Everyone has heard of Pompeii, but Herculaneum is the lesser well known victim to Mount Vesuvius’ catastrophic eruption of 79 AD. Geographically located closer to the volcano, whilst Pompeii was frozen by ash, Herculaneum was buried under a deep flow of Pyroclastic magma, preserving many of its organic materials from wooden beams and human skeletons, to even its Papyri scrolls. Herculaneum was a much smaller but much richer town than its neighbouring Pompeii, and much of this opulence remains on display today. In contrast to Pompeii, you will find Herculaneum comparatively empty in terms of tourists, and will be able to walk the its streets almost entirely undisturbed.
Admire the finest exhibition of artwork from the classical world
When Herculaneum was buried almost 20 metres (approx 65ft) below the ground, the city was exposed to temperatures in excess of 500°C (932°F), and this in addition to its underground preservation allowed for the conservation of so many of its grandiose works of art. What is fascinating is that after 2000 years, the colour pigment in so many of these pieces remains remarkably intact, and we as visitors can gain an insight into the artistic beauty of the Roman world. The vibrant azure which emanates from this mosaic depiction of Neptune and Salacia in House 22 makes it a truly stunning spectacle. However, there are so many more like it that you’re spoilt for choice.
The town's stunning architecture remains exactly as it once was
It is simply awe-inspiring to be able to see just how architecturally advanced the Romans were - even in their own private residences. High ceilings supported by Corinthian pillars is something which you might associate with theatres, temples and public buildings, but in Herculaneum you can see all of these aesthetically stunning features throughout the ancient town.
Check out the almost intact organic materials!
In a town which defies the odds in so many ways, including its survival today, perhaps it is hardly surprising that it miraculously has maintained so many of its organic materials which would have usually biodegraded over that considerable length of time. From wooden door frames to famous Papyri scrolls, the Pyroclastic material which covered the town preserved almost everything, and thus you can still see so many of the town’s original components exactly as they were. In addition to this, the painted clay lining of all its pillars remains entirely intact, hence creating what can only be described as a lifelike Roman ambience.
The skeletons which remain are a story of great tragedy
Westward winds meant that the primary stage of 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius fell predominantly on Pompeii, thus giving the inhabitants of Herculaneum a chance to react and evacuate. Most of its inhabitants were safely evacuated, but the last remaining 300 awaiting their rescue from the sea, were killed instantly as a result from a fulminant shock induced by temperatures in excess of 500°C (932°F.) Despite being only mere skeletal remainders, the postures of all these people are indicative of the magnitude of terror which Vesuvius’ eruption elicited from the humans which felt its effects. Whilst it is certainly not a happy spectacle, it is undoubtedly a moving one and there is certainly a level of humanity which surround these skeletons as they huddled together in shelter from what must have felt like the end of the world.
So, Herculaneum or Pompeii?
Both Herculaneum and Pompeii are timeless fragments of history in their own rights. Whilst Pompeii often receives all the plaudits, Herculaneum is ever growing in popularity, and is host to a much smaller microcosm of Roman daily life. Fortunately, however, it is not a question of which, as you can visit both on one ticket, and they are so close to each other and well connected by the Circumvesuviana train network that you really have no excuse not to. So, if you’re going to Pompeii, make sure you do not miss out on Herculaneum’s treasure chest of secrets.
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