Sunday, September 8, 2013

Ercolano (Herculaneum)

Mount Vesuvius from the B&B in Ercolano

Everyone knows about Pompeii, and millions of people from all over the world flock there every year to see the ruins that give us insight into Roman life 2000 years ago. But most people overlook another site a short distance away, where remnants of that life were preserved even better. Ercolano, a city devoted to Hercules, was closer to Mount Vesuvius, and suffered a similar fate. I won't take the time to share all the details, but like Pompeii, Ercolano was buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in A.D. 79. From Wikipedia:

"It is also famous as one of the few ancient cities that can now be seen in almost its original splendor, because unlike Pompeii, its burial was deep enough to ensure the upper stories of buildings remained intact, and the hotter ash preserved wooden household objects such as beds and doors and even food. Moreover Herculaneum was a wealthier town than Pompeii with an extraordinary density of fine houses, and far more lavish use of colored marble cladding. The discovery in recent years of some 300 skeletons along the sea shore came as a surprise since it was known that the town itself had been largely evacuated."

Entrance to Ercolano, with boat storage to the left.
The skeletons were found in the boat storage area, which can be seen in the photo above. At the time of the eruption, the beach came to where you see the grass. It is now believed that the citizens of Ercolano sought refuge in this area, believing it to be safe. Their skeletons tell a different story.

Rich colors from A.D. 79
For more info, see this site:
College of the Augustales

The secret to Ercolano's ruins surviving more intact than that of Pompeii is due to the fact that it was buried under nearly 20 meters of ash, and wasn't discovered until the 1700's. Even then, it was difficult to excavate, while Pompeii's ruins were more easily uncovered.

Mosaic floor in the women's bath.
For more info, check out this site:
Thermal baths
Many of the buildings in Ercolano show second floors and balconies made of wood, which cannot be seen in Pompeii. For more info, check out this site: Samnite House

This is a thermopolium, where food was sold.

A thermopolium was the equivalent of a modern day cafe/bar. Hot and cold food was sold from what was usually an 'L' shaped masonry counter containing terracotta vessels.
The sliding wooden doors in this room survived!
For more info, check out this site:
The House of the Wooden Partition
One of the most amazing images that survived: Neptune and Amphitrite
Here's a site with info on the mosaic and the house it was found in: 
 House of the Neptune Mosaic
Some parts of Ercolano were closed to the public due to recent excavations, and one in particular is one I'd really like to see: the Villa of the Papyri, where 1800 scrolls were found. Looks like I'll have to return another time!    Villa of the Papyri

I spent half a day wandering around the ruins in Ercolano, using an audio guide that was available on site. Then I took a short train ride to Pompeii, where I spent the rest of the day.

For more information and images on Ercolano, here's a link to a wonderful BBC production on YouTube:

Life and Death in Herculaneum

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