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Herculaneum (Ercolano, Italy)

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Ancient town in Italy close to the site of Pompeii.

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      27.05.2012 08:17
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      A fascinating insight into how devastating nature can be.

      Herculaneum.

      Herculaneum (Now called Ercolano) is a small town just outside Naples at the base of Vesuvius beside the bay of Naples that was destroyed by the eruption of nearby Vesuvius in 79AD. Unlike the devastation and destruction of Pompeii caused by the initial eruption and massive boulders being spewed down on Pompeii Herculaneum was covered in a pyroclastic wall of mud and steaming lava that washed and flowed down the side of the mountain covering the small town completely entombing the town and its inhabitants under 50- 60 feet of tuff on the spot wherever they may have been at the time and going about their daily business or trying to flee the town.

      The site was discovered in 1709 by chance and work began excavating the site. Whole houses and villas were left very much intact with breakfast settings still in place on the tables in the kitchens of some of the houses. People were killed on the spot due to the intense heat which engulfed them at over 100 miles per hour with very little chance of survival and were encased in their very own coffin which covered and mummified the body. The soft tissues burnt away in the intense heat evaporating any fluids from the body leaving just carbonised bones. The ash covered the bones leaving the bodies very much in the posture in which they were at the time.

      Most of the inhabitants had evacuated leaving some who stayed in the town most had no chance of escape as it happened so quickly and most died on the spot. Only recently in the 1980's over 300 bodies were discovered huddled together near the shore taking refuge in boat houses down by the seashore while waiting to be evacuated from the town.

      Only about a quarter of the town has been excavated as the new town of Ercolano has been built on top of Herculaneum.

      My visit.

      We had been to Pompeii for several hours and hopped back on the Circumvesuviana train that runs from Naples to Sorrento along the coast continuing our journey to Ercolano. Once reaching Ercolano it is just a short walk down hill to the ruins of the excavated town.

      Entering the site of Herculaneum you continue to walk down the hill to the ticket booth. Everywhere we went in Italy we found the staff at the sites quite rude and mostly unhelpful. In fact we wanted to buy a map of the site from the little bookshop the lady behind the camera just pointed in the direction of books and maps while she continued yacking on her phone. Even when paying for the map she continued with the phone call took the money handed back the change without a please or thank you.

      From the ticket office there is quite a long walk down to the entrance of the site which is overlooked by the long pathway. The town is in a sort of pit where the town has been excavated roughly sixty feet below you. Whole buildings still mostly intact some with roofs some without are in front of you and you can see the roads that streets below.

      You walk across a metal bridge that takes you right into the start of the town. Roughly four blocks of houses shops villas and temples have been discovered. A couple of houses were still filled with the dried out mud and lava that has set and solidified and carbonised wood can be seen however most of the buildings have been cleared of the mud revealing beautiful décor within some of the homes.

      Herculaneum was quite an affluent little town and many rich people lived here in their seaside villas most of the important finds have been removed and can be found in the museum of archaeology in nearby Naples. Complete statues, pottery, glassware, instruments ornaments have been found inside the houses along with mummified bodies of people and animals. This was quite a prosperous little town and some exquisite items have been rescued. What is very interesting is the detail of the paintings and murals on the walls and mosaic on the floors of some of the buildings.

      Some of the houses still contain some furniture such as burnt and charred beds pottery in the wine shop. What surprised me most was that some of the murals and paintings depicted the people of the time were quite raunchy and the pictures were quite pornographic particularly in the brothel which showed punters the different positions that they could experience within the brothel. I guess we can thank the prudish Victorians for our repressed sexual openness. In fact women were forbidden to enter the brothels until quite recently for fear of offending them.

      In total we were at the site for over three hours however one should remember that the roadways and paths are quite uneven. I had a fall whilst there due to me misjudging how uneven the ground was due to the earth shifting from the earthquakes which had left some of the ground undulated. One of the villas the Casa Dell' Atrio a mosaico has a beautiful mosaic floor with a small water feature in the centre of the room but it is completely distorted presumably left like that following the earthquake. The Casa di Nettuno ed Anfitrite contains a beautiful mural on the wall including a small temple alcove area.

      Although Vesuvius is currently quiet the last rumblings were in 1944 when 26 people lost their lives. That is minimal when compared to the thousands who have perished during previous eruptions. Volcanologists predict that it will erupt again at some time in the future they do not say if but when. The area is extremely highly populated within excess of 3 million people not to mention the millions of tourists who visit the Naples and Sorrentine peninsular. There is an estimated 9 mile red zone around the base of Vesuvius where people live in the very fertile area going about their daily business very much like people who lived at the base of the Volcano in 79AD.

      The volcano is monitored 24 hours a day for seismic activity and the government have evacuation plans at the ready however the area is really congested and I cannot even contemplate how on earth they would move people out of the area so quickly. Since 2004 people have been offered 30, 000 Euro to move out of the area but by the looks of it there have not been many takers whether it is still on offer I do not know. According to Volcanologists and researchers the next explosion will be even worse than previous eruptions as there is an estimated 154 square miles of magma waiting to be released.

      I found the visit to Herculaneum absolutely fascinating and cannot even imagine what treasures lie beneath the town of Ercolano these treasures are probably never ever going to see the light of day again certainly not in our life time. Sadly some of the houses at Herculaneum are left open to the elements as there appears to be an extreme lack of funding in preserving such artefacts although they just do not seem to treasure the importance of these irreplaceable things.

      There is far too much to talk about in a small review to give the town any justice but should you ever be visiting this area of Italy I would highly recommend a visit to this amazing site.


      Facilities.

      Admission prices are 11 Euro or a combined ticket for Pompeii and Herculaneum 20 Euro.
      There is a small bookshop
      There are good toilet facilities near the ticket office and down by the book shop at the entrance to the site.

      Warnings.

      You really must wear sturdy shoes or trainers as the ground is somewhat uneven in places. It is probably not really suitable for people in wheelchairs or with mobility difficulties although you can observe the site from the viewing pathways above the site.

      Make sure you take water with you as the site is quite exposed and must be quite unbearable in the heat of the summer. A sun hat or umbrella would be advisable and definitely some sun screen lotion.

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