Pompeii and Herculaneum
November 23, 2014
The museums of Naples whet your appetite for the real thing, and you cannot miss being immersed into the ancient past by walking the roads of Pompeii and Herculaneum. I was most fascinated by the latter, perhaps because our guide was extremely well-informed and lively. Herculaneum was destroyed by the same volcanic eruption that took its more famous neighbor in A.D. 79. However, Herculaneum benefited from being further from Mt. Vesuvius; scientists believe it was essentially covered by a river of boiling mud that took only 4 minutes to travel the 4 mile distance from the volcano. The result is near perfect preservation of the town’s structure, including charred wood , brilliant mosaics and hundreds of bodies. Herculaneum renders an excellent idea of the appearance of a Roman town 2000 years ago.
After touring Herculaneum, visit the MAV (Museo Archeologico Virtuale). Located just 100 yards from the ruins, the MAV uses digital technology to virtually reconstruct the destroyed town and recreate a sense of what life was like for its residents.
A quick word about Pompeii. Estimated to have a population of 20,000 at the time of its destruction, Pompeii was covered, probably over a period of hours, by up to 60 feet of ash and pumice. A fascinating eyewitness account of the eruption by Pliny the Younger, who was 18 years old at the time, can be read here . Another must-read before seeing Pompeii is Richard Harris’s historical fiction account of the disaster, Pompeii.
Pompeii was a thriving holiday town, and much evidence of daily life there has been preserved. Unfortunately, due to conservation issues, only 30% of the buildings open to tourists in the past can be viewed currently. Nonetheless, a full day can be spent wandering the 100+ acres of archeological wonders. This website is quite useful in planning a day at Pompeii and Herculaneum. Do not miss Pompeii’s Villa of Mysteries, located at the western edge of the city. Read here and you’ll understand why.
Finally, a word to the wise: avoid staying in the modern town of Herculaneum. Several locals advised that the town is not considered safe.