The photo on the right shows vesuvius in the back- ground.
This Roman town, significantly smaller than Pompeii, was once a seaside resort and trading port town with quite wealthy inhabitants. There were about 4,000 inhabitants.
Herculanium is very well preserved, better than Pompeii, because whilst Pompeii was buried under the ashes when Mount Vesuvius erupted, Herculaneum was buried under tonnes of lava and mud in A.D. 79.
Herculaneum was originally discovered when a well was being dug in the early 18th Century at a depth of 50 – 60 feet below the modern surface. Initially a series of ‘robber’ shafts and tunnels were dug to strip the site of any saleable valuables.
A basic plan of the town was mapped out and much of the portable remains removed but eventually these tunnels collapsed and were closed down. The modern towns of Resina and Portici grew up over the site and knowledge of where the entrances to the tunnels were was lost to the scientific community.
In the 20th Century, archaeological excavations re-commenced on a more modern and scientific basis fully uncovering a small section of the town but it was found that the earlier tunnelling had damaged the structure of much of the surviving buildings. The site is also suffering from exposure to the elements and the periodic earth tremors, so there is a constant battle to try and preserve the remains.
The mosaic on the right was on the floor in the baths.
The mosaics and wall frescos are amazingly well preserved.
In the 1980s hundreds of bodies were uncovered between the arches tucked into the town walls (boat storage areas) and the wall of volcanic stone the entrance tunnel buries through. It is believed that people fleeing the city huddled here in the hopes the arches would provide protection from the volcano.
The majority of people who died were gassed by the sulphuric fumes. They were not prepared at all.
At the time of eruption the Roman senator and writer, Pliny the younger, was seventeen years old. He later gave a very accurate account of the eruption which has survived to this day in the form of two letters which he wrote to his friend, the historian Tacitus. Here are the extracts of his accounts, showing how a volcano seemed to an ancient Roman:
“The cloud was rising from a mountain – at such a distance we couldn’t tell which, but afterwards learned that it was Vesuvius. I can best describe its shape by likening it to a pine tree. It rose into the sky on a very long “trunk” from which spread some “branches.” I imagine it had been raised by a sudden blast, which then weakened, leaving the cloud unsupported so that its own weight caused it to spread sideways. Some of the cloud was white, in other parts there were dark patches of dirt and ash. … Broad sheets of flame were lighting up many parts of Vesuvius; their light and brightness were the more vivid for the darkness of the night… The buildings were being rocked by a series of strong tremors, and appeared to have come loose from their foundations and to be sliding this way and that. Outside, however, there was danger from the rocks that were coming down, light and fire-consumed as these bits of pumice were … It was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night … Then came a smell of sulphur, announcing the flames, and the flames themselves.”
“There had been tremors for many days previously, a common occurrence in Campania and no cause for panic. But that night the shaking grew much stronger; people thought it was an earthquake, not just a tremor … Now the day begins, with a still hesitant and almost lazy dawn. All around us buildings are shaken …. In addition, it seemed as though the sea was being sucked backwards, as if it were being pushed back by the shaking of the land. Certainly the shoreline moved outwards, and many sea creatures were left on dry sand. Behind us were frightening dark clouds, rent by lightning twisted and hurled, opening to reveal huge figures of flame. These were like lightning, but bigger … Now came the dust, though still thinly. I look back: a dense cloud looms behind us, following us like a flood poured across the land.”
“We had scarcely sat down when a darkness came that was not like a moonless or cloudy night, but more like the black of closed and unlighted rooms … It grew lighter, though that seemed not a return of day, but a sign that the fire was approaching. The fire itself actually stopped some distance away, but darkness and ashes came again, a great weight of them … At last the cloud thinned out and dwindled to no more than smoke or fog. Soon there was real daylight. The sun was even shining, though with the lurid glow it has after an eclipse. The sight that met our still terrified eyes was a changed world, buried in ash like snow.”
On the right you can see some the perfectly preserves vessels.
Here we have the entrances to to male and females baths.
To the left are the changing areas of the baths. You can see the shelves where they would leave their clothes.
To the right are the actual baths.
Some remains of building are still two storeys high and with wood still preserved.
On the left are some food serving counters. Food would be prepared and placed in these serving bowls. Many of the houses had no cooking facilities and they ate out.
The streets were planned and laid out in cross sections. There were shops and services.
This is just a tantalising taster of what the way of life was like for the wealthy in Roman society. There is so much more to see and explore at this site. I found myself standing still, totally in awe at some of the things I saw. I stood and thought of all the hustle and bustle that would have been occurring here in its heyday. I walked down steps worn by Roman feet and marvelled at what they achieved. I gazed from the streets of ancient Herculanium upon Mount Vesuvius and tried to grasp the enormity and horror of that eruption, the scale of terror and horror that it caused. Nature can never be tamed.