Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Ancient Ruins of Herculaneum/Ercolano

After my parents came back from their cruise they came down to Naples for a few days to spend Thanksgiving with us. On Thanksgiving Day we visited the ancient ruins of Herculaneum. It was only a 35 minute drive from our house, which was perfect since we had to come back somewhat early to start preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

The Herculaneum site

Along with Pompeii, the city of Herculaneum was destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius's eruption in the year 79AD. Herculaneum is smaller than Pompeii, but is much better preserved. One reason for this is that when Vesuvius was spewing ash and other volcanic material, the winds blew it in the direction of Pompeii where it collected on the roofs, collapsed the buildings and basically crushed the town, covering it in ash. It did not have this effect on Herculaneum as only a few centimeters fell causing little damage.

House of the Beautiful Courtyard
House of Relief of Telephus

The first pyroclastic surge from Vesuvius killed the people of Herculaneum instantly (they found about 300 skeletons at the beach where some had evacuated) and the rest of the surges and lava flows buried the buildings in an airtight seal from the bottom up, preserving almost intact structures and buildings. Also preserved at the site were fabrics, furniture, mosaics, frescoes, and parts of wooden buildings which weren't found at Pompeii. All in all, the pyroclastic rock that covered Herculaneum solidified to an average height of about 52 feet!

A shop containing ceramics

Even though only 20% of Herculaneum has been excavated so much has already been found. They were able to identify multi-story villas, the large palestra (gymnasium, sports area), blacksmith shops, ceramics shops, and several thermopolia.  Thermopolia were public dining establishments that served hot food and drinks, almost like a fast food restaurant nowadays. Men's and women's baths were discovered, equipped with locker style niches for storing one's clothes and waiting rooms for when the baths were too full.  Similar to Pompeii, the technology and scientific/architectural knowledge was impressive for a town over 2000 years old; ridges in the baths' ceilings helped draw the condensation to the sides, the city design was set up for socialization, ease of trade as well as security, and the open-air courtyards allowed the families collect rainwater for drinking, bathing or cooling.  Overall, it was quite amazing how advanced the society was.

Cooking up a specialty at a thermopolia

Men's baths - see the ridges?
Our visit here really made us feel like we stepped back in time and we were able to get a better idea of the inner workings of the daily Roman life. The site is breathtaking and I think that we got much more out of it than our visit to Pompeii. The remaining frescoes, splendid tile work, and the clearly identifiable 2-3 story houses were so well preserved it was hard to believe that they are over 2,000 years old. A great visit was had by all!

And after our visit, we had a great Thanksgiving dinner!

Our Thanksgiving turkey!  Courtesy of Jon

1 comment:

  1. Herculaneum is amazing! It's hard to believe that it existed 2,000 years ago! I thought Pompeii was unbelievable (which it is!) but then I saw Herculaneum, which totally floored me and left me speechless! I remember walking around and feeling like I was transported back in time to the year 79AD! I'm so glad that we were able to visit Herculaneum. Our Thanksgiving dinner at Cheryl and Jon's house was wonderful! The turkey that Jon prepared was delicious and so good! We had a fabulous day! This was a perfect ending to our fantastic vacation!