Have you ever heard of Herculaneum? I’ll be honest I hadn’t until I had the opportunity to visit this overlooked town whilst visiting Southern Italy last month. I’m sure we all know the story of Mt Vesuvius erupting in 79AD and wiping out Pompeii by covering it with ash and pumice. Well guess what? This affected Herculaneum too! Along with Pompeii, Herculaneum took the full force of the famous eruption, yet many have never heard of it! There is a strong indication that Herculaneum was originally a Greek town as it is believed that Herculaneum was named after the Greek hero Hercules, son of Zeus.
Herculaneum (Ercolano), unlike Pompeii, was hit with pyroclastic flows therefore wooden objects were preserved here such as roofs and doors of buildings. Yes, Pompeii is very well preserved but I personally think Herculaneum is even more so. In fact it is so well preserved the mosaic floors look like they could have been laid yesterday. Another reason many say that Herculaneum is Pompeii’s prettier sister is the fact that it was a much wealthier town to begin with grand houses and buildings clad with coloured marble and decorated with beautifully bright and detailed frescos, some of which are still visible today.
Herculaneum is located approximately 10km from Naples and 40km from Sorrento, where we were staying. If you are to drive yourself from either of these cities please note that they are both toll road routes. We booked our trip via Acampora Travel at a cost of (approximately) £30 per person which included pick up and drop off in a comfortable coach together with a detailed audio tour lead by a very knowledgeable guide. Entrance to the archeological site was not included in that price. You must ‘pay on the door’ as with most historic sites in the area at a cost of €10 per person. Don’t forget to pick up a guidebook and a map of the site especially if you are visiting without a tour guide as Herculaneum is easy to get lost in. We are testament to that and we DID have a tour guide(!)
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when Herculaneum was ‘found’ however most research points to some point during the 18th Century when tunnels were discovered. But open-air excavation didn’t actually begin until the 1920’s under archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri. It had always been believed that the town had been evacuated before Mt Vesuvius in 79AD erupted however in the 1980’s over 50 skeletons were found near the town’s port. The excavation and investigation of the bones was funded via a grant from the National Geographic Society. Herculaneum, together with neighbouring towns, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the official name ‘Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Torre Annunziata’ in 1997.
There isn’t a time limit on how long you can spend on the excavated site which is open between 8.30am and 7.30pm in the Summer months (beginning of May until the end of October) and between 8.30am and 5.00pm in the Winter months (the rest of the year). We had approximately 3 hours here on our guided tour which looking back possibly wasn’t long enough. Obviously, our guide didn’t take us to all the buildings that have been excavated successfully because if she had done that I don’t think a week wood have been long enough let alone a day. And there wasn’t much time allowed at the buildings she did take us to. More often than not Mr ESLT and I were playing catch up to the rest of the group as we were taking pictures. So, in my opinion – yes it’s nice to be accompanied by a guide as you are likely to find out more information than if you went it alone however by going it alone you can take your time – swings and roundabouts!
So would I recommend Herculaneum – yes! It is a beautifully preserved town with a bit more ‘glamour’ about it and quieter than Pompeii. However, if you only have time to visit one of the towns in the Bay of Naples that was wiped out by the eruption Mt Vesuvius then my heart is saying Herculean for its beauty and my head is saying Pompeii for the well known history. And as with all open air sites in Italy, if visiting during the summer months don’t forget sunscreen, hat and a bottle of water.