Grand Circle Travel included five free days into our 17 day tour of Tuscany and the Amalfi Coast. On those days we can head out on our own or, we can participate in one of the “optional” tours they offer. This past Saturday, I was tempted to skip the optional tour of Herculaneum (one of the cities left in ruin after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD) since Pompeii was already a scheduled site for our trip. In the end I decided to do both and I’m glad I did. We toured Pompeii today and if I had to choose between the two ancient cities, Herculaneum would be my fave.
This is the view of the excavated Herculaneum as we approached on foot. Established around 6th century BC, Herculaneum was completely buried under 20 meters (50-60 feet) of ash and mud after Mt. Vesuvius erupted. The people who were still living here (many had fled in year’s past due to frequent earthquakes) were killed instantly from the super high temperatures (500+ degrees fahrenheit) that reached the city.
It gave me chills standing here surveying the ruins of Herculaneum, with Mt. Vesuvius, the mountain/volcano responsible for all this destruction, clearly visible in the background just six miles away.
We walked across a bridge and right into the ruins themselves. The feelings that come over you as you cross into this once buried and lost city are difficult to put into words. I felt some of the same feelings I do when touring beautiful old historic homes, a feeling of connection and respect for those who walked those same paths so many years before. In this case, it was 2,000 years before!
Herculaneum remained hidden, and mostly intact until it was discovered accidentally during the early 1700s when wells and underground tunnels were being dug. The towns of Ercolano and Portici currently exist atop Herculaneum with 75% of Herculaneum still hidden underneath these two towns.
It’s a shame they aren’t able to excavate the rest of the city. Maybe one day they’ll be able to.
The walls of many of the buildings throughout both Herculaneum and Pompeii were constructed as seen below. They created this diamond pattern which was really quite pretty. The guide told us that earthquakes were occurring in this area with more and more frequency and the diamond pattern was more secure and stable for walls. Brick was starting to be used more and more, as well.
Our guide (wearing white pants with the red umbrella) led us through the streets of Herculaneum. The whole tour was fascinating!
In some places you can see the deep grooves carved into the road by the wheels of chariots as they made their way down the roads each day. Herculaneum was first settled around the 6th century BC. Per info I found at Wikipedia, the town came under Greek control early on and was used as a trading post because it was located so close to the Gulf of Naples. It was the Greeks who named the city “Heraklion” after the Greek God, Hercules.
Our guide took us into some of the homes that once belonged to a few of the well-to-do citizens of Herculaneum. The walls were decorated with colorful murals.
It’s so amazing that this much color is still left considering the roofs collapsed under all the ash and volcanic material, filling the rooms with ash, volcanic material and dirt for 2,000+ years. The ash kept moisture and other corroding elements from reaching the murals so it actually helped to preserve them. All the wood structures were carbonized by the intense heat. Wherever you see wood, it’s replacement wood added to give support for the remaining structure.
To create the mosaics, seven layers of plaster were applied to the wall. Then the mosaic was painted quickly atop the seventh or last layer while it was still wet. This had to be done before the final layer dried. You can see Hercules (the darker figure) depicted in the mural below.
Some of the nicer homes had an outdoor garden room like this one.
The murals in the garden were truly beautiful!
The garden room walls were decorated in a mixture of murals and beautiful mosaics. It must have taken a long time to create these mosaics because the tiles were tiny!
Back out on the street, our guide showed us one of the ways Pompeians could eat on the run or while working. This was their equivalent of “fast food.”
They could purchase food during the day from vendors who kept the food in the urns/containers below. We were all oohing and aahing over this beautiful countertop. This is all original, exactly as it was excavated from the ashes and mud. What a thrill it must have been for archaeologists when they found this outdoor kitchen/serving area. Do you think our kitchen counters or outdoor kitchens today could withstand an earthquake, a volcanic eruption and being buried under 60 feet of ash, volcanic material and mud for 2,000 years?
Here’s how the big urns looked down inside…filled with tiny pebbles now, instead of food.
I have so many more pictures I could share with you but it’s after 11:30 PM here and I have to be ready by 7:45 tomorrow morning to leave for the Isle of Capri. If you have an interest in seeing more of this ancient city, let me know and I’ll share additional pictures in another post. I also have photos from Pompeii, the buried/excavated city we toured today. If you ever visit this area, you’ll find a lot of the artifacts and statuary recovered from both Herculaneum and from Pompeii in the Naples National Archaeological Museum, another place we toured the day we visited Herculaneum.
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