Sustainable Tourism In Pompeii, Italy


Pompeii, Italy is a critical, and well known, part of Western cultural history and the entire world.  Many efforts have gone into preserving Pompeii, which is also a UNESCO world heritage site.  Presently, there are six major conservation problems: ordinary decay, inadequate water management, damage from UV radiation, overgrown vegetation, incompatible conservation and restoration work from earlier generations, and visitors (tourists).  Work is being done to conserve the site and restore structures.  Pompeii is at risk of being added to the List of World Heritage Sites in danger list.

Here is a tiny bit about the history of Pompeii

In 79 AD, the thriving city of Pompeii was buried in an ash storm when Mt. Vesuvius exploded.  This storm lasted three days and three nights, covering everything in over 20 feet of volcanic ash.  The initial discovery of the ruins was in 1748 and excavation work continues to this day.

Some interesting facts about Pompeii

  • It was a multi-racial port city where everything was broken into classes.
  • The ash that covered the city was mineral-rich volcanic ash.  When it was removed from the site, they plowed into the nearby farming fields, making the area lush.
  • The streets in Pompeii run in direction from north to south and are smaller.  Avenues, which are larger, run east to west and follow the direction of the sun.
  • The concept of going to the spa started with bath houses here.  Spa is an acronym for sanus per aquam, which means “health through water”.

Pompeii has become a major tourist destination, receiving an average of 2.5 million visitors per year. While fewer buildings are open for viewing today than several decades ago, many portions of the city are the center of tourism activities.  As a result, Pompeii is suffering from the impacts caused by mass tourism.

There are ways you can make your time here have fewer negative impacts

The first thing you can do during time here is really, really easy.  Watch the movements of the crowds!  When visiting Pompeii, most visitors confine themselves to a small area of the city causing overcrowding in certain places while some areas are overlooked and virtually empty.  The average visitor spends only a few minutes in Pompeii seeing the “must-see” sights.  While it’s important not to miss the “must-see locations”, check out some of the other areas too to help ease congestion.  You can also visit in the off-season like we did!

It is really important though to stay in established areas when exploring.  Don’t wander off the paths or go into closed areas!  Just because you see footprints in “closed off areas” doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to go in there too.  You may be tired, but try not to lean against the walls while you are here.  Also, be aware of leaning on walls when trying to take pictures from a certain angle.   You can still interact very closely with the ruins.  Also be weary of where you sit.

Remember these displays are very fragile, so don’t touch anything that is older than you.

Do not splash water on a mosaic in attempts to freshen it up and try not to use your flash when photographing frescoes.  Be mindful of garbage.  I cannot tell you how many pieces of spit-out gum I noticed on the ancient streets.

You may think I’m being silly with some of these things, but tourists do this stuff every single day and it does have consequences.

What you will see here

Although many parts of Pompeii have not been excavated and other parts are now blocked off, there still is a lot to see here.  As you work your way through a small portion of the city, anticipate:

  • Ancient city streets with indentations from the carriages
  • Newly incorporated sculptures
  • Bars, bakeries, and other businesses
  • Brothels in the red light district with menus of services
  • Plumbing systems
  • Courtyards
  • Pottery, pillars, and casts
  • Amazing views of Mt. Vesuvius

What you won’t see here

There is so much to explore here, its hard to believe that people can breeze through this site so quickly.  Our visit here lasted over an hour and I feel there were many things we missed.  My previous visit to Pompeii happened nearly 20 years prior.  While I realized that was some time ago, there was one thing that really stood out to me on our recent visit.  Where are the casts of all the bodies?!  If my memory serves me, I recall the casts of several bodies located throughout the site.  I simply did not see them this time.  Don’t get me wrong, everything you see here is incredibly interesting.  And, there are some things (the cast of the dog) which upset me.  But, where is everything else from all those years ago?  I just had to wonder about this. I followed up and couldn’t find anything that specifically indicated what happened to the bodies. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but I felt this was part of Pompeii’s history. Personally, I feel this may be a result of the deterioration this site is struggling with.

One of the few casts


2000 year old carriage ruts in the streets

Remember, as of this point, people can visit Pompeii without being required to be part of a guided tour and without limited admissions each day.  Good behavior on every visitor’s part will help lessen our impact while there, and will inspire others to also be responsible.  We can all help preserve this historical site for future generations to come.

Have you visited Pompeii?  Do you know where the casts went?  What do you think about lessening impacts while visiting here?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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