Pompeii was not the only city that was destroyed when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. And the second victim was Herculaneum, a city of Greek origins and substantially richer than the city of Pompeii.
The city is the best preserved of the two sites because Herculaneum was buried under 25 meters of ash unlike Pompeii, which was buried only under 5 meters. It is this that Pompeii has been excavated more as it has been easier to achieve. Despite this, the ruins of Herculaneum provides a better understanding in the daily life of the ancient Romans before the fatal eruption.
Herculaneum is a protected world heritage site, as well, and most of its temples, houses and public buildings have not been damaged thanks to the ash that envelops the city. When you visit the site which is only 2 to 3 hours outside of Naples, you will be amazed at the frescoes and decorated buildings that still hold their shape even after all these years! What many don’t know is that Herculaneum was discovered before Pompeii however it is often overlooked due to the fame that followed Pompeii on television and in the public eye. Herculaneum was discovered by engineers that happened on the remains of the theater in 1709, and therefore the excavation began. While Pompeii was buried under a thinner layer of ash, Herculaneum excavations were often interrupted so that more emphasis could be placed on the easy digging next; Pompeii.
Conservation in Herculaneum
The focus of Herculaneum is to preserve what has already been excavated however there is still 75% of the buried site. Despite having a smaller excavation site than Pompeii, the appeal of Herculaneum is that it actually gives us a clearer picture in the daily life of the ancient Romans as the city is well preserved. What we do know is that despite being a resort for the wealthy, 80% of the residents were slaves and there were around 4000 to 5000 inhabitants at the time of the eruption. Latin graffiti found on the walls tells us that slaves, mostly women, capable of reading and writing, something not previously known.
Origins of Herculaneum
Herculaneum is a great option for those who are limited in time, as the ruins are smaller than the open spaces of Pompeii but also richer in history as a lot of organic materials has been preserved making for a more incisive experience. Legends say that Herculaneum takes its name from the mythical Greek show God and warrior Hercules which is said to have founded the city in 1243BC, however conducted studies that the origins of the city began in the 7th century BC by both Etruscans or Oscan people. Either way, in 90BC Rome invaded the area and transformed it into a thriving municipality that lived through its golden age until an earthquake devastated the city in 62AD. Ironically, the city was still under reconstruction from this previous natural disaster when it suffered through the Plinian eruption of 79 AD catastrophic.
Must see attractions
Some attractions that deserve a visit to Herculaneum is the Samnite House, which is one of the oldest noble houses in the city. It was already more than 300 years of age at the time of the eruption and belonged to the Samnite people who inhabited the city. The structure of the two-story house can be seen today, as well as a wooden chest in the bedroom and a beautifully frescoed Greek atrium.
The ‘arches’ were ancient Boathouse shelters found in 1980 along the beach, inside there were 300 human skeletons found, mostly women and children who had survived the first day and I thought they were safe in the sheltered areas.
One of the most iconic of the buildings is the Villa of the Papyri; the luxury holiday home of Julius Caesar’s father in law. A protector of poets and philosophers, his villa also doubled as a library which researches have discovered over 2000 papyrus with letters and ancient Greek and Latin literature.
Another mystical site is the Casa del Bicentenario which was discovered 200 years after the first excavations took place in 1938. Data show that once there was a wooden Christian cross housed there, as the room was a place of meeting for early Christians, and it is known that St. Paul spread the word nearby. If the cross remains in the hall, it would be one of the oldest in existence.
The Suburban Baths are one of the best preserved sites with splendid marble and slate floors on a large complex which is one of the best preserved of its kind in the world. It was not segregated so scholars predict that the toilets were either co-ed or used at a different time.
Museums on the site
The Virtual Museum of Herculaneum is one of the most recent additions to the site where visitors can take a virtual tour of Pompeii and Herculaneum before the eruption. Seventy multimedia experiences on 3 levels allow guests to interact with a touch of a finger, discover the daily life of citizens, as well as analyze frescoes in detail.
The Antiquarium was built in Herculaneum more than 40 years ago, with the doors finally opening now, completely renovated using the materials that was originally built in. Currently there is an exhibition on until September 2019 called Splendori:. Luxury in the ornaments of Herculaneum, which showcases the coins, glass, bronze and jewelry available on the site.
Related article: The Rediscovery of Pompeii
Explore Our Pompeii Tours!
Pompeii Tour from Rome
Depart Rome & arrive in the city of Pompeii to explore including a delicious Neapolitan pizza lunch.
Pompeii & Vesuvius Tour from Naples
Walk to the top of Mt Vesuvius and explore the ancient city of Pompeii with local guide.
Pompeii & Vesuvius Tour from Sorrento
Day tour with local guide of Pompeii including Skip the Line tickets and hike to Mt Vesuvius.
Private Pompeii Guided Tour
Check out the remains of daily life in Pompeii with your own local and licenced private guide.