When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it took out everything in its path including many towns established in its shadow. Famously, this included the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, ravaged but preserved for posterity in volcanic ash.
A lesser known victim of the volcanic disaster was the small town of Herculaneum, Ercolano in Italian. Unlike Pompeii which was significantly damaged by violent debris falls, Herculaneum was incredibly well preserved by the pyroclastic material which covered the entire town under 20 metres of fine ash.
The scale of the surging ash clouds was so massive, today’s remains are buried in what looks like a giant pit below ground level. Remarkably though, this protected not only wooden roofs but also doors, beds, amphorae. In recent year, even foods and hundreds of skeletons were recovered!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Herculaneum was of Greek origins and named after Heracles. It was a vibrant seaside bourgeois town, much wealthier than Pompeii. Not only was Herculaneum better conserved, it was and still is densely populated by stunning villas and colourful marble floors and murals. While the excavation site is vast, it’s estimated over 75% of the area remains buried under the homonymous modern-day town.
I had the chance to visit Herculaneum while staying in Naples, as the ruins are only a short train journey away from Napoli Centrale station. I was blown away. While most tourists in the area rush to visit Pompeii, all locals we spoke to recommended Herculaneum for its outstanding preservation. Check it out if you’re in the area.