You have probably never heard of the ruins of Herculaneum, but undoubtedly know about Pompeii. Both towns were destroyed by the same eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Herculaneum is not far from Naples and can easily be visited either as a day trip or on the way to the Amalfi Coast.

I looked for a simple guide to visiting Herculaneum, but most of them were really heavy going, laden with historical facts that made my head spin. This is my simplified version.

 

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 79 AD | © MapMaster/Wikicommons

 

The town of about 6000 people lay buried for centuries. The town was covered by a molten lava flow of about 15-18 metres in depth instead of the volcanic ash that covered Pompeii. It formed an airtight seal which made the site extremely difficult to excavate. The upside of this was that the town wasn’t looted. Many priceless artefacts and historical details were uncovered with the excavation that had been lost at Pompeii.

A new town, Ercolano soon was built on top of the town that lay hidden below.

 

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
Sculpture of a head

The site was first established in the 6th Century BC. Popular mythology has it that the town was founded by Hercules hence the origins of the name Herculaneum (Roman) and Herakleion (Greek)

Unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum was a resort town for the wealthy. This is evident in the quality of the artefacts found as well as in the design of the houses, many of which are double storied. The increased height of the buildings allowed their owners to have spectacular views over the Gulf of Naples.

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
Tiles wall panel

Guide to visiting Herculaneum a time capsule

Herculaneum was discovered by accident in 1709 when a well was being dug. While exploring further an ancient theatre was discovered below. This led to tunnels being built and many of the treasures being looted. The humidity in the ground preserved the timber-framed wooden houses, original doors and wooden furniture. Carbonised loaves of bread were even found in the ovens.

 

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
Stairs burnt by the lava

Excavation

Serious excavation only began in 1927 and much of the site remains shut for exploration purposes to this day. Since 1997 a concerted effort is being made to preserve, restore and uncover more treasures from the site. It was added to UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.

Initially, there were very few skeletons and it was assumed that most of the people escaped. Many did, in fact, try and leave by boat but were overcome by poisonous gasses. It was only in 1980 that archaeologists discovered about 300 skeletons on what would have been the shoreline. It is quite disconcerting to see the skeletons, but they do form part of the story so they have a place.

 

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
Skeleton in the boat shed in Herculaneum

 

The site

As you walk along the column-lined streets it is hard to believe that what you are seeing is over 2000 years old. Many of the buildings have their original mosaic floors, artwork adorns the walls, and there are statues watching over you as you explore. This gives you an incredible insight into the daily lives of a civilisation long forgotten.

The bath houses and a couple of the other sites sadly were closed when I visited.  It is estimated that they have only uncovered around 25% of the town. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s lying hidden waiting to be found. If what you can see now is anything to go on, it must be amazing!

 

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
Herculaneum

 

Thermopolia

I was fascinated by the thermopolia. This word originates from a Greek word, meaning “a place where hot food is sold”. So in fact, I suppose this is an early example of your local fast food establishment. The taverns have counter tops with holes on the surface and jars set underneath for storing the hot food.

 

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
Remains of a restaurant

 

Terrace of Marco Nonio Balbo

Marco Nonio Balbo was a patron of Herculaneum and a senator of Cyrene and Crete. When he died he was cremated and the ashes were stored in a clay container inside the marble plinth beneath his statue. If you are looking for this it is just outside the bathhouse.

 

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
Marco Nonio Balbo

 

The House of the  Relief of Telephus

This house is thought to have belonged to Marco Balbo. It is a colourful structure with several rooms. Large discs hang between the pillars at the entrance to ward off evil.

 

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
The House of the Relief of Telephus

 

 

The College of the Augustales 

The cult of Augustus was a society of freed slaves who lived in Herculaneum and were considered full citizens. Below is a photo of the temple within the College building, dedicated to Hercules, where the Augustales met. This building was a centre of the cult.

 

Guide to visiting Herculaneum - #italy #europe #ruins #history #archaeology #southernitaly #UNESCO #heritage
Temple

 

Sacellum of Four Gods

There were four gods worshipped in Herculaneum -Mercury, Minerva, Neptune and Volcano. There are a couple of relief style sculptures left.

 

The College of the Augustales 
Relief sculpture

 

Guide to Visiting Herculaneum

By Car

  • From the A3 motorway take the exit for Ercolano and then look for the brown road signs to Ercolano Scavi.
  • There is a large underground car park a short distance from the entrance

By Train

  •  Be sure to get off at the Ercolano Scavi station. From the station, it is about a ten minute walk down the hill.

Opening hours

  • 08h30-17h30  from 1 April to 31 October, last entrance at 18h00.
  • The rest of the year – 08h30 -17h00 with last entrance at 15h30.

 

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36 COMMENTS

  1. Strange indeed that this little town is not so well known. Thanks to travel bloggers, so many hidden gems are cropping up all over the world.

  2. We really want to visit, it’s an area of Italy we still haven’t got to. The preservation is amazing and as you mentioned, it’s hard to believe it’s over 2000 years old.

    • It never ceases to amaze me that there are still places like this around for us to step back in time.

  3. So interesting! I had never heard about Herculaneum before–it’s amazing to see how well the city was preserved. I love how you can still see the colors on the walls of the College of the Augustales–amazing! Thanks for sharing!

  4. I have been to Pompeii. This looks even more interesting. I might drop by to see this on my next visit to the Amalfi Coast.

    • I am so glad that you have been there! Not many people have. Another visit is always a good idea.

  5. Fascinating read, and I must also admit that I had no idea that Herculaneum even existed till I read this post. It’s fascinating to see the remains of the city thousands of years after destruction…

  6. It is fascinating. Are you a traveler interested in history and archaeology?
    The houses looked as if they were constructed just 50-60 years back. Is the statue of the man recent?

  7. I’ve visited Pompeii but didn’t know about Herculaneum – incredible that it was discovered by accident from digging out a well. I’m so fascinated by this type of history, it’s so well preserved, like literally stepping into a time warp 2,000 years ago. Mind boggling to think just how in tact everything is from the mosaics to the structures and sculptures themselves. Will have to head back 🙂

  8. We visited both Herculaneum and Pompeii and I think I actually preferred Herculaneum. It’s a far more manageable site to explore and offers a deeper access to the ruins. From your photos, I’m glad to see not much has changed since we visited!

  9. This post reminded us of how much more of Italy we need to explore! Really well researched post!

  10. Wow this place looks incredible. Can’t believe how preserved those collonades and art is preserved after soo many years. I am definitely pinning it to remember that I have to visit it 🙂

  11. What an interesting site, telling the ancient story dated back to 2000 years ago! It is quite scary to see the skeletons lie on the ground like that. It is also hard to believe that only 25% was uncovered!

  12. Fascinating! I had no idea that more towns were destroyed by Vesuvius, but it seems obvious now! It is sad to think that the people fled but so many didn’t make it – quite a sobering thought!

  13. Herculaneum is so easy to visit by train from Sorrento, and I was so glad we visited this lesser known site – the train station for Pompeii was packed whereas there were only a handful of us alighting at Ercolano Scavi. Definitely a hidden gem!

    • It is wonderful to have the space to explore the site and enjoy a sense of freedom without hundreds of people pushing and shoving. It makes a huge difference to the enjoyment factor of your visit.

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