Top Sights at Herculaneum and Mt.
Herculaneum and Pompeii
are two ruined Roman towns near the modern day city of Naples. Today, this
region that was affected by Mt. Vesuvius, is one of Italy’s top tourist
attractions and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the days prior
to August 24, 79 AD, these towns looked like any other bustling, flourishing
city. Citizens were going about their business, visiting neighbors, going
to the local markets, enjoying the public baths and the wealthy were relaxing in
the gardens of their villas. These activities of daily life were forcefully put
to a sudden end by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on the afternoon of August 24,
79 AD; completely and tragically engulfing the two towns.
The catastrophic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius sent such a thick, fiery cloud of gas
and pumice into the air that it completely blocked out the sunlight.
Herculaneum was lost under a 45 foot blanket of volcanic mud. This mud found
its way into every nook and cranny of every house, building, and item preserving
them all in an airtight tomb and preserving them exactly as they were on that
Over time, these towns were forgotten. Almost nothing was seen of Pompeii
or Herculaneum for more than 1500 years until its accidental rediscovery by an
architect who was digging a new course for the River Sarno. This architect
never realized that he had unearthed part of ancient Pompeii and never pursued
an investigation or excavation of the site. Simple excavations began in the
18th century with Giuseppe Fiorelli, who developed a method of injecting liquid
plaster into the open areas left by the victim’s bodies to perfectly reconstruct
them as they looked when they were buried alive. Serious excavations did not
begin until the 1920s. At this point excavators began finding signs of intact
buildings and wall art. Visitors today can get an extraordinary look at and
feel for the lives of the residents of these two towns during the pinnacle of
the Roman Empire.
The holiday resort town of Herculaneum (located just
five miles west of Mt. Vesuvius) had about 5,000 inhabitants when it was
destroyed; many of whom were fishermen, craftsmen and artists. A lucky few
patricians owned villas overlooking the sea. Even though less than half of
Herculaneum has been excavated, it is considered to be better-preserved than
Pompeii, with its original wooden beams, staircases and furniture.
Main Sites and Buildings
Excavation of Herculaneum
Casa del Atrio Mosaico (House of the Mosaic Atrium)- Fine decorations and
a concrete floor done in black and white checkerboard.
Casa del Nettuno ed Anfitrite (House of Neptune and Amphitrite)- Home
with a bright mosaic on the wall of the grotto with a fountain. In the vicinity
of this house you will also see a well preserved wine shop where amphorae still
resting on carbonized wooden shelves.
Casa del Tramezzo di Legno (House of the Wooden Partition)- Considered to
be one of the best preserved houses in Herculaneum. Here you will find a
carbonized wooden partition with three doors.
Terme (The Public Baths)- Contains separate “locker rooms” for men and
women, benches, basins and the hot, warm and cold rooms decorated with mosaics
Casa del Bicentenario (House of the Bicentenary)- A patrician home with
small rooms on the top floor and a cross fixed in the wall.
Theatre- With 2,500 seats.
Because so few skeletons were found within the town, it was originally believed
that most of the people of Herculaneum escaped the wrath of Vesuvius. More
recent excavations at the gate of Porta Marina have shown that most lost their
lives here, as they attempted to leave by boat.
While in the region, be sure to visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in
Naples, which displays many beautiful mosaics, statuary and household objects
unearthed in Herculaneum and Pompeii.
Herculaneum is 6 miles south of Naples.
If you would like, you can also visit the summit of Mt. Vesuvius, whose name is
synonymous with death and destruction. From here you can walk the crater while
appreciating the power it unleashed on these two towns as well as enjoying a
splendid panorama of the area. However, approach at your own risk, as
scientists believe that it will erupt again one day!
You will need a minimum of two hours to visit Herculaneum. There are guards
throughout the site in the important buildings who will open gates for you and
explain the site. They do expect a tip for their services. You can also
hire a private guide at the entrance of the sites.
above information was written for Travels with Friends by independent travel
writer, Jan Bartol. Edited by Travels with
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