Herculaneum - Italy

May 20, 2017

When Vesuvius erupted on 24 August AD 79, it engulfed the two flourishing Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as the many wealthy villas in the area.

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Ancient seafront of Herculaneum

Herculaneum was different from Pompeii, certainly far less commercial, perhaps more relaxed.

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Herculaneum was buried by a succession of six pyroclastic flows (a mixture of ash and gases that reach 500°C) which then solidified

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Casa dell'Albergo

In Herculaneum the higher temperature of the surges, which travelled at about 68 mph (109 kph), caused instant ignition, splitting skulls and boiling brains alive. The temperatures there also preserved (through carbonisation) wood and food that did not normally survive in Pompeii.

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This place can give you an idea in how ancient Romans lived. Having far fewer visitors than Pompeii you can explore the place at your own leisure.

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For example, the public baths. They had separate areas for women and men

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Central Thermae

Just outside are the men's latrines which consisted of an 'L' shaped channel drain fed by the continuous inflow of water.

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Central Thermae - Men's Latrines

Baths in the Ancient Roman cities were places for social gathering where people could discuss politics, make deals and strike agreements in different areas of daily lives.

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Central Thermae - Women's Waiting Room

The walls held pipes for hot air and the floor was hollow so hot air could circulate there also. Unfortunately, the floor has collapsed in the cold room of the men's baths.

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Central Thermae - Collapsed Triton Floor Mosaic - Men's Baths

Baths consisted of Hot Baths, Cold Baths and Palaestra and open air gym areas where people could work out and practice.

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Central Thermae - Men's Waiting Room - Sink for Washing Hands

Among the many houses, one that I liked was the College of the Augustales. It is thought was a centre of the cult of the Emperor Augustus and the headquarters of the Collegium Augustalium (or possibly even the local curia). 

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College of the Augustales

The room showed above served as a sacellum (roofless shrine), it was raised above the rest of the hall and was completely decorated in the fourth style (fresco with a taste for architectural vistas).

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College of the Augustales

The fresco in the middle of the right wall (pictured below) shows Hercules fighting Achelous who kidnapped Deianira. 

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College of the Augustales

Because of the manner of its burial and the fact that it lies beneath a populated area, the exact size of Herculaneum is still unknown, but it appears to extend over an area roughly 320m by 350m.  

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The section excavated to date is in the southwest corner of Herculaneum and covers about a quarter of the city.  

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The homes of the humble are as informative as those of the wealthy. Many roofs, second stories, and balconies have been restored.

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Archaeological digs continue to this day.  

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Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite

The main problem that modern scientists face today is preservation of the site.

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Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite

Many of the previous foundlings were lost to collapse due to natural elements and erosion.

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Bottega della Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite

Discovery of new insulas (apartment buildings), residences and shops often take back seat to proper support and preservation of already discovered structures.

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One of the most disappointing parts of visiting Herculaneum is closure of some parts of the city for general public.

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Casa del Tramezzo di Legno has a wonderfully well-preserved wooden screen, separating the atrium from the tablinum, where the owner talked business with his clients.

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Case del Tramezzo di Legno, house of the carbonized bed

The second room off the left side of the atrium features the remains of an ancient bed.

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Original Floor

Named after the elegant brick Corinthian columns that flank its main entrance, the House of the Large Portal is home to some well-preserved wall paintings.

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Casa del Gran Portale

The vestibule has lost much of its original fourth style decoration, except on its west side where the remaining structure of the building has protected it from the elements.

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Walls with Decorative Bands

Like many properties, the house had a shop opening onto the street. It was probably rented out.

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Bird Painting - The Art of the Fresco

Thermopoliums can be compared to modern fast food restaurants.

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Thermopolium

These places were mainly used by the poor or those who simply could not afford a private kitchen, sometimes leading them to be scorned by the upper class.

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Thermopolium

How Romans got water? From aqueducts that also provided water for mining operations, milling, farms, and gardens

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Public Water Fountain

Cities and towns throughout the Roman Empire funded aqueducts as objects of public interest and civic pride

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Street Paving Stones

The following picture is a multi-story Roman apartment building.

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Roman Apartment Building

Next to it I saw a baker's shop called pistrinum in Italian. The oven is the igloo-shaped object in the foreground. The mill is the object in the background.

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Pristinum e Bottega (Bakery)

This bakery was owned by Sex Patulcius Felix.

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Pristinum e Bottega (Bakery)

It is the best preserved bakery in Herculaneum. There were quarters for donkeys, used to turn the mill, at the rear of the shop.

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Public Water Fountain

Another beautiful house is the House of the Relief of Telephus which is one of the largest houses in the excavated area covering about 1,800 square metres.

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Casa del Rilievo di Telefo

On the south wall of the atrium is a copy of a neo-attic relief depicting an episode from the myth of Telephus.

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Casa del Rilievo di Telefo

On the left, the relief depicts Achilles in the presence of his mother Thetis, and on the right treating the wound of the Mysian king, Telephus in return for the king showing the Achaeans the way to Troy.

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Telefo Relief

Looking at the lizard, I remembered reading that Ancient Romans used the gecko's kidneys as an aphrodisiac.

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Lizard

The visit ended going towards the ancient beach which included a quick visit to the Terrace of Marcus Nonious Balbus.

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La Terrazza Di Marco Nonio Balbo

Marcus Nonius Balbus was the city's major benefactor restoring and building many public buildings.

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La Terrazza Di Marco Nonio Balbo

The statue of the Senator, set on a marble base next to the altar was considerably damaged by the effects of the eruption and what we see today is a partial restoration.

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La Terrazza Di Marco Nonio Balbo

Very close by is the Sacred Area, a ritualistic area that contained the Temple of Venus.

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The Sacred Area

There is also a temple dedicated to the four gods of Minerva, Vulcan, Mercury and Neptune.

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The Sacred Area

In 1980 uncovered human remains in one of the twelve boat houses that lined the ancient beach were found.

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Boat Houses

It would appear that some of the town's inhabitants had probably taken shelter in these chambers to wait for the worst of the eruption to pass.

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Human remains at the boathouses

In all about 300 skeletons have been found along with the precious and everyday items they carried with them.

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Human remains at the boathouses

The skeletons, some of them carbonised by the extreme heat, were well preserved by ground water that kept them from oxidising.