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Herculaneum

Herculaneum

Herculaneum or Ercolano in Italian is located in Campania region of Italy 5 miles (8km) South- East of modern Naples.

 

 

 

Location: Via 4 Novembre, Ercolano (Herculaneum), Campania region Map

 

Destroyed: August 24th, 79 AD

 

Open: Apr- Oct 8:30am- 5:30pm

Nov- March 8:30am- 5pm

 

Closed: 1 Jan, 1 May, 25 Dec

 

Entrance Fee: €7.5

 

Museo Archeologico Virtuale

Via 4 Novembre 44

Open: 9am- 5:30 Tue- Sun

Entrance Fee: €7.50

 

 

 

 

Description of Herculaneum Archaeological Site

Herculaneum is less famous victim of the Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii on August 24th, 79 AD. Beautiful Herculaneum was smaller in size and population (just 4000- 5000 citizen by modern estimation) yet people who lived here were richer and higher in status. Their homes indicate great care and wealth that they put into designs. Unlike its neighbor Pompeii, Herculaneum was destroyed by a series of six volcanic avalanches of pyroclastic flows (mixture of volcanic mud of high temperature that reach 500°C, hot volcanic gas, pumice, rocks and hot ash) that covered the city and instantly incinerated humans, organic matter and other objects. Ironically solidified volcanic tuff also preserved bones of Herculaneum residents and most importantly it carbonized wooden objects that usually rot and disappear quickly. This includes such fragile artifacts like tables, doors, food items, combs and even fragments of a cradle with baby bones. It gives a better idea of daily Roman life and ancient people.

 

Additionally, Herculaneum preserved oldest Christian home chapel with a Cross mounted on the wall. As far as we know this is the oldest example of Christian symbol anywhere in the former Roman Empire.

 

Today a large part of Herculaneum have been excavated in the volcanic rock. It gives an impression of the magnitude of natural might that was unleashed on Herculaneum. If you want to visit the archaeological site of Herculaneum in the summer months don't forget to take plenty of water, get some sun block and try to stay from the sun. It can get very hot here very quickly. The entrance fee to the site is 7.5 Euros good for one day. If you want to visit nearby Pompeii you can get a ticket for 20 Euros good for three days. If you get hungry you can get food in small stores just outside of Herculaneum Archaeological site. Don't forget to visit MAV (Museo Archeologico Virtuale), a history museum dedicated to the ancient Herculaneum and mementos that they left centuries ago. This ancient site might be interesting and entertaining to both adults and kids. Although the appearance of some of the frescoes might be inappropriate for small children.

 

History of Herculaneum

 

Herculaneum was found by Samnites in the 6th century, but soon thereafter became a Greek colony. Greeks named the city Ἡράκλειον after mythical hero Hercules or Herakles. Greek philosopher and historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus (circa 60 BC- after 7 BC) writes that Heracles was the founder of both Herculaneum and mount Vesuvius. Whatever might be the case the first time we see the name Herculaneum mentioned in the ancient texts is that of the Ancient Greek philosopher Theoprhrastus (circa 371 BC- 287 BC) who calls this city Heracleon.

 

The city served as a trading post that was visited by ships from all over the Mediterranean. In the 4th century Herculaneum was retaken by the Samnites. Finally it was captured by the Romans who captured the city in 89 BC under leadership of Titus Didius, a legate of Sulla. Under Roman rule Herculaneum underwent large expansion. Many private residencies and public buildings were constructed around the time. One of the main benefactors was proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus who lived in the late first century BC. Originally born in Nuceria Alfaterna town of Campania he became a close friend and an ally of the first Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus. He donated large sums of money to construct beautiful buildings in Herculaneum. Here he spent last years of his life and eventually died here. Thankful residents honored their benefactor by erecting marble statues in his honor. Herculaneum continued to grow in size and population. By the time the city was destroyed it was home to 4,000- 5,000 inhabitants.

 

Roman rule and influence was not entirely positive however. We can see that in a types of residents that existed in Herculaneum,. Houses from the period of Samnites is very different from later residences constructed during reign of the Romans. They are fairly modest and equal in design and size. That is people before becoming part of the Roman Empire did not have resources and will to stand out with their wealth. Even rich people's houses were not much different from their neighbors. Once the Romans appear on the scene we see a different trend. Empire certainly makes some citizens rich and incredibly powerful, while predominant part of the society sinks to the bottom. Peasants couldn't compete with large farming businesses that employ work of slaves. Many families had to relocate to cities including Pompeii and Herculaneum and become servants or even slaves. Residents of the city are in a similar position. They sell their houses or simply loose them. A small minority of residents on the other hand enjoyed an opulent lifestyle. This is particularly notable in a design of houses they erected in the city. They grew in size and splendor. New area of this expansion was provided by demolishing houses of less fortunate neighbors who were forced to work for meager payment or even become slaves.

 

Mount Vesuvius Eruption

 

On a fateful summer day of August 24th, 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted covering Herculaneum in 20 metres (60 feet) of ash and volcanic mud. Initially eruption started to spew ash from its crater which was blown in the South- East direction toward Pompeii, Oplontis and Stabiae. Herculaneum that was situated to the West of the mountain was initially spared. Only few inches of ash covered Herculaneum in light grey blanket. However subsequent pyroclastic flow caught the city and residents off guard. A huge mixture of hot gases and ash descended from a mountain with a speed of 100 mph or 160 km per hour. Many managed to escape Herculaneum across the bay. In fact for a long it was thought that everyone escaped the eruption. Only later did archaeologists realized that many of the city's residents were simply cornered along a sea shore. By the end of the day Herculaneum disappeared.

 

Location of Herculaneum was largely forgotten over centuries of human history. Eventually two cities of Portici and Resina (today renamed Ercalono after a city) was constructed on top of the ancient ruins. Only in the 18th century it was rediscovered at a depth of 50- 60 feet below surface under supervision of Rocco Gioacchino Alcubierre (or Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre) and his personal assistant Carlo Weber. They dug extensive underground tunnels through remains of Roman homes and businesses often causing great damage to old buildings. They were also the first to compile a map of ancient structures, which they described in a publication of Le Antichita di Ercolano (The Antiquities of Herculaneum).

Archaeological digs on a site of old Herculaneum continue to this day. The main problem that modern scientists face today is preservation of the site. Many of the previous foundlings were lost to collapse due to natural elements and erosion. Discovery of new insulas, residences and chops often take back seat to proper support and preservation of already discovered structures. One of the most disappointing parts of visiting Herculaneum is closure of some parts of the city for general public.

 

 

Map of Herculaneum

1. House of Aristide

2. H. of Argo

3. H. of the Inn

4. H. of the Genius

5. H. of the Skeleton

6. H. of the Bronze Herma

7. H. of the Opus Craticium

9. H. of Galba

 

11. H. of the double atrium

14. H. of the Alcove
15. H. of the Deer

17. Samnite House

18. H. of the Great Portal

20. H. of the Carbonised Furniture

23. H. of the Corinthian Atrium

24. H. of the Bicentary

Public buildings

A. City Baths

C. Palestra

G. Suburban Baths

I. Sacred Area

L. Terrace of M. Balbus

 

Much of Herculaneum is still covered by sediment and soil. Archaeological digs continue on this site as we speak. Although it is slightly smaller site than neighbouring Pompeii it is still easy to loose yourself here. For an ease of orientation we broke up the map of Herculaneum on insulas or city blocks. Each city block has several houses with numerous families that lived and died here. According to historian Lucius Cornelius Sisenna stated that settlement of Herculaneum was encircled by small defensive city walls that were constructed in the second century BC. Military fortifications had a rectangular shape that covered over over 20 hectares of land. After Herculaneum became part of the Roman empire walls lost much of its strategic purpose. They were simply incorporated into new buildings constructed around them. The city was ruled by political heads known as duumvirs. They were re- elected annually. At the time of its destruction it had a population of approximately 4000 residents. City arteries, its roads included five cardos and tri decumanus. City blocks were known as insula or insulae. Layout of the settlement is still broken into insula for ease of orientation.

 

Roman House

 

Suburban District (Herculaneum)

 

View of the Suburban District of the ancient Herculaneum. This was the sea shore of the old town of Herculaneum before eruption didn't move the shore line half a mile further away by depositing geological sediments in the sea. The bottom row of arches is the boat docks where over 300 skeletons of women, men and children were discovered. On the extreme right you can see a rectangular building of the Suburban Thermae or Baths. Next to it is a terrace with an altar and a statue of town's benefactor M. Nonius Balbus. On the extreme left is the terrace that is known as The Sacred Area of Herculaneum.

 

Boat docks (Herculaneum)

 

Suburban Thermae or Baths of Herculaneum

 

The Sacred Area of Herculaneum

Terrace of M. Nonius Balbus (Herculaneum)

 

Theatre (Herculaneum)

 

 

Insula II of Herculaneum

 

House of Aristide and the House of Argo (Herculaneum)

House of the Genius (Herculaneum)

 

 

Insula III of Herculaneum

 

House of the Wooden Partition (Herculaneum)

 

House of the Skeleton (Herculaneum)

House of the Inn (Herculaneum)

 

House of the Bronze Herma (Herculaneum)

 

House of the Opus Craticium (Herculaneum)

 

 

 

 

Insula IV of Herculaneum

 

House of the Alcove (Herculaneum)

 

Fullonica (Herculaneum)

Fullonica or cleaning service is a small business that survived the eruption. It is adjacent to the House of the Alcove and many archeologists suggested that it once belonged to the owner of the house. During archeological digs scientists discovered tanks for cleaning. Ancient Romans used acidity of urine to wash off dirt. Ancient Roman cities even had a job position that involved a worker walk around the city and ask for some urine for their business. In addition to the business part of the buildings, residential area of its workers was also found here. Living in the place that smelled like a giant toilet was probably pretty bad.

 

House of the Deer (Herculaneum)

House of the Mosaic Atrium (Herculaneum)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other buildings in this part of Herculaneum include:

House of the Painted Papyrus, House of the Stofa

 

 

Insula V of Herculaneum

 

House of the Bicentary (Herculaneum)

 

 

House of the Beautiful Courtyard (Herculaneum)

 

House of the Carbonised Furniture (Herculaneum)

 

House of the Corinthian Atrium (Herculaneum)

 

 

 

 

House of the Great Portal (Herculaneum)

 

House of the Neptune Mosaic (Herculaneum)

 

House of the Wooden Sacellum (Herculaneum)

 

Samnite House (Herculaneum)

 

Other buildings in this part of Herculaneum include:

H. of the Tailor, H. Apollo the Citharist

 

 

Insula VI of Herculaneum

 

Collegial shrine of the Augustales (Herculaneum)

 

Central Thermae (Herculaneum)

 

 

House of the Tuscan Colonnade (Herculaneum)

 

House of the Double Atrium (Herculaneum)

  

House of the Black Hall (Herculaneum)

 

 

Insula VII of Herculaneum

 

Basilica Noniana of Herculaneum (Herculaneum)

House of Galba (Herculaneum)

 

Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum

 

 

Herculaneum streets and shops. The stones on the road were designed to allow citizens to pass the streets that were often muddy, but at the same time it would not prohibit wheels of carts to pass. Parts of the central street of Herculaneum, Decumanus Maximus, were closed to wagons and carts. Apparently these parts of the road were used as a forum of a city.

Practical Information while you travel to Herculaneum

Tips

  • Summers in this part of Italy might be unbearable. Keep hydrated and protect yourself from the sun and heat. Wear a hat and take some bottled water with you.

  • Keep an eye on your belongings.

  • Take some cash with you. If you want to buy something locally you probably won't be able to use your credit card.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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