Ancient Herculaneum

Herculaneum seen from the top

Herculaneum is the name of an ancient amazing resort town situated on the slopes of the famous volcano Mount Vesuvius, in the province of Naples, Campania region (Southern Italy). The town was completely buried under a pyroclastic flow during the eruption of the volcano, in the year 79 A. D. and it vanished. Nowadays it is an outstanding archaeological site whose exceptional remains are underneath the modern town of Ercolano.

According to the legend, Herculaneum was founded by Heracles (Hercules) on his way back from Spain. Here he fell in love with the nymph Sebetis (the beautiful daughter of the mythical
Sebetis river) but, unfortunately, she did not return his love and she preferred to be transformed into a rock which Heracles decided to name Heraclea (Herculaneum). Up on that rock, ejecting towards the sea and flanked by two streams, an hamlet was built and it became the first nucleus of “Hercules' city”.

Although the name of the town suggests a Greek foundation, and the city presented the typical Greek town layout, probably due to the influence of the Greek people living in the nearby Greek settlement of Parthenope, most archaeologists, basing their theories on the current archaeological findings, advocate that an hamlet was settled, during the 6th century b. C., by the Oscan (Opician) people that inhabited the Campania plain. It has been presumed that Etruscans and Samnites also resided here, until the town came under the influence of Rome, after the Samnites wars, during the 4th century b.C.. In effect, it became a Roman municipium in the year 89 b.C. but, thanks to its ideal location in the middle of the wonderful gulf of Naples, Herculaneum was soon transformed into a purely upper-class Roman resort town and magnificent dwellings were built along the coastline as the hamlet had been built up on a bluff overlooking a small harbour by the sea. Several illustrious Roman gentries had their own gorgeous villas built here and, among those, the most remarkable one is the notorious Villa of the Papyri, part of which was uncovered in 1752. ThermopoliumIt belonged to very important families, surely the Pisoni gentry, and it was considered a sort of cultural centre as an enormous library and several carbonised papyri scrolls, placed in bookcases along the walls, were brought to light from this dwelling. According to Seneca and other contemporary malicious poets, like Lucian, it was a fashion to own a private library, during the Roman Empire. In fact, they both considered the owners of those libraries like simple uncultured “book clubs”. The papyri found at Herculaneum, however, prove that they were related to the Epicurean philosophy and many scholars today think that the library is so precious as it might give back missing books from the past.
The particular burial of the town under liquid hot pyroclastic material, protected organic materials, like wooden objects and furnitures, dried fruits, eggs and even clothes. The pyroclastic flow, entering the houses of Herculaneum, preserved them for us to see nowadays. Thermal bath establishments, homes, shops, thermopoliums, temples and a gym (palestra) are all still in such good conditions that it is possible to  clearly
immagine the life of two thousand years ago.

A walk through the ruins of ancient Herculaneum will surely bring us back in time. A description of an itinerary is available on my blogsite: More information on the site here

For a qualified guided walking tour of the ancient town of Herculaneum, please contact me at belsannino@gmail.