Lora and Laurie said that they would really like to go to see Naples and visit Herculaneum. So one morning we set off early and caught the train to Naples and then took the Circumvesuvia to get to the ancient Roman town. The train carriages were absolutely full to bursting. Every time we stopped at the next station more and more people tried to push and squeeze their way on board. It was really quite disconcerting. We wondered if it was always like this on the Circumvesuvia. One lady explained that because of the gale force winds that were blowing that day some of the railway’s electric cables had been brought down causing major delays and disruption to the service.
We ended up standing up all the way to Herculaneum whilst desperately trying to keep our balance. We had never felt so claustrophobic in all our lives. Therefore we were mightily relieved when we eventually arrived at our stop “Ercolano Scavi” and managed to push, elbow and squeeze our way through the other passengers and extricate ourselves onto the open platform.
From the station it was about a 15 minute walk to the excavation site of Herculaneum, so we first revived ourselves in a little cafe along the way before venturing on. The weather was clear and bright, but also really quite cold as there was a strong blustery wind blowing in off the sea. How I wished that I’d dressed in something warmer. We battled on and having purchased our entrance ticket we descended into the excavations where we were relieved to at last be out of the worst of the wind.
Herculaneum in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
The settlement of Herculaneum is believed to have been founded by the Greeks in around 600 BC. It was situated about 12 miles from Pompeii. In Roman times it developed into a prosperous seaside resort and trading port in the Bay of Naples. The Roman town had many luxurious and spacious villas, bath houses for both men and women, a large sports complex, a theater, a temple, shops and bars. It also had a seafront and beach.
For the Romans there had possibly been portent signs that all was not well, when a few years before the major eruption of Mount Vesuvius, an earthquake had occurred in the area. The legendary catastrophic eruption began on the 24th August 79 AD. A few days before the people had noticed that mysteriously the local wells had began to run dry. The first phase of the eruption thrust molten rock, ash and fumes into the sky. A huge toxic cloud rose up above the mountain until it reached a height of approximately 20½ miles.
This frightening spectacle was documented by Pliny the younger who was just 17 years old at that time. He observed and wrote of the frightful scene from the far side of the Bay of Naples, 15 miles from Mount Vesuvius. The eruption had caused a huge mushroom cloud to rise and tower above the mountain. It was reported that day seemed to have turned into night. Eventually as the cloud cooled the weight of it began to collapse forming a high speed scorching pyroclastic surge of hot gases and ash which suddenly engulfed Herculaneum. The Romans who had remained in the town would have become overwhelmed and died instantaneously.
The town of Herculaneum lay for many centuries buried under 20 feet of volcanic debris, ash and solidified mud. This thick hard covering preserved the town beneath for many centuries. until excavations began to reveal its hidden secrets. Only a quarter of the Roman town has been excavated. The modern day Ercolano was built above it, and modern buildings overlook the ruins. Mount Vesuvius still broods menacing in the background.
The Roman town was located right beside the sea however the eruption dramatically changed the geography of the local landscape, leaving the site of the old town now positioned further inland.
The Roman equivalent of a take-away, café or snack bar that sold hot and cold food.
The College of the Augustales
2,000 year old wall decorations in Herculaneum.
A sign for a Roman wine shop.
Detail of a Roman shrine decorated with seashells.
Statue of Marcus Nonius Balbus.
Many of the Herculaneum’s Roman citizens had sought to abandon the town when they saw the volcanic eruption, however some were unable to to make their escape and found themselves stranded on the beach or huddled together in the vaulted storerooms or boat houses along the shore. As the surge of hot gases engulfed the town there was no means of escape. Approximately 300 bodies have since been unearthed along the seafront.
Does Lora have a Roman nose?
We went on to have supper in Sorrento. Cin Cin !!!
This was my second visit to Herculaneum this Autumn, as when our dear Australian friend Diana visited us in September we organised a daytrip to visit the ruins accompanied by Melinda and Pat. Pat is very knowledgeable about Roman history and archaeology, thus we learned a great deal on that visit.
Here a couple of photos of Diana’s day in Herculaneum.
.A Roman flour mill.
Melinda and a hug pot.
All photos by me © Louise Shapcott
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