Fodor's Expert Review Herculaneum Ruins

Herculaneum (Ercolano) Archaeological Site/Ruins Fodor's Choice

Lying more than 50 feet below the present-day town of Ercolano, the ruins of Herculaneum are set among the acres of greenhouses that make this area an important European flower-growing center. In AD 79, the gigantic eruption of Vesuvius, which also destroyed Pompeii, buried the town under a tide of volcanic mud. The semiliquid mass seeped into the crevices and niches of every building, covering household objects, enveloping textiles and wood, and sealing all in a compact, airtight tomb. Excavation began in 1738 under King Charles of Bourbon, using tunnels. Digging was interrupted but recommenced in 1828, continuing into the following century. Today less than half of Herculaneum has been excavated. With contemporary Ercolano and the unlovely Resina Quarter sitting on top of the site, progress is limited. From the ramp leading down to Herculaneum's well-preserved edifices, you get a good overall view of the site, as well as an idea of the amount of volcanic debris that had to be removed... READ MORE

Lying more than 50 feet below the present-day town of Ercolano, the ruins of Herculaneum are set among the acres of greenhouses that make this area an important European flower-growing center. In AD 79, the gigantic eruption of Vesuvius, which also destroyed Pompeii, buried the town under a tide of volcanic mud. The semiliquid mass seeped into the crevices and niches of every building, covering household objects, enveloping textiles and wood, and sealing all in a compact, airtight tomb. Excavation began in 1738 under King Charles of Bourbon, using tunnels. Digging was interrupted but recommenced in 1828, continuing into the following century. Today less than half of Herculaneum has been excavated. With contemporary Ercolano and the unlovely Resina Quarter sitting on top of the site, progress is limited. From the ramp leading down to Herculaneum's well-preserved edifices, you get a good overall view of the site, as well as an idea of the amount of volcanic debris that had to be removed to bring it to light.

About 5,000 people lived in Herculaneum when it was destroyed, many of them fishermen and craftsmen. Although Herculaneum had only one-third the population of Pompeii and has been only partially excavated, what has been found is generally better preserved. In some cases you can even see the original wooden beams, doors, and staircases. Unfortunately, the Villa dei Papiri (Villa of Papayri) is currently closed to the public—this excavation outside the main site was built by Julius Caesar's father-in-law (with a replica built by Paul Getty in Malibu almost 2,000 years later). The building is named for almost 2,000 carbonized papyrus scrolls dug up here in the 18th century, leading scholars to believe that this may have been a study center or library. Also worth special attention are the carbonized remains within the Casa del Tramezzo di Legno (House of the Wooden Partition).

Be sure to stock up on refreshments beforehand; there is no food at the archaeological site. At the entrance, pick up a free map showing the gridlike layout of the dig, which is divided into numbered blocks, or insulae. Splurge on an audio guide (€8 for one, €13 for two), or join a group with a local guide (€12 per person). Most of the houses are open, and a representative cross section of domestic, commercial, and civic buildings can be seen.

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Archaeological Site/Ruins Historical Fodor's Choice

Quick Facts

Corso Resina 6
Ercolano, Campania  80056, Italy

081-8575347

www.pompeiisites.org

Sight Details:
€11 Herculaneum only; €22 biglietto cumulativo, includes 5 sites (Pompeii, Herculaneum, Boscoreale, Oplontis, and Stabiae) and valid for 3 days Rate Includes: €11

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