erupted 17 years later.

Throughout both Pompeii and Herculaneum there are numerous examples of paintings that were on the walls of houses. The paintings were almost always very colorful and after 2000 years are still in good shape.

Susan is closely examining the cast of a skeleton. Since many of the dead were buried in ashes that eventually hardened and the bodies turned to dust, cavities were created in the hard volcanic material. By pouring liquid plaster in the cavities images of people in the last moments of their lives were created.

A closer view of one of the skeleton casts throughout Pompeii.

There are a variety of public baths in Pompeii, pictured here are the Forum Baths which are among the more interesting due to their good condition and elegant decorations.

In the large room for the baths are niches where those bathing would put their clothes before going into the water.

Another view of the Forum baths.

A particularly well preserved example of a fountain in the garden of a residence. In many of the houses in Pompeii you will find pieces of artwork and statues, the importance of art being greater than we had imagined.

A copy of the Alexander the Great mosaic that resides in the Naples museum. The original mosaic was found in this residence and as part of the reconstruction of the residence a copy was put into the ruins.

Throughout both Pompeii and Herculaneum are structures that look like kitchen countertops. It turns out that normally the residents of Pompeii and Herculaneum would eat out for lunch and these structures acted as countertops in a restaurant. The holes you see are where jars full of food were placed.

In many ways Pompeii and Herculaneum were very modern cities with things we have today. An interesting building was a brothel with erotic art on the walls and 9 small rooms each with one bed for the young ladies and their customers.

There were two theaters in Pompeii, both built into hillsides. The larger one seated close to 15,000 people and was used for plays, concerts and poetry recitals.

Tom is standing in front of the Temple of Isis, built in the late 2nd century BC. During this period the Egyptian cult enjoyed a great deal of popularity among Romans and there are other examples of Egyptian symbols in Pompeii.

Throughout Pompeii there were public water fountains. While Pompeii was a relatively modern city they did not have indoor water, so you will see plenty of water fountains to be used by the local residents.

As mentioned previously there were two theaters in Pompeii, pictured here is the smaller theater. It was built around 80 BC and this roofed theater was used primarily for concerts.

Another picture of the smaller theater, this time of the floor with its relatively well preserved tiles.

Two frescoes flank a fountain in one of the larger houses in Pompeii.

A ground level view of Pompeii's amphitheater which measured 444 X 342 feet. It was built in 80 BC and is the oldest remaining Roman Amphitheater. You may be able to make out the three levels of seating which were reserved based on your level in society.

Another view of the Amphitheater, this time from the top.


Herculaneum, named for Hercules who supposedly founded the city, is on the other side of Mount Vesuvius from Pompeii, and was an elite Roman resort when the volcano erupted. Instead of ash and pumice, Herculaneum was buried under a mudslide which covered it with 36 feet of mud, ash, and "ooze". Since the buildings filled up with this ooze instead of having ash sit on top, the roofs did not collapse in many cases, and the heat basically carbonized materials instead of ruining them. This is why in some cases, the buildings are better preserved.

A close up view of the holes built into the restaurant countertops where the large jars would be stored.

A picture of a few buildings from a street in Herculaneum.

On the gate to one of the houses there is a terra-cotta Gorgon mask for protection against the evil eye.

Unlike Pompeii there are examples of preserved wood in Herculaneum due to the fact that it was buried under 50 feet of rock that preserved organic materials. Here are pieces of wood used in the building of a house.

It was not unusual to see inscriptions in Pompeii and Herculaneum, here is a picture of a rather well preserved example. As neither of us are fluent in Latin we cannot tell you what it says.

A wall mosaic with Hercules, Juno and Minerva that shows the vivid colors used in the paintings in the Roman period.

A typical street in Herculaneum with sidewalks on both sides as well as the remains of columns. The streets in Herculaneum tended to be narrower than those in Pompeii, while those in Pompeii normally were not flanked by columns.

A large mosaic of Neptune and Amphitrite, the house is now named for this mosaic.

Tom posing with a bust of one of the house owner's in Herculaneum, apparently egos were large in ancient times as well.

Another picture of Herculaneum's streets, as you can see from all of the umbrellas the weather was not great this day.

In one of the more aristocratic houses in Herculaneum you will find the relief depicting an episode from the myth of Orestes, the house was named for this relief.

A constant surprise to us was how colorful rooms and buildings were in ancient times. Normally we picture columns as being white marble, here you can see the dark red columns in the residence.

The colorful tiled floor within one of the houses in the town.

In the garden of the House of the Deer are multiple statues of animals as well as people.

A close up of the famous statue of dogs attacking deer in the House of the Deer.