After Sorrento we headed to Pompeii. We only planed to spend 3-4 hours there, which is what the guide book recommended, however we were there for almost 5 hours and really could have stayed the whole day.
Pompeii was once a thriving commercial port of 20,000 people, and quickly became an important Roman city. Then, around noon on August 24, 79 AD everything changed. Mount Vesuvius blew its top, sending a mushroom cloud of ash, dust, and debris 12 miles into the air. It spewed for 18 hours straight; by the end the city was buried under 30 feet of hot volcanic ash. While most people escaped in time, 2,000 people were frozen in their tracks, and never made it out. Because Pompeii was covered in so much volcanic ash, it was overlooked for centuries, and therefore escaped most of the pilfering that the other Roman cities experienced. In the 1600's Pompeii was rediscovered and excavation work on this massive city continues to this day.
As soon as we entered Pompeii, we were impressed. While nearly all the buildings don't have roofs anymore, a lot of the side walls and columns are still standing. Ironically, the parts that are most ruined are those that were in dismay even before the volcano exploded. They were the areas of town still being rebuilt after an earthquake struck a few years earlier.
While we walked around Pompeii we listened to Rick Steve's audio guide. I would highly recommend downloading this before you go. It was very informative and meant that we didn't have to walk along in a large tour group to learn about the sites.
Some of the most interesting parts were the large forum, the bakeries, the bath houses, and of course, the brothels. Yep, those "pornographic" images you'll see in my photo album later were taken right from the walls of the brothel house. Do you know they had almost as many brothels as bakeries?
It was also interesting to see the chariot tracks that had been worn into the cobblestone streets, and some of the old houses. But the most impressive part was certainly the forum. The forum was Pompeii's commercial, religious, and political center, and typical of most Roman forums of the day. The courthouse was off to one side. When Catholicism was legalized in Rome, many catholic churches were modeled after the courthouse, or basilica.
There's so much more I could write about Pompeii, but in an interest not to bore you, I suggest if you're interested that you pick up a book, or better yet... go visit :) My only disappointment is that we didn't stay longer or get time to go visit the city of Herculaneum, also devastated by this volcano.
After our time in Pompeii we headed up to Rome for our last few days in Italy.