Dazzling "virtual" versions of Herculaneum's streets and squares, computerized re-creations of the House of the Faun, even a multi-D simulation of Vesuvius erupting: Herculaneum's 1st-century-meets-the-21st-century museum extravaganza has it all. After stopping at the ticket office for the headset audio tour (€3), you descend, as in an excavation, to a floor below. Passing ancient faces that have now been given a name, the "percorso" path inserts you inside a re-creation
of Herculaneum's first dig. You'll experience Herculaneum's Villa dei Papiri before and—even more dramatically—during the eruption, courtesy of special effects; enter "the burning cloud" of 79 AD (actually vaporized water); then emerge, virtually speaking, inside Pompeii's House of the Faun, which can be seen both as it is and as it was for two centuries BC. The next re-creation—complete with rippling grass and moving cart and oxen—is again Villa dei Papirii. Then comes a stellar pre- and post-flooding view of Baia's "Nymphaeum," the now-displaced statues arrayed as they were in the days of Emperor Claudius, who commissioned them.
Visitors here are invited to take a front-row seat for "Day and Night in the Forum of Pompeii," with soldiers, litter-bearing slaves, and toga-clad figures moving spectrally to complete the spell; or to make a vicarious visit to the "Lupari" brothels, their various pleasures illustrated in virtual and graphic frescoes along the walls. There are holograms of jewelry of the earthquake fugitives and a touch-and-browse section of the Papyrii's 1,800 scrolls, too. Recent installations include, beside a wooden model of Herculaneum's theater, its virtual recreation. It was here that a local farmer, while digging a well, first came across what proved to be not merely a single building, but a whole town. The farmer reputedly removed some statues; here their virtual equivalents stand in their niches by daylight as an actor learns his lines. A dove flies skyward, and then, with night, the torches ignite. Equally fascinating are the virtual baths, where the mysteries of Roman plumbing come alive before your eyes. For an extra €4 and the most spectacular of all, is the Sensurround film of Vesuvius erupting. The words of Pliny the Elder provide a timeless commentary while the floor vibrates before your feet. "Wisdom begins in wonder," said Socrates, and this museum nobly proves the ancient philosopher correct.