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Naples

Romantic Naples, two hours south of Rome, is the largest city in southern Italy. It has some of the world's best opera houses and theatres, and is often called an open-air museum, because of its many historic statues and monuments. Join families on promenade as the sun sets on the Bay of Naples. View finds from Pompeii and Herculaneum, destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale or revel in the art and architecture of Museo Cappella Sansevero, built in the late 1500s.

Sights

Naples National Archaeological Museum

The Naples National Archaeological Museum is a museum in Naples, southern Italy, at the northwest corner of the original Greek wall of the city of Neapolis. The museum contains a large collection of Roman artifacts from Pompeii, Stabiae and Herculaneum. The collection includes works of the highest quality produced in Greek, Roman and Renaissance times. It is the most important Italian archaeological museum and is considered one of the most important in the world. he museum hosts extensive collections of Greek and Roman antiquities. Their core is from the Farnese Collection, which includes a collection of engraved gems (including the Farnese Cup, a Ptolemaic bowl made of sardonyx agate and the most famous piece in the "Treasure of the Magnificent", and is founded upon gems collected by Cosimo de' Medici and Lorenzo il Magnifico in the 15th century) and the Farnese Marbles. Among the notable works found in the museum are the Herculaneum papyri, carbonized by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, found after 1752 in Villa of the Papyri.




Pompeii & Vesuvius

The ancient city of Pompeii — famously ruined in A.D. 79 when mighty Mount Vesuvius blew its top — is one of Italy's most popular tourist attractions. Few visitors make it to the top of the towering volcano, but those who do enjoy a commanding view. You can get to Vesuvius with a train/bus/hike journey. You start by riding a rickety but reliable commuter train from Naples or Sorrento (because it circles under Vesuvius, the train is called the Circumvesuviana). From the Pompeii stop, a shuttle van takes you up the volcano to the end of the road. From there, it's a steep 30-minute hike to the desolate, lunar-like summit. Belly up to the crater's edge. Steaming vents are a reminder that while Vesuvius is quiet today, it's just taking a geological nap. The last eruption was in 1944, and it's only a matter of when, not if, it will erupt again. Italian authorities close Vesuvius to visitors when they think the volcano is acting too frisky. A hike around the crater's lip comes with spectacular vistas of Naples, its sweeping bay, and Pompeii. Be still. Listen to the wind and the occasional cascade of rocks tumbling into the crater. As you observe wisps of smoldering steam, imagine the scene nearly 2,000 years ago, when Vesuvius sent a mushroom cloud of ash, dust, and rocks 12 miles into the sky. For 18 hours straight, spewed ash settled like a heavy snow on Pompeii. Most of the city's 20,000 residents fled as roofs and floors began collapsing. But then, suddenly, the eruption changed. A red-hot avalanche of rock and ash raced down the mountainside at nearly 100 miles per hour. Pompeii and the 2,000 unlucky souls who had stayed behind were buried, leaving their bodies encased in volcanic debris. As the bodies decomposed, they left hollow spaces. Centuries later, archaeologists detected these spaces and gently filled them with plaster, creating molds that chillingly capture their anguished last moments. Today, ongoing excavations of once booming Pompeii offer the best look anywhere at ancient Roman life. Back then, Rome controlled the entire Mediterranean Sea, and Pompeii was an important, big port town. Not rich, not poor, Pompeii was middle class. And because it was a port, it was a sailor's quarter, with lots of bars, public baths, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. The best way to understand Pompeii is to walk the site; the entry fee is $15 (for a free audio tour of the site, see www.ricksteves.com/audioeurope). In good Roman style, the city was well organized, contained by its walls with a grid street plan. Back in antiquity, most of Pompeii's streets would have been lined with stalls and jammed with customers from sunup to sundown. Chariots vied with shoppers for street space. One of Pompeii's most impressive aspects is how abundant water was. In this well-plumbed city, lead pipes funneled water from an aqueduct-fed reservoir at the high end of town directly to neighborhood water tanks. With the tanks installed just below the level of the reservoir, gravity did the work — and ensured good water pressure. Fountains provided a social center at street intersections, and a steady stream of water flushed the chariot-rutted streets clean. Pompeii's citizens enjoyed relaxing at its impressive public baths. For archaeologists, Pompeii was a shake-and-bake windfall. They first got to work at the site back in the 1700s — before Italy was united. The local king who ruled from Naples demanded: "Bring me the best of whatever you find!" That's why, as impressive as the ancient city is, the finest art and artifacts of Pompeii ended up back in Naples, at the National Museum of Archaeology.




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