What to look out for in Pompeii

I had a plan and I had a schedule. What I didn’t account for was how long photography can take or my fascination with the Roman grid system.

Three hour visits are laughable

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First of all, the amount of time I’d allocated to see sites across Pompeii was ridiculous in itself. Initially, three hours seemed like more than enough and, looking at the map, I immediately thought “Ha! Of course I can do the most interesting areas in three hours. All I need to do is power walk through the main streets, take my snapshot and go to the next site.” In hindsight, it was a very objective plan, one which didn’t take a few basic facts into account:

Pompeii is always packed

pompeii-tourists

Apart from your usual tour guides holding up umbrellas and ping pong paddles to show their groups where they are before drowning in a sea of bodies, Pompeii was full of couples, young families, retired groups, lone travellers and dogs. SO. MANY. DOGS. No that I’m complaining too much about that one. I probably pushed my schedule back even further by stopping to pat each dog that came within a 10-metre radius.

Cobblestones

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Fellow clumsies, beware! If you think Rome is a cobbled nightmare, then you’ve obviously never visited Pompeii. One of the truly fascinating aspects is that you can see the city’s evolution through time simply by looking at how each brick and cobblestone is laid out. Earlier roads having wider gaps between them, while modern structures are placed in a more symmetrical manner. However, it also means that your feet will more than likely catch on a rogue cobblestone and send you toppling straight towards an ancient gutter. Getting up close and personal with history just took on a whole new meaning.

Getting the perfect shot takes time

pompeii-courtyard

You’ve just reached the Basilica and found that there’s some great contrast between the blue sky and the temple’s earthy colours. What other choice do you have but to get out your camera? Problem is, so is everyone else. Nearly all tourists that visit Pompeii have a Canon 400D hanging around their necks, and you might find that there are small concentrations of amateur photographers hanging around areas with the best light. You won’t only need time to snap more than once: you’ll need to find a shot that doesn’t have a disruptive lens or bald patch blocking the view.

The grid system only works in theory

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The city presents one of the best examples of how effective Roman road systems were. Pompeii was an avid trading centre, taking advantage of its geographical position to exchange goods throughout the Mediterranean (most notably, its notable local wine, which was said to produce equally notable hangovers). With this information and the apparent grid system in mind, I thought that navigating Pompeii would be straightforward: if I went slightly off route, I could always turn right and head back towards a main road.

But, as always, nothing is ever that easy (especially directions). Further discoveries and funding over the past year have lead to a whole array of new digs around the city. This means that a lot of streets have been cut off and fast scapegoats are gone. Now you’ll have to take the long way round. That is, if you don’t get sidetracked by…

Hidden entries

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Several buildings along the site offer access to internal areas visitors can explore. However, some only have limited capacity and small queues can easily form around entrances. If you’re trying to fit in as much as possible before closing time, waiting around won’t seem like the best idea .

However, whilst wandering down the streets, you may stumble upon an entrance that isn’t easily spotted on the map. If there’s a security guard, they may even give you a sly come hither look and encourage you to sneak a peek. These small doorways are where Pompeii’s magic becomes apparent: fountains, statues, remnants of bright mosaics…Vesuvius might have wiped out all life on its streets, but the second rain of ash covered the remains and helped preserve them for thousands of years. You could easily get lost in the different rooms, capturing snippets of tour guide’s stories about Roman baths and snobby neighbours trying to out do each other’s dining rooms.

Simple Roman wanderlust

pompeii-another-hillside

Above all, I should have realised that trying to make any objective plan involving Pompeii and myself was a lost cause. As a child, I used to devour books on Roman mythology and watch documentaries about Pompeii’s graphic gladiator graffiti. As soon as I stumbled across the first entombed statue, I was a goner. Who cares that the site closes at 4PM? I was imagining plays in the large theatre, offerings to Jupiter in his temple and finally getting a glimpse of a place I’d idealised for years.

If you truly love a place, don’t try to plan it out. Organisation can be saved for public transport and dinner reservations. Whilst you’re in Pompeii, take it in, enjoy the scenery and just watch your step.

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