A short hop across the Mediterranean Sea are some of the most fascinating ancient ruins of the Roman Empire. Nestled among Campania’s picturesque landscape are Pompeii, famous for its exceptionally complete ruins, and Paestum, which boasts the most complete Doric temples in Italy.
Pompeii holds the best-preserved Roman ruins in existence. Buried under four to six metres of volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD, the ancient city has provided extraordinary insight into city life at the height of the Roman Empire. In fact, Pompeii was singular in allowing experts to date and classify Roman wall paintings.
Entrance to the site costs €11 (93LE) per person. Be sure to pick up a guide book and an audio guide at the ticket booth. You can buy books and audio guides from various vendors along the short walk from the train station to the entrance, but the official guide is usually a better deal.
What To See Pompeii is massive and can be overwhelming. If you don’t have the energy to spend an entire day exploring the city, hit some of the major sites and take a stroll through the ancient streets.
Be sure to visit the House of the Faun, an incredible example of a Roman house, and the Forum, where governing took place. Pay attention to the wall paintings and you will notice the different styles. The necropolis, the baths and the amphitheatre are also worth a look.
Paestum is smaller and less known but incredible nonetheless. Paestum was originally a Greek city founded at the end of the 7th century BCE and known as Poseidonia after Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. Abandoned during the Middle Ages, Paestum came into notice again in the 18th century.
In Paestum, the ruins of three Greek temples – the best-preserved Doric temples in Italy – can be found. Dedicated to Hera and Athena, the temples date to the 6th century BCE. The archaeological site allows the curious to explore the Roman ruins near the temples, where intricate floor mosaics, low walls, and stairs leading to nowhere give a glimpse into life two millennia ago. There are also the remains of a Roman bath and an athletic training area.
Be Sure To Visit The Museum as well. It offers a small collection of statues and the Tomb of the Diver, most famous of the painted tombs discovered at Paestum. For a mere €6 (51LE), you can visit both the archaeological site and the museum.
Paestum can easily be visited in half a day, so take the time to enjoy a relaxed lunch. Ristorante Nettuno, situated near the main entrance, is a great choice. The insalata caprese is a must, but it isn’t on the menu: you have to ask your waiter about this dish of sliced tomatoes and fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese. Paestum’s location in the middle of Campania means that it offers some of the freshest and most delicious buffalo mozzarella that you will ever find.
Paestum’s proximity to the sea means that you will also find an array of traditional Italian dishes with fresh seafood, ranging from clams and shrimp to various types of fish.
Where To Stay Italian public transportation can get you everywhere you want to go. That being said, anywhere is accessible with a train station. To spend a weekend exploring Campania’s remarkable ruins and beautiful countryside, consider staying in Salerno. Equidistant from Pompeii and Paestum, Salerno is a cheaper alternative to the tourist trap of Pompeii and a safer alternative to the nearest large city, Naples. A quaint town on the coast, Salerno has a few treasures of its own.
Salerno If you have time, take a jaunt up the mountain to see Salerno’s Castello di Arechi. Enlarged in the mid-8th century over an existing Roman-Byzantine construction, the fortification was never militarily conquered. It fell into a long period of neglect following the Italian unification, and restoration was begun in 1954.
Salerno, like every Italian town, boasts an impressive Cathedral and a number of smaller churches. For a bite to eat, follow your nose through Salerno’s winding streets to any one of a few dozen restaurants. If you have access to a car, a drive through the narrow, twisting roads above Salerno is a great way to while away an afternoon.
The Koine’ Hostel is a mere 10-minute walk from Salerno’s train station, and a cheap and convenient place to stay at. A bed in a mixed dorm will set you back € 13 (109LE) per night. Looking for something nicer? Take a quick look through hostelworld.com for other options.
In the morning you can grab a quick Italian breakfast – un cornetto (a pastry) and a cappuccino – at any café and be on your way in minutes.