Day trip to Herculaneum

by wired2theworld on January 17, 2012

Post image for Day trip to Herculaneum

Many people who stay in Naples make a point to visit to Pompeii during their time there. And if you haven’t been, you should go. It’s an easy 35 minute train ride and well worth the trip. But Pompeii isn’t the only place time stood still in 79 AD.  Herculaneum is Pompeii’s lesser known (but still fascinating) stepsister in volcanic disaster.

Herculaneum was a seaside town filled with the vacation villas of wealthy Romans in 79 AD. When Mount Vesuvius erupted, smothering Pompeii in ash, the residents of Herculaneum we killed not by ash, but by the poisonous gasses which spewed out from the volcano. The town itself was covered by more than 20 meters of mud which dried as hard as concrete. This has made the excavations much more difficult and as a result, slower, and the area uncovered is much smaller than Pompeii. I think this makes visiting the site much easier and more “user-friendly”. While you could easily spend an entire day here, exploring all the nooks and crannies of buildings, we spent about half a day and were back in Naples for a late lunch. Today much of the ancient city still exists beneath the modern day city of Ercolano and is yet to be excavated.

View from the ruins back toward Mt Vesuvius. Yes, it's CLOSE.

To get to Erculano from Naples take the Circumvesuviana Line from the Naples termini station. You will need to buy a separate ticket. At the time we went the tickets cost 2.10 euro each way. Follow the signs in the station and buy your ticket before you go down to where the trains are. The train was surprisingly crowded and we stood for most of the ride. Keep a firm grip on your belongings as this line is notorious for pickpockets. Make sure you get off at the Ercolano Scavi stop. This trip is easy and you can certainly do it without a tour.

When you get to the town, it’s a straight shot from the station to the entrance to the ruins, about 6 blocks down the main street. We took our time, stopping for a quick espresso along the way. I also noticed there was a nice looking museum, but it was closed on the day we were there. The ruins at Herculaneum are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and at the bottom of this post are some good resources for visiting Herculaneum.

And now, for the tour…

Once you enter the gates, you walk across an elevated walkway which gives both an amazing view of the excavated ruins below and of the entire Bay of Naples.

From this perspective you can see that the town of Herculaneum is about 4 stories below the present day city.

It's incredible how some of the streets could easily exist in present day, down to the sidewalks and gutters.

There are even beautiful gardens planted with fruit trees which are direct reconstructions based on plant remains and seeds found in the area.

Fountains inside private villas.

There are colorful mosaics still on the walls.

According to my sister in law, a Roman Historian "the wine fresco lists prices – 2 (II) Asses (the standard cheap unit of measurement, here the 2-Buck-Chuck equivalent) up to 4 (IIII) asses – the same amount you could buy a decent loaf of bread or a cheap prostitute for."

"The amphorae in the picture are mostly wine and oil amphorae, but on the left of that picture there’s one of the deep hearths with a giant round amphorae which would have held soup or stew for the fast-food customers who stopped by – think basically like a slow cooker at a soup-and-salad joint." (Info thanks to Anise Strong)

Inside one of the baths.

Mosaic tile floor of the bath

My private Roman Historian says, "The plaque is a dedication by a former slave, incidentally, and an interesting combination of fairly expensive stone and a not very competent stonecutter, look at the T in the second line and the spacing. Saving costs, maybe? Anyways, it announces that he has endowed a yearly dinner for the chief elected officials and the priests of Augustus (all former slaves) of the town."

I was surprised at how many two and three story buildings there were.

There are brilliant frescos both outside...

...and inside the buildings.

One of the main streets at the back of the complex. It's possible to walk through and inside many of the structures.

This is modern day Erculano and the street from the ruins leading back up to the train station.

Random wheels of cheese on the way back to the train.

Resources for visiting Herculaneum:

Visiting Herculaneum: Pompeii’s Overlooked Neighbor on Why Go Italy
The official website for the archaeological ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum (in Italian and English)
The UNESCO pages on Herculaneum
Tips for visiting Pompeii and Herculaneum in One Day on Italylogue
If you are in Naples, don’t forget to visit the Archaeological Museum there which holds most of the original artifacts and mosaics pulled from both Pompeii and Herculaneum.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anise K. Strong January 17, 2012 at 10:55 am

I know the woman who planted those gardens; they are direct reconstructions based on plant remains and seeds found in that area. The wine fresco lists prices – 2 (II) Asses (the standard cheap unit of measurement, here the 2-Buck-Chuck equivalent) up to 4 (IIII) asses – the same amount you could buy a decent loaf of bread or a cheap prostitute for. The amphorae in the picture below are mostly wine and oil amphorae, but on the left of that picture there’s one of the deep hearths with a giant round amphorae which would have held soup or stew for the fast-food customers who stopped by – think basically like a slow cooker at a soup-and-salad joint.

The plaque is a dedication by a former slave, incidentally, and an interesting combination of fairly expensive stone and a not very competent stonecutter, look at the T in the second line and the spacing. Saving costs, maybe? Anyways, it announces that he has endowed a yearly dinner for the chief elected officials and the priests of Augustus (all former slaves) of the town.

Reply

2 wired2theworld January 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Fantastic information Anise! I’m going to try and incorporate some of that into the descriptions in case people don’t read the comments. Thanks!

Reply

3 Anise K. Strong January 17, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Well, you might as well get some use out of having a Roman historian in the family!

Reply

4 wired2theworld January 17, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Absolutely. I love all the juicy tidbits and have included them above.
wired2theworld recently posted..Day trip to Herculaneum

Reply

5 Myra January 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm

As always, wonderful pictures! I haven’t been south of Rome, but when I do go, Herculaneum and Pompeii are my top two places to visit.
Myra recently posted..Meeting A Friend for a Falafel in the Marais

Reply

6 wired2theworld January 17, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Myra- BOTH are worth a trip. Pompeii can be overwhelming, but I’d like to go back there too because they’ve opened a lot of new sections in the last decade.

Reply

7 Dave January 18, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Fascinating article Kristina! Really enjoyed it, and the great photos.

It’s always good to come across the relatively unknown things when compared to other events in the region that over shadow them.

Herculaneum looks like a place I’d like to visit. Am I right in thinking it’s quite place to visit?
Dave recently posted..What is it like to return to a country and travel it again? – Nepal

Reply

8 wired2theworld January 19, 2012 at 6:57 am

Dave, yes, it was incredibly quiet when we were there. There were a couple of tour groups going through, but it was easy enough to avoid them.

Reply

9 Kent @ No Vacation Required January 19, 2012 at 9:48 am

So interesting (and fascinating info from Anise).

Please tell me that you grabbed one of those wheels of cheese for the train ride :)
Kent @ No Vacation Required recently posted..Off the Beaten Path Is a Mindset

Reply

10 jessietaylor92 January 23, 2012 at 7:24 am

I love the place! This is what I want to visit. Places like Rome, Jerusalem and other places which keep me closer to God. It’s not only you can spend your vacation and to take a break from hectic schedules but also to take time to recollect yourself.

Reply

11 Anna January 24, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I am in love with Naples! I have been to Pompeii, but never to Herculaneum. From what I see – it is more preserved than Pompeii, isn’t it?

Reply

12 Astrid Sanschagrin January 25, 2012 at 6:09 am

I have only read of Pompeii through literature. I am surprised to see that some of the structures were remained in one piece. It seems interesting to see the designs of the old ruins and buildings of the place. It is because I could be able to imagine how creative the Pompeii people during the ancient times.

Reply

13 Armand January 25, 2012 at 10:12 pm

What a great place! The photos really shows that Herculaneum is a place where people have to visit and come to experience how the ancient time looks like. Thank you for posting the photos.

Reply

14 Lisa at Wanderlust Women January 26, 2012 at 11:01 am

WOW – what excellent shots….it rained the day I was there. Can I ask what kind of camera you use? I need a new one.
Lisa at Wanderlust Women recently posted..Buried in History on the Amalfi Coast – Ercolano

Reply

15 wired2theworld January 27, 2012 at 6:00 am

Lisa- I use a Nikon D5000 DSLR. We were blessed with perfect weather the day we were there.

Reply

16 Nancy January 26, 2012 at 11:33 pm

They did a great job excavating the buried city and preserving it. The entire area is a huge historical treasure. Thank you for sharing the beauty of the city in your photos.

Reply

17 Betty January 27, 2012 at 1:03 am

The pictures of the city is fascinating. The result of the excavation is obviously successful. I always love to travel in places where I can imagine myself back in time.

Reply

18 Paula July 31, 2013 at 11:30 am

Having been to Italy years ago with a smithsonian tour, I’m not sure why we did not go here unless I missed the date it was excavated. We did go to Pompeii. But so glad to see the photos and explanations. Just watched a history channel feature on Naples, volcanoes and possibilities of future eruptions which mentioned Herculaneum and sparked my interest. Thanks again.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Like this post? Make my day, say something...

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: