Herculaneum may have been better preserved, but to see an entire ancient city come to life, the only place on earth you can go is this magic time capsule, left to us by the good graces of Mount Vesuvius. Pompeii is no mere ruin.
Walking down the old Roman high street you can peek into the shops, read the graffiti on the walls, then wander off down the back streets to explore the homes of the inhabitants and appraise their taste in painting - they won't mind a bit if you do.
Almost everything we know for sure concerning the daily life of the ancients was learned here, and the huge mass of artefacts and art dug up over 200 years is still helping scholars to re-evaluate the Roman world. Though a fair-sized city by Roman standards, with a population of some 20,000 Pompeii was probably only the third or fourth city of Campania, and a trading and manufacturing centre of no special distinction. Founded perhaps in the 7th century BC, the city came under the Roman Sphere of influence around 200 BC.
In the fateful year of AD 79 it was still a cosmopolitan place, culturally more Greek than Roman. Vesuvius' rumblings and the tall, sinister-looking cloud that began to form above it, gave those Pompeiians with any presence of mind a chance to leave, and only about 10 per cent of the population perished.