Herculaneum and Mt. Vesuvius




Top Sights at Herculaneum and Mt. Vesuvius

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 fateful day.

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

at the 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.


The above information was written for Travels with Friends by independent travel writer, Jan Bartol.  Edited by Travels with Friends.


Travels with Friends: Learn more about other European destinations and tips for traveling within Europe. www.TravelsWithFriends.com

Private Guides: See Europe and learn about its history with your own private guide.  www.PrivateGuidesInEurope.com 


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