The Sunday porch: Pompeii atrium

enclos*ure- Pompeii courtyard, Hse of the Tragic PoetThe atrium of the House of the Tragic Poet, Pompeii, Italy.  This house was built near the end of the 1st century B.C. and excavated in 1824.

Well-to-do Roman city houses had no openings to the streets other than the front and back doors.  After entering from the front directly from the sidewalk, one walked down an entrance corridor or fauces and into the atrium, which often had an ceiling opening to the sky, like the one shown above.

Underneath the opening was a shallow pool or impluvium to catch rainwater and channel it to a water tank below. The water could later be drawn up through the puteal — in the photo above: the short, round, hollow column beside the impluvium.

At the back of the atrium, opposite the entrance corridor, was the tablinum or central room of the house. The doors of family bedrooms also opened onto the atrium.

When I took the photo above about two weeks ago, I was standing behind the tablinum, looking across it and into the atrium.  On the other side was the fauces and then the front door of the house. Behind me was a very small enclosed garden surrounded by a colonnade and some other small bedrooms, a kitchen, and a latrine.

The walls of the atrium of this house used to be covered with six frescoes depicting scenes from the Iliad.  The three that survived can be seen today in the National Archeology Museum in Naples.

The house takes its name from one of the frescoes that was in the tablinum, which excavators mistakenly thought to be a picture of a poet reciting his verses.

Visiting Pompeii

To get to Pompeii from Naples, we again took the Circumvesuviana rail line from the Central Station (more information here).  We took the “Sorrento” train and, about an half hour later, got off at “Pompeii-Scavi.”   The entrance to the site is right there at the station.


For a 2 to 3 hour guided tour of the site with 8+ people, the cheapest options I found were:

  • Mondo Guide, a guide company loosely affiliated with travel writer Rick Steves.  Go to this link, and put your name/s on the list for the desired date.  If 8 people sign up, they will do the tour and everyone will be charged €12*.  If there aren’t at least 8 requests, there will be no tour that day (it didn’t work out for us).
  • Tempio Travel, a guide company with a ticket stand right where you get off the train (Infopoint).  They guide groups of 8+ as they collect enough people (we waited about 20 minutes).  For the price of €12* per person, our guide was OK, and since we have only a moderate interest in Roman history, we were satisfied.

Walks of Rome offers a group tour for a maximum of 12 people for €49 each, which includes the entrance fee.  They are recommended on the blog Revealed Rome.  (Its author also has a good, inexpensive Kindle guidebook by the same title.)  However, they were fully booked for our day.  For all these options, except Tempio Travel, book early.

If you have the budget, you can get a personal tour from Mondo Guides (see above) or Gaetano Manfredi (who is also recommended by Rick Steves).  There is also a Mr. Caporaso (, who was recommended to me in an e-mail from Mr. Manfredi. And, of course, if you do an internet search, you will find many others.  It seems that the per-person prices are €50 to €100+.

Of course, you can also rent an audioguide at the entrance.

Tickets and lunch, etc.

The entrance ticket to Pompeii is €11.  Contrary to what I read online, the site did seem to be accepting credit cards, but I would recommend having cash to be sure and for a faster line.  Mid-morning, near the end of May, it was not bad — about 5-10 minutes.

The ticket is for all day, but once you leave the site, you can’t re-enter.  So if you want to stay inside after your morning tour, you will have to go to the busy cafeteria near the forum to buy lunch (the restrooms are there too.)  However, there didn’t seem to be any restriction against bringing in a sandwich in a small backpack or bag.

Wear serious sunscreen; the site is almost completely open to the sun.

You will appreciate the ruins much more if you visit the National Archeology Museum in Naples and see the many frescoes and other artifacts that were removed from the site during the 19th and 20th century excavations.  (You may also want to check out this series of articles about Pompeii in The Telegraph.)

*Site entrance fee and transport not included.

A study in steps: Petraio in Naples


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I believe L’ESSENZIALE, inscribed at the top, refers to a song written and sung by Marco Mengoni.  Translated into English, one verse says:

As the world falls into pieces
I craft new spaces and needs
That belong to you too
You, whom I believe to be the ESSENTIAL

L’essenziale” was Italy’s third best selling single of 2013. It came in seventh at the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest.

Visiting Naples

We were on vacation in Italy last week, spending two nights in Naples.

The city has a reputation and a reality that puts off many tourists, but I have to say, I loved it and wished that we could have stayed another night.

I liked the sense of theater in its architecture and that its narrow lively streets made me think of Morocco and Istanbul, as well as Caracas and Havana.  And everywhere we looked, there was something wonderful to eat.

Added to that, we saw relatively few other tourists and no American food franchises.

While we were there at least, it was no more littered than Rome (granted, not really high praise).  We saw many patrolling police officers and had no crime problems (except for a pickpocket attempt while getting on the Circumvesuviana commuter train).*

The sights

This living medieval city is its own best sight.
Rick Steves

We are very low-achieving tourists, taking the flâneur approach. We spent most of our time walking along the little streets of the Spagnoli and Spaccanapoli (centro storico) neighborhoods. We also took the funicular up to Petraio for panoramic views of the city and Mt. Vesuvius — particularly good from the entrance to Certosa di San Martino.


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The only museum we visited was the National Archeology Museum, which houses many of the frescoes and other artifacts from nearby Pompeii.  This was essential preparation for a visit to the site, which took more than half a day of our stay in Naples.

If you arrive at the museum after lunch, don’t be disappointed if many of its galleries are closed off and dark.  They will open a little later.  The museum does not have the funds to keep all the rooms open during the lunch hours. (It’s closed entirely on Tuesdays.)

If we had stayed another day or two, I would have visited the Capodimonte, some churches in Spaccanapoli (particularly the Cappella Sansevero with its “veiled Christ”), and maybe the National Museum/Monastery of San Martino.  There are also a number of interesting underground sites, but I don’t do well with underground.


We stayed at the Chiaja Hotel de Charme on Via Chiaia, a pedestrian shopping street on the edge of the well-to-do Chiaia (or Chiaja) neighborhood.

The hotel is 27 rooms on the second floor of a multi-story apartment building with a central courtyard.  Don’t panic if you come back from dinner and find the building shut up like a fortress.  Push the hotel’s doorbell (on the panel to the left), and the front desk will buzz you in through a tiny door set into the huge main doors.  The hotel is attractive, quiet, and comfortable in a traditional style.  The staff was very helpful, and the breakfast was good (sfogliatella, fruit, yogurt, cereal).

The hotel is an easy walk to the waterfront and to Via Toledo, a north-south (partly pedestrian) street, which runs from the Piazza del Plebiscito — between the historic neighborhoods of Spagnoli and Spaccanapoli — to the National Archeology Museum (a little over a mile-long walk).  It is also about a half mile to a subway stop on the line to the main train station.

(I got a better room rate on, by the way, than on the hotel’s own website, so check both.)


We wanted to eat our dinners fairly close to the hotel, so the staff directed us to Pizzeria Mattozzi (on Via G. Filangeri) and to Umberto (on Via Alabardieri).  Both were excellent, and both serve traditional Napoli dishes, including pizza.  We also enjoyed lunch one day at Hosteria Toledo on Vico Giardinetto in Spagnoli.

*We generally felt quite safe, but do carry a well-zipped crossbody bag. (Men might like one of these.) Avoid empty, dark side streets (well, they are all rather dark, but most are full of working or strolling people). I would only enter or leave the train station by the main Piazza Garibaldi entrance and only during daylight hours.

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