When you visit Pompeii, Herculaneum, or Oplontis, you’re not just visiting another Italian museum. You’re stepping back thousands of years to a world frozen in time. These magnificent archeological parks still have vibrant frescoes, ancient fountains, and even vineyards within 2,000-year-old courtyards. With the Pompeii Card, you can visit 5 fascinating sites in the area. Learn more about the card and check out the timetables to plan your visit. This website also includes maps for each of the archeological sites.
The Archaeological Park of Pompeii
I think we can all agree that Pompeii needs no introduction. The volcanic eruption that buried this metropolis in 79 AD has captured our imaginations since the city’s rediscovery in the 18th century. The near-immaculate state of preservation of Pompeii’s houses, villas, wall paintings, jewelry, and other treasures has allowed the city to function as a window into ancient Roman life.
What most visitors don’t realize is that only two-thirds of the city has been excavated! Among the city’s prized jewels is the incomparable Villa of the Mysteries. Its wall paintings are among the best-known examples of Roman wall painting from the 1st century BC. The villa is named after the paintings in Room 5 which are commonly interpreted as depicting the initiation of a young woman into matrimony in accordance with the Dionysian Mysteries — a mystery cult devoted to the god known to the Romans as Bacchus (Dionysus).
House of the Vetti
This year, after a 20-year-long restoration project, the spectacular House of the Vettii has been reopened to the public. This house is one of the most richly decorated in Pompeii and symbolizes the economic prosperity of the owners, the brothers Aulus Vettius Restitutus and Aulus Vettius Conviva Liberti, who were rich traders. The more richly decorated rooms include the living room with the famous frieze of the Cupids. Here the Cupids carry out the main productive activities of that time. This includes selling wine, cleaning clothes, cultivating flowers, harvesting, jewelry-making, and even creating perfumes.
A few tips: Plan to spend at least 3-4 hours exploring Pompeii — if not a full day — and dress accordingly. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes, SPF, and plenty of water. If you have time, consider staying overnight at our favorite hotel in Pompeii, the Bosco de Medici Winery & Resort. Enjoy local volcanic wines and sunbathe with a clear view of Mount Vesuvius.
Although not as famous as its neighbor, the town of Herculaneum was also destroyed and buried under the ashes of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Named after the demigod Hercules, whose name means “the glory of Hera,” the structures of this smaller ancient town are also incredibly preserved. However, while you can’t cover all of Pompeii in a day, Herculaneum can be seen in just a few hours.
Unlike Pompeii, the mainly pyroclastic material that covered Herculaneum carbonized and preserved more wooden objects. Roofs, beds, and doors, as well as organic materials like food and papyrus rolls, can be seen today. One of the most beautiful structures in the town is the House of Neptune and Amphitrite. It is named after the gorgeous mosaic depicting the god of the sea and his wife. In the legend, Neptune saw Amphitrite dancing with the Nereids on the island of Naxos, carried her off, and married her.
This mosaic is located in the home’s beautifully decorated inner courtyard which also contains a nymphaeum: a grotto dedicated to the nymphs thanks to its natural water supply.
The Villa of Oplontis is probably Pompeii’s best-kept secret. This gorgeous villa is located in what is the suburban area of Torre Annunziata and consists of two lavish buildings. The first, Villa A, is a luxurious residential complex that belonged to Poppaea Sabina, the second wife of the notorious Emperor Nero. It was built in the 1st century BC and has yet to be completely excavated. The second, Villa B, which is not open to the public, was a business center that processed wine and oil.
Poppaea’s villa boasts some of the most magnificent examples of illusionistic wall paintings we have today. These include realistically painted portrayals of glass bowls, colorful peacocks, luscious fruits, as well as fantastical architecture. Today, you can visit the villa and see the enormous swimming pool, richly decorated bedrooms, and dining room. There is also a small winter garden decorated with gorgeous paintings, sculptures, and fountains. You may not have heard of Oplontis until now, but trust me, it is not to be missed.
The sites of Boscoreale and Stabiae are all under the jurisdiction of The Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Boscoreale is located a mile north of Pompeii at the foot of Mt Vesuvius. Due to the fertile soil, it was home to many aristocratic villas and farms that cultivated grapes, olives, and cereals during the Roman era. The Antiquarium of Boscoreale holds most of the findings from Villa Regina. This includes mosaic floors, the painting of Dionysus, and the gorgeous illusionistic wall paintings from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor.
The importance of Stabiae goes back to the 8th century BC when it played an essential strategic and commercial role in Italy. Stabiae is full of residential villas, with beautifully decorated large apartments, thermal baths, porticoes, and nymphaea. Villa San Marco is one of the largest Roman villas in the area. The villa derives its name from an ancient chapel dedicated to St. Mark built on the site during the 18th century. The villa includes a panoramic garden and a swimming pool enclosed by a three-sided portico. The rooms are decorated with scenes of cupids, landscapes, golden vases, wrestlers, and even thermal baths.
Villa Arianna is another showstopping beauty! It is the most ancient villa in the area and was named after a large mythological fresco on the far wall of the triclinium (dining room). Although most of the building has yet to be excavated, we know about many of its quarters. The villa has service rooms, thermal baths, and a large gym. The rooms are richly decorated with flying figures, cupids, mythological characters, miniature landscapes, masks, and medallions containing busts. The larger rooms are decorated with mythological themes and almost life-size figures from the myths of Dionysus, such as that of Ariadne abandoned by Theseus on the far wall of the dining room.
How to Get To Pompeii
If you are visiting from another major city like Rome, you’ll have to take the train to Naples and change trains to take the local Circumvesuviana line. If you’re visiting from the south, just take the same local Circumvesuviana line — you’ll be in Pompeii in 20 minutes. Luckily, TrainItalia is currently planning to create a direct line from Rome-Pompeii!
However, if you are planning on visiting multiple sites at once the Archaeological Park of Pompeii has inaugurated the POMPEII ARTEBUS, an air-conditioned shuttle connecting all the sites under the jurisdiction of the park, free of charge for all visitors! You can even purchase an annual pass called MyPompeii to access all the sites for €35. Most importantly, the archaeological park is dedicated to accommodating as many visitors as possible and has developed the Pompeii for All itinerary, specifically designed for those with motor disabilities.