For many people, Herculaneum is a more interesting place to visit than Pompeii. Surrounded by volcanic rock, its location gives you a far clearer idea of the magnitude of the volcanic eruption. While roofs in Pompeii collapsed under the weight of falling ash, only a few centimetres of ash fell on Herculaneum, causing little damage. Subsequently, there was a succession of six flows of boiling mud (a mixture of ash and gases) which then solidified. These gradually buried the city's buildings from the bottom up, causing relatively little damage. The good state of preservation of the site is due to its rapid filling by these flows, which prevented the buildings from collapsing. The high temperature of the first flow carbonized wood in the buildings and extracted water from it. Restoration work is ongoing, and while a lot of the timbers have been replaced, there is still much of the original timberwork present, albeit badly charred. Finally, the volcanic rock, or tufo, that covered the site for 1700 years formed an airtight seal. As a consequence there are many well-preserved buildings, many with the upper stories still intact, and some excellent frescoes and mosaics on both walls and floors to be seen.
Herculaneum really gives you an idea of how ancient Romans lived. For the independent traveller there is an additional advantage over Pompeii. The congested streets around the excavations (it: scavi) mean that access for tour buses is impossible. Thus there are far fewer visitors to Herculaneum than Pompeii. You don't have to fight your way past hordes of other tourists in order to get into the buildings and you can explore the ruins at leisure without being overwhelmed by tour groups. These excavations also cover a much smaller site than do those of Pompeii and thus seeing the whole site is much less exhausting.
By busFrequent buses run to and from Naples.
By trainThe Circumvesuviana trains take 25 minutes to get there from Naples and 40 minutes from Sorrento. To get to the ruins, get off at the station, from where you exit into a small square. Exit diagonally right (the only way out of the square) and walk 8 blocks downhill to the big arch - the ticket office & baggage check are about a further 2 minutes' walk though the arch (pick up bag 30 minutes before site closing).
There are two train stations in Ercolano. The Ercolano Scavi Circumvesuviana station is on the Sorrento-Naples line, but the trains on the Naples-Salerno stop at the Porticini/Ercolano station. The Herculaneum site is not signposted from the latter station.
Herculaneum is on the
The Ruins of HerculaneumYou can pick up free map at entrance as well as a booklet describing the attractions, although versions other than Italian are often out of print. Audioguides cost €6.50, €10 for two, ID required, turn in 30 minutes before closing. Toilet facilities are to the left of the audioguide kiosk. There is nowhere to buy refreshments so make sure you have water with you. You will need around 2 hours at a calm pace if you want to visit everything.
BathsThe male and female baths, which are next to each other, are well preserved. They were fed by a large well, which brought water from a depth of 8.25 m, heated by a large furnace and distributed around the baths by a network of pipes that also served to provide central heating.
House of Neptune and AmphitriteWorth the visit for its stunning mosaics alone, particularly that of Neptune and Amphitrite (a sea goddess and wife of Poseidon), after which the house is named.
GymnasiumThis large complex extends over much of the southeast side of the excavations and is on your right as you walk down to the ticket office.
Villa of the PapyriThe coastline was significantly altered by the eruption, but this large and luxurious villa used to stretch down to the sea in four terraces. Its seafront was about 250 m long. It is below you on your right as you leave the ticket office and head towards the audio guide kiosk. The villa contained a fine library of scrolls and, although these were badly carbonized, there is hope that modern technology will soon make it possible to read them without destroying them by opening them.
House of the DeerThis was another luxurious waterfront dwelling.
Samnite HouseThis is one of the oldest properties so far discovered on the site. Excavations suggest that, at various times, the upper floor was rented out and the courtyard was sold off. What remains now is a large roofed and elegantly decorated atrium with a few small rooms around it.
House of the Beautiful CourtyardThe attractive courtyard is said to resemble an Italian medieval courtyard more than a Roman building. In a display case there are two skeletons fused with volcanic rock.
College of the AugustalesThe Augustales were an order of Roman priests responsible for attending to the maintenance of the cult of Augustus, who was considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire. The building consists of one large, well-decorated roofed room.
Villa CampolietoA beautiful 18th Century villa overlooking the shore. It is open for visitors on weekends only.
TourPompeiIn firstname.lastname@example.org +39 3284134719 offers itineraries at the ancient Herculaneum lasting minimum 2 hours and covering all the highlights of the city such as Northern Cardo (road oriented north-south), the House of the Skeleton,Thermopolium (restaurant food), Men's Thermal Bath, Temple of Augustali, Forum (main square), House of the Black Saloon, House of Neptune and Amphitrite, House of Bel Cortile, the Samnite House, the House of the Wooden Partition, the Bakery, the Gym, the Home of the Bucks, the Marina gate, terrace of Marcus Nonius Balbus and the beach. The guides are locals, are licensed, and have degrees in archaeology; they are able to provide tours for kids and disabled people, and with their vast knowledge of ancient history and society are capable of making the ancient Herculaneum come to life.
The ticket office to the site also has an excellent book shop offering a wide range of guides and maps.
If you also plan to visit Pompeii buy the multi-site ticket - it is marginally cheaper that way. Also EU citizens under 24 or over 60 can get reduced admission if they can prove their age - so take your passport.
Take your own food to the site, there's only one vending machine, and that's mostly for drinks.
phone: +39 081 777 30 49address: Via Marittima, 59 80059 Ercolano
Migliodoro Park Hotel Ercolanophone: +39 081 7399999address: Corso Resina 2964-star hotel, the result of the restoration of Villa Aprile just 40 m from the archaeological digs of Herculaneum.
- Take the Circumvesuviana commuter train to any of the following destinations:
- The grand city of Naples
- The nearby Roman town of Pompeii, which was destroyed at the same time
- The Vesuvius Natural Reserve, buses leave from the Circumvesuviana station
- The ruined Villae at Oplontis and Sora
- The lovely town of Sorrento: from here you can take boats to Capri (also from Naples), and go to the stunning Amalfi Coast