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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
August 24th, 79 AD
Open: Apr- Oct
Nov- March 8:30am-
Closed: 1 Jan, 1 May, 25 Dec
Via 4 Novembre 44
Open: 9am- 5:30 Tue-
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.
Herculaneum was found by Samnites in the 6th century, but soon thereafter became a
Greek colony. Greeks named the city
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
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
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
A. City Baths
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.
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.
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.
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
Practical Information while you travel to Herculaneum
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.