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Welcome to Herculaneum

Welcome to Herculaneum
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If possible, Herculaneum may have been a worse place to be on August 24, 79 AD than Pompeii. In the early hours of the Vesuvius eruption it didnít seem this way, as the ash burying Pompeii did not affect Herculaneum nearly as badly. This is because the prevailing winds were blowing to the southeast Ė while Herculaneum was much closer to the summit of Vesuvius than Pompeii (within less than four miles), it was almost due west of the mountain and was therefore not covered by the ash cloud to the same degree. Even so, the people of the smaller (population 4,000-5,000) but more upscale Herculaneum began to evacuate shortly after the eruption started, most apparently successfully. And it was good that they did, as early pyroclastic flows that failed to reach Pompeii swept across Herculaneum with room to spare, rendering it lifeless by 1 AM of August 25. But not everyone got out Ė in the 1990ís, a concentration of hundreds of skeletons was discovered in boathouses along the ancient waterfront, possibly residents waiting to be evacuated by sea. Instead, they were roasted by pyroclastic flows and then buried by flows of volcanic mud and debris known as lahars, which inundate areas and then set like concrete. By the time the mountain was done with them, the town of Herculaneum was buried under 75 feet of rock-hard volcanic material, which had moved beyond the city to push the shoreline outward by a quarter of a mile. While not so great for the inhabitants, this mode of burial had the effect of preserving Herculaneum even better than Pompeii, while at the same time making it more difficult to get to.

Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was mostly forgotten for several centuries. Eventually a new town called Resina grew up on top of the site of the destroyed city. Herculaneum was rediscovered by accident in the 16th Century during digging for the construction of a well. Some further digging occurred during the 17th Century, but mostly for the purpose of finding artifacts to add to personal collections. When the Pompeii ruins were discovered, digging efforts were largely stopped at the Herculaneum site for awhile and moved to Pompeii, as digging was much easier there. Work on the excavation of Herculaneum eventually resumed and proceeded off and on from the 17th through the 20th Century (the town of Resina renamed itself to Ercolano, the Italian version of Herculaneum, in 1969), and remains a work in progress. The digging is complicated by the hardness of the material the city is buried in, the need to take measures to protect things as they are unearthed, and the fact that much of the ancient city has a modern, functioning community on top of it.

Getting to the Herculaneum area was quicker for us than getting to Pompeii had been the previous day. For one thing, we had a better idea of where we were going, and for another, Herculaneum is considerably closer to Naples than Pompeii is. But finding the diggings once we got off the train at the Ercolano Scavi stop was a little trickier, as the Herculaneum excavations were a much longer walk from the station than Pompeii had been from the Pompei Scavi station. The proper directions are to turn right on exiting the station, then turn left at the first street and go downhill (down the lower slope of Vesuvius) toward the sea. Part way down there is a somewhat confusing roundabout, but continuing straight downhill will eventually get you to an archway announcing the entry to the ruins (see above). The excavated portion of Herculaneum, much smaller but better preserved than Pompeii, is essentially in a large pit which is surrounded by 20th Century buildings and apartment houses.

Entering the Archway
Entering the Archway
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Excavated Area
Excavated Area
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Excavations and Sea
Excavations and Sea
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Excavated Area
Excavated Area
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The ticket office is reached by continuing through the archway and straight toward the sea along the edge of the pit until the far side of the pit is reached. After getting tickets (we got them at half price because of our ArteCards), you go through a turnstile and continue along the seaward edge of the pit, looking down at what had been the seashore prior to August of 79 AD. Eventually you reach a temporary-looking footbridge which takes you over the former seashore area and into the ancient city.

Ancient Shoreline Area
Ancient Shoreline Area
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Herculaneum City Street
Herculaneum City Street
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Shoreline Area
Shoreline Area
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Excavated Area
Excavated Area
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Entry Bridge
Entry Bridge
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Excavated Area
Excavated Area
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Unlike at Pompeii, it is not difficult to explore all thatís available to a Herculaneum visitor in a reasonable amount of time. On balance, we found Herculaneum to be better preserved, as advertised. For the most part, the walls had more to them, and evidently a few of the structures still had their original roofs (though theyíd been covered with more modern materials, for their protection). It was easier to find recognizable frescoes and mosaics. The structures tended to be large homes, as Herculaneum residents were mostly well-to-do, many with other homes in other cities. By contrast, while Pompeii had several large homes, there were also large numbers of small dwellings lined up along the side streets. Also, we didnít see any temples in Herculaneum, and in fact very few structures that were anything other than large homes. There was a bath house, an arched area that was apparently boathouses by the shore, a few thermopolia, and that was mostly it. A thermopolium was a food establishment with counters holding large, embedded clay jars. Coals were kept in the jars, and food was placed on metal trays on the tops of the jars (appearing as holes in the counter) to keep the food warm. But there is a large fenced-off area where work is going on, so evidently there is more of something on the way.
Colonnade, House of Argus
Colonnade, House of Argus
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Bicentenary House
Bicentenary House
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Columned Walkway
Columned Walkway
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Connie and Nella at Thermopolium Counter
Connie and Nella at Thermopolium Counter
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Thermopolium
Thermopolium
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Mosaics and Alcove
Mosaics and Alcove
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House of the Skeleton
House of the Skeleton
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Shrine, House of the Skeleton
Shrine, House of the Skeleton
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Nella on Cardo III
Nella on Cardo III
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Decumanus Maximus
Decumanus Maximus
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Cardo IV
Cardo IV
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Connie on Cardo IV
Connie on Cardo IV
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Nella and Bob, College of the Augustals
Nella and Bob, College of the Augustals
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Fresco, College of the Augustals
Fresco, College of the Augustals
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College of the Augustals
College of the Augustals
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Nella, House of the Black Atrium
Nella, House of the Black Atrium
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Cardo IV, North End
Cardo IV, North End
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House of the Black Atrium and Cardo IV
House of the Black Atrium and Cardo IV
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Mosaic, House of Neptune and Amphitrite
Mosaic, House of Neptune and Amphitrite
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House of Neptune and Amphitrite
House of Neptune and Amphitrite
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Floor Mosaic, Forum Baths
Floor Mosaic, Forum Baths
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Forum Baths
Forum Baths
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Philip on Cardo V
Philip on Cardo V
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Telephus House
Telephus House
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Unlike some of the 79 AD residents, we were able to escape from Herculaneum by walking across the shoreline area into a tunnel that sloped upward to exit back up on the rim of the pit holding the city (a rim that didnít exist in 79 AD). We retraced our steps and stopped at a small restaurant for lunch on the way back to the train station. Despite the tourist attraction proximity, we found the food reasonably priced and very tasty.

Altar and Statue of Proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus
Altar and Statue of Proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus
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Connie and Philip with Altar
Connie and Philip with Altar
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Escaping Family and Ancient Waterfront
Escaping Family and Ancient Waterfront
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Tunnel Escape
Tunnel Escape
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Connie and Philip with Herculaneum and Vesuvius
Connie and Philip with Herculaneum and Vesuvius
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Pizza di Ercolano
Pizza di Ercolano
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