Family Vacations to Pompeii, Italy

Family Overview - Pompeii, Italy
Pompeii's archaeological artifacts impress gradeschoolers, teens, and adults (Photodisc)

Pompeii Highlights

  • Explore 2,000-year-old formerly buried towns.
  • View casts of bodies and animals capturing the last moments of their lives.
  • Walk through ancient taverns, houses, baths, and temples.
  • Learn about ancient Roman life in well-preserved towns.

Pompeii fascinates kids from gradeschoolers to teens. The frozen-in-time aspect intrigues them whether or not they've heard of the disaster. The preserved streets, the roofless houses, the urns, mosaics, and even the graffiti attest to what once existed. In Pompeii, enter a lost world, a prospect few older kids can resist. Note that younger children have been known to find Pompeii boring, hot, and a bit scary.

Located 15 miles south of Naples, Pompeii was situated in western Italy's fertile Campania region, with a population of 10,000 to 20,000, and served as a busy trading center. That is, until August 24, 79 A.D., when Mount Vesuvius erupted, spewing flames, lava, and ash, burying Pompeii under 20 feet of ash and covering Herculaneum, a town west of the mountain, in mud and lava. Falling buildings crushed people but most died from the noxious gases released by the volcano. Significant excavations of both sites began in the mid-18th century.

The casts of people and animals caught in their last agonizing moments of life are some of Pompeii's most powerful artifacts. Ash and mud covered the dead, and over time the flesh decomposed, leaving just the skeleton filled in by the muddy ash, creating a sort of mold. The bodies look sculptural. Among the casts: a man curled hopelessly in a fetal position, a pregnant woman, forever big with child; and a dog on his back, feet in the air as if wriggling to get free of a tether. The casts on view vary as some go on loan to museums in Naples and elsewhere.

Imagination—something children aren't lacking—is the key to both Pompeii and Herculaneum, eight miles southeast of Naples. Like stage sets, the empty streets, taverns, baths, and temples seem poised, ready for townspeople to enter on cue. Get away from the bus groups and walk down less-crowded paths to gain a sense of life the day before the eruption.

Much bigger than Herculaneum, Pompeii's highlights include the Tempio di Apollo (Temple of Apollo), the Anfiteatro (Amphitheater), the well-preserved Stabian Thermae (baths), the Casa dei Vettii (House of the Vettii) adorned with frescoes, some of which are erotic, and the frescoes in the Villa dei Misteri (House of the Mysteries).

Smaller and less crowded than Pompeii, Herculaneum, ancient population of 5,000, is known for its well-preserved mosaics, especially the vivid designs in the Terme Femminili (Women's Baths) and the Casa del Nettuno ed Anfitrite ( House of Neptune and Amphitrite).

Tip: In summer arrive either early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds. Be sure to wear a hat and bring lots of water.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 5 Sep 2007 | Last Updated: 23 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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