Herculaneum, Campania, Italy, 1/2014

April 12, 2014

While nearly everyone has heard of the horrible tragedy of Pompeii, (If you haven’t, read our last blog.), several people had told us that the town of Herculaneum on the coast was equally astounding. Comparatively small with a population of approximately 4000, Herculaneum covered an area of about 50 acres of which only 11 have been excavated. The modern town Ercolano sits on top of it.

As Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, Herculaneum was covered by flows of pyroclastic rock that solidified to an average height of approximately 16 meters, (53 feet). This tragic event created a phenomenal preservation that is absolutely original, nothing at all like Pompeii. Archaeological finds have included plants, fabrics and furniture, structural parts of wooden buildings and even a boat & a fisherman’s basket were recovered from the ancient Marina.

One of the most shocking areas was a line of vaulted rooms used as port warehouses and boat storage opened to the beach. In 1982, over 300 human skeletons were found along with valuables they carried with them as they sought safe refuge at the water’s edge. They were killed almost instantly by the 500°F heat wave and the blazing clouds of exploding gas from the volcano. The vantage point from a walkway over 3 stories above the area that used to be the beach, showed a graphic example of the astounding amount of ash and rock that covered this fishing village.

Wandering through the cobblestone streets we explored the luxurious vaulted Central Steam Baths for both men and women, with cold rooms and dressing rooms. Beautiful homes retained their intricate mosaic floors and well preserved frescoes on the walls. At times it felt like we should knock on someone’s door before entering or that the whole village was just gone for the day. There was a bakery with its interesting millstones and a fast food thermopolium like we had seen in Pompeii.

We even found a laundromat, well, sort of. According to historical documents, clothes were washed in troughs filled with water & soda, and barefoot men were stomping them. Then they were soaked in human or animal urine to bleach them. After they were rubbed with clay to soften them, they were rinsed and hung to dry. Next they were brushed to make them shiny and later put in a wooden crate or cage where sulfur was burnt underneath to make them smell good, (a relative term after being soaked in urine). Finally they were neatly folded and pressed in a device we thought at first was an olive or wine press, but in fact, it was made for clothes. Amazingly, this laundry press survived the disaster and is the only one of its kind preserved to this day.

Excavations at Herculaneum are ongoing with tunnels being bored into cliffs of ash. What was once a beautiful beach is gone. Vesuvius added a strip of land to the oceanfront some 400 meters wide, (1312 feet).


One Response to “Herculaneum, Campania, Italy, 1/2014”

  1. While nearly everyone has heard of the horrible tragedy of Pompeii, (If you haven’t, read our last blog.),… http://t.co/jMljqafnfb

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