Imagine if what we thought we knew about Pompeii was wrong? An astonishing new discovery just dramatically changed what we know about the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in A.D 79.
Last year while excavations were being done on two villas that
had been partially excavated in the 19th century, some interesting
First There Was Pliny The Younger
Up until this point the thinking was that Mt Vesuvius erupted on August 24th 79 A.D. This was based on the writings of 18 year old Pliny the Younger. He had been in Misenum at the home of his uncle, the writer and philosopher Pliny the Elder, when Vesuvius erupted. From the safety of the home he was able to watch everything happening across the Gulf of Naples.
While the Elder raced off in warships to rescue people (and
ultimately to his own death) the Younger stayed at home to work on his studies.
His written accounts of that day and the days to follow have given us much of
the knowledge we have about what happened at Pompeii.
Interestingly up until that point there had been no word for
volcano. No one had ever seen one before. Mt Vesuvius was a mountain covered in
vineyards and farms. It had never blown before, so had no crater – the top was
just the same as any other mountain.
17 years before, on February 5th 62 A.D there was a
massive earthquake in Pompeii. Thought to be a 7.5 the earthquake felled
buildings and caused much destruction. Seneca the Younger wrote:
tremor was on 5 February in the consulship of Regulus and Verginius and it
inflicted great devastation on Campania… sheep died and statues split. Some
people have lost their minds and wander about in their madness.
By 79 A.D much of the restoration had been completed. More
earthquakes had occurred, causing damage to buildings, and it is this
subsequent repair work that has led to the new discovery.
An Astonishing New Discovery
Archaeologists have discovered charcoal writing on the wall of one of the two villas mentioned above, thought to have been done by a builder or architect working on the home. It reads: XVI K NOV . This means the 16th day before the 1st day of November, or October 17th.
This could have been done in the days before the eruption, possibly as a recording of the work he had completed. Italian authorities say this new discovery rewrites history, changing the belief that the eruption happened on the 24th of August.
The inscription and date was found with other bits of
writing/graffiti on the walls of the atrium and corridor of the villa, much of
it being quite raunchy, some even obscene. Which was pretty common in Pompeii.
A Question Of Pomegranates
Some scholars have believed for a long time that the date of the eruption was incorrect. In the past calcified remains of fresh pomegranates have been found at Pompeii. This suggests an autumn eruption, as pomegranate trees don’t mature by August instead having a season from October until January or February.
Other Treasures Found In The Villas
Other archaeological finds in the villas include frescoes of the gods Venus, Adonis, Paris and Eros, and mosaics depicting wild animals such as snakes, deer, lions and crocodiles. In one of the villas archaeologists found the skeletal remains of 5 people who had no doubt been hiding from the pumice and ash raining down from the volcano.
Pompeii is a suburb of Naples, easily reached by taking the circumsuviana train from Naples train station to the Pompeii Scavi stop. It is an easy day trip from Rome (only 1 hour and 20 minutes on the high speed train) and is a quick trip by train from Sorrento.
If you take the time to visit Pompeii (highly recommended)
after visiting the ruins take the circumsuviana train three stops towards
Naples to the Ercolano stop and walk to the ruins at Herculaneum. They are
quite different to those in Pompeii, and complete the picture of what life
looked like back then and what the homes in Pompeii would have looked like were
they still standing. It’s quite incredible.
I could easily run away to Rome and never look back. I have insanely long lists of things to do in Rome that I will need more than one lifetime to ever complete, so when I’m there it’s hard to get me to take off on a day trip unless I am leading one of my tours.
But people are always asking me about good day trips to do from Rome, and preferably day trips that you can do by train. If you have read my book Glam Italia! How to travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) then you already know that I am a huge advocate of staying in as few places as possible, and doing lots of day trips instead of constantly packing up and moving. So much vacation time is wasted by packing, checking out, waiting to check in to the new place and then checking in. I would rather just stay in one or two locations. (If you haven’t read my book you can get your copy here.)
Most places in Italy are easily reached by train, which makes getting around incredibly easy. The high speed trains open up so many opportunities to you too. On my tours we often do day trips to Venice from Rome. It takes 3.5 hours each way by fast train, but the time whizzes by as you watch Italy through the huge, panoramic windows. It’s like being inside an episode of a National Geographic TV show!
The trains are very economical too, so you can travel around on any budget and not miss out.
The following is a list of 10 fantastic day trips from Rome by train. If you are new to train travel, or if this will be your first time in Italy, I have a hugely popular post that breaks down everything you need to know about using the trains in Italy. You can let that be your guide and take away any fears you may have about train travel and how to use the trains in a foreign country.
Florence is a super easy day trip from Rome. The high speed AV trains run all day long and it only takes about an hour and 20 minutes to get there.
I recommend getting on the earliest train you can so that you can arrive in Florence before the crowds from the bus tours and the cruise ships descend on the city. If you can handle getting up early, I recommend trying to arrive in Florence around 8 am. You will have the city to yourself and be able to take fantastic photos in popular places like the Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio ad Ponte Vecchio without a million tourists in the way.
It is amazing to see those places empty, and be able to see all the statues, the old store fronts and the famous views. Have a 10 am cup of coffee and just watch the crowds arrive – you won’t even believe it! And you will be thanking me for making you get up so early….
Pompeii is just fantastic, and if there is any way that you can add it into your itinerary, I highly recommend it.
Pompeii is a suburb of Naples and has a train stop right outside the main gates. Take the high speed/AV train from Rome to Naples and then the little local Circumsuviana train to the Pompeii Scavi stop.
When you are done with Pompeii jump back on the train and go 3 stops to Ercolano. You have to walk a few blocks from the train but everything is well signed so you won’t get lost.
If doing both, I suggest going to Pompeii first. Learn all about what happened when Vesuvius erupted, learn about Roman roads and the clever way they built their towns – there is so much to see! After visiting Pompeii head to Herculaneum and see just how vertical the homes were, you won’t believe the intense colors of the 2000 year old frescoes, and you will get more of a feel for the community they lived in.
It is amazing how differently the two towns were impacted by the eruption. If not for a change in the wind we wouldn’t have Herculaneum. It would have disappeared over the millennia just as other towns have done.
If traveling between May and October take a big bottle of water with you and refill it as you need with cold Aqueduct water from the fountains in Pompeii. It gets very, very hot there so make sure you have a sunhat and comfortable walking shoes too.
Make sure you allow yourself time to eat some piazza in Naples before you take the train back to Rome.
4.TIVOLI – HADRIAN’S VILLA AND VILLA D’ESTE
This one is actually easier as a bus trip from Rome. I did it with Viator, and although it was good the tour guide drove me mental. He was desperate for us to buy leather at his friend’s shop and eat at his other friend’s restaurant which got incredibly annoying. But other than that he was a really good guide and great information.
The day trip took us to Hadrian’s Villa, (Villa Adriana) a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Tivoli. When Hadrian was emperor he didn’t much care for living on the Palatine Hill, so built this giant complex in the second and third decades of the 2nd century. He was thought to have been living there as his main residence from around 128 A.D.
Villa Adriana is definitely worth visiting. The complex is enormous and absolutely spectacular.
Just up the hill from Villa Adriana in the town of Tivoli, Villa d’Este is a 16th century villa built by Cardinal Ippolito d’Este. Much of the material used to build d’Este was pilfered from Villa Adriana.
In a time when there were no paparazzi to see what was going on, Popes and cardinals and who knows who else were all busy marrying and having mistresses and orgies and generally getting up to no good. Cardinal Ippolito d’Este was very wealthy, with a wife and 4 sons. He took an enormous amount of land from the locals to build his gardens at Tivoli, and at one point had 12 lawsuits against him. He didn’t care and built them anyway.
The most famous element of the gardens are the fountains. D’Este diverted the Aniene river to provide water to one of the most spectacular series of fountains and water exhibits you will ever see.
Everything is powered by the water itself, including a huge fountain that plays renaissance music several times per day. Make sure you find out when the fountain is scheduled to play and time your visit to be in front of it when it does – it is quite remarkable! We were there at 2:30, but I don’t know what other times it goes off.
You can get to Tivoli by train but would have to get buses to and from Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este and every which way I looked at it, it seemed better to take the Viator bus trip from Rome. Just don’t eat where the guide tells you to as there are much better and less rip-off places all over Tivoli. And Tivoli is not the place to be buying leather jackets!
Just an hour from Rome by train the Umbrian border town of Orvieto is an absolute gem. From the train station you take a funicular up the hill to the medieval town. Orvieto is famous for its cathedral, which is thought to be one of Italy’s most beautiful. The outside may remind you of Siena, and the Luca Signorelli frescoes inside are said to have inspired Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel. This is a fabulous town to wander around, divert down little side streets, eat the wonderful local cuisine, and of course drink Orvieto wine! I just love Orvieto.
But there’s more! You can descend below ground to one of the most unique undergrounds in all of Italy. This is Etruscan country, and the labyrinth of tunnels and rooms below the city of Orvieto were dug by the Etruscans more than 2500 years ago.
Marlena di Blasi’s book The Lady in the Palazzo: An Umbrian Love Story is set in Orvieto. She and her husband Fernando live there now after 1000 days in Venice, and another 3 years in Tuscany. I just love her books and recommend reading this one before going to Orvieto. I love recognizing the various streets and shops and eateries she talks about, it adds even more flavor to the experience! I always am on the lookout for her but have never seen her when I have been in town. Not that I even know what I would do if I did see her – is it madly geeky to fan-girl on up to an author and tell them you love their books?
Viterbo is a magical medieval town an hour from Rome by train. For 20 years during the 13th century it was the home of the Pope. Considered one of the best preserved medieval towns in all of Italy, Viterbo is a fantastic place to just wander and take in all the history.
With a population of around 60,000 there are some wonderful places to eat and some good shopping. The Pope’s Palace and the Papal Hot Springs are probably the biggest tourist sites, but in my opinion this is a town to visit with no agenda and a good appetite.
7. Civita di Bagnoreggio
This one takes a little longer to reach but is well worth seeing!
Civita di Bagnoreggio, also known as La Citta Che Muore/The Dying Town was founded on a hilltop by the Etruscans 2500+ years ago. Over the millenia the town has slowly been eroding away and falling down the hillside. In 2006 it was placed on the World Monuments Fund’s watch list of the 100 most endangered sites due to the danger it faces from both erosion and also unregulated tourism.
Architecturally it is quite fantastic. Being so remote and isolated much of the architecture spanning back hundreds of years is unaltered. It was the birthplace of Saint Bonaventure, who died back in 1274. Since then his childhood home fell off the cliff as the town eroded.
There are no cars in Civita, and in fact the only way into the town is via a walking bridge that bridges a giant chasm and looks like the great wall of China. Civita is like an island in the sky with 365 degree views.
The year round population is only 7 people, and in the summer it swells to 100. Tourists have bought up some of the homes and modernized them a little, but Civita feels like it is a place that time forgot.
It is just fantastic.
Without a car the best way to get to Civita from Rome is to take the train to Orvieto and then from the Orvieto train station take the bus to Civita. If you were to do both in one day I would get an early start, do Civita first, and then swan around Orvieto all afternoon and into the evening.
Two and a half hours from Rome this is another train and bus combo trip and is perfect for anyone interested in some really ancient history. The burial grounds or nercropolis date back to the Iron Age of the 9th century B.C.
Tarquinii was one of the most important and ancient Etruscan towns, and has a fascinating history.
The necropolis is one of Italy’s most important Etruscan sites. More than 6000 tombs have been excavated here, 140 of which have vivid, incredible frescoes, 20 of which ar eopen to the public.
You also need to visit the Museo Archeologico while there to see some pretty sensational Etruscan artifacts.
9. Ostia Antica
From the steep amphitheater to Neptune’s Baths to the Thermopolium, an ancient café with a bar and traces of the old menu frescoed on the wall, a trip to Ostia Antica is almost like visiting a mini Pompeii. The mosaics are sensational, and by themselves alone are worth the trip, but there is just so much here to see!
Book ahead to have a guide take you into one of the two Case Decorate (decorated houses) to see the 2000 year old frescoes. The guided tours are on Sundays at 10:30 am, (but check to see if they offer more when you will be in Rome) and you cannot go inside the houses without a guide.
Another point of interest, especially if you a traveling with young boys, is the public toilet at the Terme del Foro. 20 well preserved latrines line a long stone bench where ancient Romans would socialize while going about their business!
Ostia Antica is an easy 25 minute train ride from the Pirimide station. Wear good walking shoes and plan on spending several hours there – there is so much to see!
The most unique city on earth is easily accessible from Rome by train, and is well worth the trip. From Roma Termini station it takes around 3 and a half hours. If you can get them buy tickets on the 6:15 Italo train, which will get you into Venice by 10 am. If not, the 8:15 will get you in around noon.
The last trains out of Venice leave between 7pm and 8 pm, so you do need to maximize your time on the ground.
I have made a downloadable PDF with 10 of my secret things to do in Venice, including my two favorite places to eat and some really fabulous places to walk and be far from the cruise ship crowds. This is information that will never be on the blog and is for people who a serious about seeing more than Rialto Bridge to St Marks Square. Get your Secret Venice PDF Here
Do you have any day trips from Rome that you would like to add to the list? If so please tell me in the comments section below.
Ah – the beautiful chaos of Napoli! I’m in love with this city.
Did you know that Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world?? Bronze Age Greek settlements were established in the second millennium BC.
lovers and families in Naples
Naples is gritty and raw, and a bit dirty. It is also fast, sexy and very exciting.
This beautiful city is the gateway to the more refined and subdued Amalfi Coast, the main access point to the incredibly chic Capri, the spa-like island of Ischia, and to one of the 10 most colorful places on earth, the gorgeous and quaint little island of Procida. Her suburbs include Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Naples is a heartbeat city. Alive, vibrant and fun, a city you absolutely need to experience.
On foot. Even with all the miles I have racked up driving the length and breadth of Italy and Sicily you couldn’t pay me to drive in the madness that is Naples. Even on a scooter.
A vacation on the Amalfi Coast needs at least a day devoted to Napoli. But once you’ve spent a day in Naples you will leave itching to get back for more. A week wouldn’t be enough time to see it all in Naples!
Here are 8 Things You Must Do In Naples.
1. Drink Coffee.
Italy has the best coffee in the world, and Naples has the best coffee in all of Italy. Start your day in Naples with a quick caffe or macchiato, and then stop throughout the day to get refueled.
Neopolitan coffee is very, very strong. It tastes like no other coffee on earth. In a way, it ruins you, because after coffee in Napoli every coffee you drink pales by comparison. Just don’t go past 9 in one day…
News articles have told of unfortunates who drank ten espressi in one day and keeled over dead as a result.
Spaccanapoli, literally split Naples, is a perfectly straight street that dates back 2000 years to Greek times. It runs right through the heart of Naples’ historic center.
Walking Spaccanapoli you experience a sensory overload of everything you’ve ever thought Naples to be. It is narrow and vertical, built up high with fantastic old buildings. At street level it is teeming with life, a visual explosion of shops and people and restaurants, and, well, life!
The sounds of Spaccanapoli are wonderful and loud. Neopolitans don’t talk, they shout. And gesture, and emote. They are wonderful!
Don’t forget to look up and see the laundry strung out across the street, drying in the coastal breeze.
This light as air cake is smothered in a rum syrup. Or maybe it’s pure rum? Who knows – I could swear I got a little buzz from it.
Either way Baba is a must.
4. Walk and walk and walk.
This is definitely not a city to view from a bus window. Hit the street and make a circuit from the train station down past the university, cut through to the Plaza Plebiscito, walk up through San Carlos, the mall Galleria Umberto and see the exquisite Buildings being restored to their former elegance.
From there head up to Spaccanapoli, a lone, narrow road that literally splits Naples in half. There is so much to see here! Santa Chiara and it’s amazing cloisters, the cathedral of San Gregorio Armeno and via San Gregorio Armeno where you can buy the world famous presepi.
These are nativity scenes and individual items from nativity scenes which are an integral part of the Italian Christmas. Every home has one.
They are not just the 3 Wise Men and Jesus in the manger, the Neopolitan presepi include everyone who lives in the village. They are so detailed and spectacular and special!You can buy entire nativity scenes to bring home, or individual Christmas decoration pieces.
One thing I found amazing about spending time in Campania in December was the presepi set up on random little streets by members of the community, replete with hundreds of individual pieces, some of them very very old.
part of a presepi outside on the street in Salerno
No one stole any pieces, no one damaged any of it, stray cats didn’t knock anything over. They were just there for everyone to enjoy. I can’t imagine one lasting one night here in America.
5 Visit subterranean Napoli.
Beneath the heart of the espresso-fueled madness of the city is a geothermal zone called Campi Flegrei, full of fascinating tunnels, catacombs and caves, galleries, Roman roads, early Christian burial sites, frescoes and mosaics. Take a tour and see the galleries the Romans used for their engineering works, see ruins of a Roman theater and typical Neopolitan houses called basso.
After the volume life is lived at up above you will welcome the almost silence here below.
The Veiled Christ at Cappella Sansevero will take your breath away.
How on earth did Giuseppe Sammartino do that?
Sculpted in marble in 1753, the veiled Christ is considered to be one of the world’s sculptural masterpieces. The veil actually brings out the body even more than a regular sculpture (did that make sense?), the shroud or veil adhering perfectly to his form, somehow making Jesus’ suffering and the pain in his face palpable.
Don’t be surprised if this statue brings you to tears. And don’t miss it if you are in the Naples area. ( the Cappello Sansavero is closed on Tuesdays, so work your entire trip around being in Naples on any other of the 6 days of the week).
Caravaggio lived and painted for a little less than 4 years in Naples. After murdering a man in Malta he returned to Naples, where he in turn was murdered to avenge the Maltese.
Of the three remaining Caravaggios in Napoli, perhaps the most spectacular is the Seven Acts Of Mercy, a life sized dark and chaotic piece housed in Pio Monte Della Misericordia.
This is art historian Andrew Graham Dixon’s favorite painting by his favorite painter. Hearing him speak about it, or reading his book on Caravaggio (A Life Sacred And Profane) will turn you too into a devotee. If you only see one Caravaggio while you are in Naples, make it this one.
8 Eat Pizza
Of course you know you have to eat pizza in Naples! This is the best pizza in the world.
A couple of notes on Napoli
The best way to arrive and depart Napoli is by sea.
I have arrived by overnight ferry from Sicily at 6 in the morning, and I have sailed to Sicily from Naples as the sun was going down.
The Bay of Naples is really beautiful.
Arriving by car or by train you have to traverse endless awful suburbs crawling with run-down housing projects that bring to mind every mafia story you have ever heard. It can be unnerving.
First impressions stay with you forever, so make your first view of Naples be the staggeringly beautiful view from the bay as your boat arrives. You will see the city, the mountains, and Vesuvius lazing menacingly to the side.
watching the sun set over Naples from the deck of our boat
Leave your jewels behind, or if you have to bring them with you, don’t wear them in Naples. Naples is known for having wily pickpockets and con artists who excel at separating tourists from their diamond rings and Rolex.
The police have cleaned things up massively, so crime is down, but don’t tempt fate.
I was always told to wear a cross-body bag in Naples so that boys racing past on scooters couldn’t grab it and be in the wind.
I haven’t had any problems there, and haven’t seen anything going on, but may err on the side of caution.
I met the most fantastic people in Naples. Loud, gregarious, warm, fun and friendly – I can’t wait to go back.