Ercolano, a.k.a Herculaneum lies at the base of mighty Mt. Vesuvius where legend claims it was founded by Hercules returning from one of his Twelve Labours. The archeological site is much smaller in comparison to Pompeii and in many ways better preserved with colorful artifacts and mosiacs. At the time of its demise, there were only 4,000 residents and considered to be wealthy community with modern amenities.
Herculaneum’s fate runs parallel to that of Pompeii. Destroyed by an earthquake in AD 62, the AD 79 eruption of Mt Vesuvius buried the city in 50 feet of ash and mud from the pyroclastic flow. The intense heat and gases traveled over 100mph and reached upwards of 600 degrees fahrenheit. See just how intense on Discovery’s video…pyroclastic flow.
Unlike Pompeii, the deep pyroclastic material which covered it basically carbonized and preserved wooden beams, furniture, books, jewelry, food and over 300 skeletons found in vaults at the ancient shoreline. Today, the coastline lies 400 meters out from the archeological site.
What To See:
Before you go, I definitely recommend watching Prof. Wallace-Hadrill on “BBC – Life and Death in Herculaneum” video, it’s an excellent overview including in-depth findings of the Roman lifestyle, what they ate…and he’s quite entertaining.
- Baths. Both the male and female baths, which are next to each other, are well preserved. They were fed by a large well, which brought water from a depth of 8.25m, heated by a large furnace and distributed around the baths by a network of pipes that also served to provide central heating.
- House of Neptune and Amphitrite. Worth the visit alone for its stunning mosaics, particularly that of Neptune and Amphitrite (a sea goddess and wife of Poseidon), after which the house is named.
- Gymnasium. This large complex extends over much of the southeast side of the excavations and is on your right as you walk down to the ticket office.
- Villa of the Papyri. The coastline was significantly altered by the eruption but this large and luxurious villa originally stretched down to the sea in four terraces. Its sea front was about 250m
long. It is below you on your right as you leave the ticket office and head towards the audioguide kiosk. The villa contained a fine library of scrolls and, although these were badly carbonized, there is hope that modern technology will soon make it possible to read them without destroying them by opening them.
- House of the Deer, This was another luxurious waterfront dwelling
- Samnite House. This is one of the oldest properties so far discovered on the site. Excavations suggest that, at various times, the upper floor was rented out and the courtyard was sold off. What remains now is a large roofed and elegantly decorated atrium with a few small rooms around it.
- House of the Beautiful Courtyard. . The attractive courtyard is said to resemble an Italian medieval courtyard more than a Roman building. In a display case there are two skeletons fused with volcanic rock.
- College of the Augustales. The Augustales were an order of Roman priests responsible for attending to the maintenance of the cult of Augustus, who was considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire. The building consists of one large, well-decorated roofed room.
How To Get There:
By Train: From Sorrento take the local Circumvesuviana train which takes 40 minutes (2,20 euros). To get to the ruins, get off at the Ercolano Scavi station, from where you exit into a small square. Exit diagonally right (the only way out of the square) and walk 8 blocks downhill (Via IV Novembre) to the big arch and get an audio guides. Or book a half day group tour by coach.
Open daily (except 1 Jan; 1 May and 25 Dec) April to October 8:30-7:30, November to March 8:30-5:00. Entrance: €11