I had the opportunity to visit Pompeii for the first time a few weeks ago. While I took some Classics courses during my undergrad, I never really studied Pompeii. This means that I wasn’t really sure what there was to see, and I definitely didn’t want to pay for a guided tour.
So, I asked on Twitter whether there were any particularly recommended guidebooks! Sophie Hay (@pompeii79) recommended The Complete Pompeii by Joanne Berry but also suggested that I could try an app:
And I did!
I actually really liked the app. For those of you still shopping, it is part map, part audio guide, and part guide book. The mapping portion worked both on and offline, so that you could take a look regardless of whether you could use mobile data. The app has itineraries based on time (so you select the 2 or 4 hr tours), or you can create your own itinerary by picking and choosing structures. When you select a building, you can then read about it, or have the app read the information to you like an audio guide.
I used this app in conjunction with the paper map and guidebook provided at Pompeii, and I found that they worked pretty well together. The official map and guide are given for free, though they often run out of English guide books (as they had on my visit, I used the French). Many of the buildings that were listed in the app had the same ID number as on the official map, which made moving between the two sources of information fairly helpful. Unfortunately, not all of the buildings available on the paper guide were available on the app. This meant that you couldn’t really use only the app and I still spent a lot of time wrangling the paper map.
On the positive, there were a few buildings that were not available on the official guide and map that were described in the app, such as the garum workshop. This additional information was fantastic, particularly as it mostly pertained to lower status structures and daily life in Pompeii, whereas the official guides tend to focus on the higher status structures.
The biggest problem I had with the Pompeii App was the fact that the audio descriptions of the structures didn’t continue to play when the screen of my iPhone shut off. This was quite irritating. It meant that I couldn’t slide the phone into my pocket and wander around, following the audio guide. It also meant that I had to babysit my phone, holding it in my hand and watching to make sure the screen didn’t shut off while I walked around – hard in the uneven ground of Pompeii.
This is a small problem in what is otherwise an excellent app. I hope that they continue to develop it, adding descriptions of more of the buildings available on the official guides and maps. I also hope they fix the problem of the audio shutting off when the screen shuts off!
I would definitely recommend this app for anyone heading to Pompeii, with the qualification that they should still stop and pick up a copy of the official map and guidebook on site.