Italy has a rich history dating back thousands of years and it is this, along with its warm climate, astonishing beauty and divine food that has made it one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations. From the Renaissance cities of the north, through the ruins of Rome, and right down to the Greek temples of Sicily, Italy is home to a whole host of historical sites from throughout the ages. Two of the most popular historical sites, Pompeii and Herculaneum, are situated in the southern Campania region and make for a fascinating visit.
The Ancient Roman town of Pompeii was home to around 10,000 people until Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79, burying it under five metres of volcanic ash and dust. The town, bounded by two-mile-long city walls, is home to a fabulous array of ruins from the Roman Empire, many of which remain incredibly well preserved.
Pompeii's amphitheatre, temples, mansions and baths all provide visitors with a strong vision into life in Ancient Rome, but no such building does so as much as the Forum, the political, social and commercial heart of Pompeii. While the town's architectural ruins are undoubtedly its principal attraction, it's certainly worth noting the Ancient Roman artwork that can be found around Pompeii. This includes paintings, mosaics, sculptures and even examples of Ancient Roman graffiti.
The Antiquarium is a museum situated close to the Porta Marina entrance to the town and features a number of interesting artefacts uncovered from Pompeii. It's also home to plaster casts of men, women, children and animals formed from the impressions they left in the ash.
Another Ancient Roman town to be destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius was Herculaneum. While it's neighbouring Pompeii that has gained the celebrity status, Herculaneum is also definitely worth a visit. Herculaneum was left covered by pyroclastic flows after the eruption, meaning that even items such as furniture and clothing were preserved.
Due to its smaller size, Herculaneum is a lot easier to navigate than Pompeii, although that doesn't mean there isn't much to see here, far from it. The UNESCO World Heritage Site contains public buildings, Roman houses and commercial buildings such as baths. One of the standout ruins in Herculaneum is the House of the Telephus Relief, a mansion built for a prosperous Roman governor. Decorated with lavish marble floors and walls, the mansion is an excellent example of how the wealthy lived in Rome. Also worth a visit are the barrel arches, which open out onto the beach. The location was the site of a major archaeological discovery in 1980, when 300 skeletons were uncovered.
The nearby city of Naples is just a short drive away and is home to the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Here you'll find excellent exhibits displaying artefacts from not only the surrounding area, but also Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt.
A trip to Pompeii and Herculaneum is a fantastic way to get a taste of Italy's rich history.