Pompeii was a Roman city famously buried under 13-20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice during an eruption of neighboring Mount Vesuvius. Today this is one of the most popular archeological sites to visit in Italy. The neighboring town of Herculaneum may not be as famous as Pompeii, but it is better excavated. From an archeological point of view, violent and sudden destructions of cities often preserve them in time. Pompeii and Herculaneum are great examples of this and enable us to get a glimpse of life in classical Roman times.


Background And Unfolding Of The Disaster

The eruption of Vesuvius lasted for two days. The first phase came in the form of pumice rain. Contrary to popular opinion, this actually allowed most people to escape. Most people were probably able to escape with some of their belongings. Many of the people who did perish, often died with the most valuable of their belongings like coins, jewelry, silverware.

  • Number Of Bodies Found: 1,150

Those who did not escape on the first day were largely incinerated or suffocated by the ensuing hot ash clouds. The heat was so intense that many properly died instantly miles away from the heat source.

Herculaneum was a popular coastal retreat for the Roman elite and there are numerous grand villas and luxury houses here. Often these buildings were full of colored marble. Herculaneum was named after Hercules - the Greek god. The city's legend was that it was Hercules himself who founded the city in 1243 BC. In reality, it was a former Etruscan city.

  • Eerie Fact: In The Villa Of The Papyri The Skeletal Remains Of Around 300 Have Been Discovered

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Interesting Artwork

The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum are full of mature images and depictions, and brothels in the cities are apparent (ever seen HBO's TV series Rome? It was like that). Once devout Christians claimed this was why God destroyed them like in the Biblical record of Sodom and Gomorrha. But now we know that the paintings had actually been painted over not long before the destruction. There was nothing unusual about these depictions - the Romans had become more conservative, thus, had painted over them. These cities were preserved, the many other cities in the empire had them as well but lost their hidden images to time.

  • Fun Fact: These Mature Artworks Were Kept In A Gallery Only For Older Audiences But It Was Closed And Reopened Multiple Times Over A 100 Years
  • Modern Access: Minors Must Have A Guardian Or Written Permission
  • Date: Mount Vesuvius Erupted And Covered These Cities In The Year AD 79

Snapshot In Time

If you visit Pompeii and Herculaneum you will find a perfect snapshot in time and they are more or less intact. Not only has the thick layer of ash protected them against the normal destruction forces of nature like rain and wind, but also again looters (although some artifacts have been lost to looters after the discovery around 1709). The treasures and artifacts all remain in place. Wood is better preserved at Herculaneum than at Pompeii, consequently, we have more preserved things like beds, roofs, and doors there - even food and papyrus.

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  • Fun Fact: While It Was Smaller than Pompeii, Herculaneum Was Wealthier

Graffiti And Language

The ruins have even preserved parts of a largely lost language. While documents were written in Classical Latin, that wasn't actually what the people spoke at the time (like Classical Arabic is not the Arabic actually spoken today on the street). It seems that few things change over time, like today, two thousand years ago the youth were adorning the city with graffiti. Graffiti is rarely formal. With this graffiti, we can get an idea of the Vulgar Latin that they actually spoke.

Visiting Today

  • Status: Herculaneum And Pomeii Are UNSECO Listed
  • Popularity: They Draw Some 2.5 Million Tourists Annually

One of the biggest problems now is preserving the sites. The covering of ash has preserved the sites extremely well, but careless excavation has led to the sites being exposed to the elements and deteriorating. Today most efforts are on preservation and just targeted excavation.

  • Admission Fee: From 16.50 Euros ($20)
  • Admission Fee: From 47 Euros With Herculaneum Archeologist Guided Tour ($55)
  • Time To See Herculaneum: 2-3 Hours
  • Time To See Pompeii: Pompeii Is Massive And Will Require 2-3 Days To See Properly (Its An Entire Roman City)

Note if anyone is visiting Herculaneum with strollers and pushchairs, they may find the old Roman roads and sidewalks a little difficult to navigate.

While Pompeii has the name, be sure to visit Herculaneum! See life in Classical Roman!

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