The Top Archaeological Sites to See at Pompeii

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The Top Archaeological Sites to See at Pompeii

When in Rome … try to get to Pompeii. This longish day trip from Rome, or easy day trip from Naples, is worth the time. Plus, if you have the time, you can add on a visit to Mount Vesuvius. New areas of the site are being opened all the time, keeping the experience fresh and interesting. Plan to spend all day if you are a true archaeology buff, and at least two to three hours. Perhaps the best tip is to make sure you purchase an audio guide, have a good guidebook with you or enlist the services of a tour guide. Without this assistance, you may miss out on the most interesting facets of the vast site.
 
If you’re short on time, try to these top sites (it’ll take about two hours): the Quadriporticus of the theatres or Gladiators Barracks; the Large Theatre; the Small Theatre – Odeon; the House of the Menande; the House of Casca Longus; the Fullery of Stephanus; and the House of the Lararium of Achilles. If you have four or more hours, add on the Garden of the Fugitives, the Necropolis of Nocera Gate, the Amphitheater, the Praedia of Giulia Felice, the House of Venus in the shell, the House of Octavius Quartio, the House of the Epidii, the Stabian Baths, the Lupanar, the House of the Faun, the House of the Vettii, the House of the Golden Cupids, the House of the Ara Maxima, the Villa of the Mysteries, the Forum, the Basilica and the Sanctuary of Venus.
 
Of these significant Pompeii sites, we’ve outlined the most popular below. Put these at the top of your must-see list for Pompeii:
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1. Ruins of Pompeii
Start, naturally, with the haunting ruins of Pompeii. These wow-worthy archaeological ruins are impressive to all, whether or not you harbor an inner Indiana Jones. As most know from high school history classes, in AD 79, the town of Pompeii was buried by a layer of pumice stone (or lapilli) when Vesuvius erupted. The fact that the site was not destroyed, and instead somehow preserved despite the natural disaster, is a boon for history and archaeology buffs today. Here, you can walk down Roman streets, poke around ancient temples and shops, houses and amphitheaters. It wasn’t until 1594 that architect Domenico Fontana discovered the ruins while he was in the process of digging a canal. It was another 150-plus years before exploration began; since that time, 108 of this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s original 163 acres have been excavated. Invest in one of the audio guides and bring along a good guidebook to get the most from your Pompeii experience.
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2. Villa dei Misteri
Get a feel for what life was like in the original Pompeii within this restored, 90-room villa. It is one of the most complete structures left. Art history buffs will particularly enjoy seeing the Dionysiac frieze in the large dining room, a depiction of a bride-to-be’s initiation into Dionysus’ cult. To reach Villa dei Misteri, follow Via Consolare northwest through Porta Ercolano. Pass Villa di Diomede and eventually reach Villa dei Misteri. At its northern end, notice the wine-making area, representative of the villa’s agricultural past.
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3. Foro
The Foro, or Civil Forum, was the heart of daily life in ancient Pompeii. Prior to the construction of the Anfiteatro (amphitheater), this was also the site of gladiatorial games. Surrounding the large limestone column-flanked rectangle, visitors find remains of public buildings that housed civic offices and markets. The city’s main place of worship, Tempio di Giove (or Capitolium) is at the piazza’s northern end.
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4. Tempio di Apollo
Tempio di Apollo dates back to the 2nd century BC and is one of Pompeii’s oldest and most significant religious structures. An earlier version is believed to have dated back to the 6th century BC and some fragments from that structure remain. The original statues of Apollo and Diana are now at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples, so the ones you see here flanking the portico are copies.
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5. Casa del Menandro & Casa del Fauno
Casa del Menandro, a luxurious estate, is smaller, yet better preserved than Casa del Fauno. Efforts are underway to stabilize the site, but if these are complete, visitors will be able to admire the colonnade-framed courtyard, the frescoed atrium, the private bathhouse and its beautiful mosaics and the fresco of the ancient Greek dramatist Menander, the villa’s namesake.
 
Casa del Fauno is less well preserved, but enormous, taking up an entire city block. It was Pompeii’s largest public house. The site’s most impressive mosaics were found here and are now housed at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples. Notice the namesake bronze statue in the estate’s shallow pool, as well as the geometrically patterned marble floor.
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6. Lupanare
The Lupanare, or brothel, of Pompeii houses explicit frescoes that were likely intended to “set the mood” for clients, who would then visit one of the five available rooms. Brothel workers left behind names, inscriptions and messages of love and hope on the walls of the rooms. The upper floor is believed to be the home of the brothel owner and prostitutes.
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7. Terme Stabiane
This 2nd-century-BC bathing complex features a vestibule, where bathers would enter, a changing room, then a tepidarium (tepid bath) and caldarium (hot bath). Notice the stucco of the men’s changing room, with its whimsical artwork and images.
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8. Antiquarium
Don’t miss this small museum, which houses rotating exhibits and illuminates visitors about ancient Roman life. There’s an excellent multimedia presentation that digitally reconstructs many of the buildings, making it easier to envision what the ancient city looked like in its heyday.

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