Mention Pompeii and most travelers think of ancient Roman villas, prancing bronze fauns, writhing plaster casts of Vesuvius's victims, and the fabled days of the emperors. Millions of culture seekers worldwide continue to head for ancient Pompeii every year, but a similar number of Italian pilgrims converge on the new town's 19th-century basilica, the Santuario della Madonna del Rosario, as a token of faith—joining processions, making ex-voto offerings, or just honoring a vow. Wealthy Neapolitans come to make their donations to help the church carry out its good deeds. New car-owners even come to get their vehicles blessed—and given driving standards in these parts of the world, insurance coverage from on high is probably a sensible move.

Caught between the hammer and anvil of cultural and religious tourism, the modern town of Pompei has shaken off its rather complacent approach and is now endeavoring to polish up its act. In attempts to ease congestion, parts of the town have been made pedestrian-friendly and parking restrictions tightened. Departing from the rather sleazy reputation of previous years, several hotels have filled the sizable niche in the market for quality deals at affordable prices. As for recommendable restaurants, if you deviate from the archaeological site and make for the center of town, your choices will include two restaurants specializing in ancient Roman recipes, historically accurate but no less delicious for that. The modern town may be a circus, but the center ring is always the splendors and wonders of ancient Pompeii itself.

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Fodor's Essential Italy 2022

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