2nd November 2017
A train from Pompei into Ercolano then a Vesuvius Express mini-bus up the slopes of the volcano, towering over the town, got us to the highest car-park on Vesuvius on another bright day. We had one-and-a half hours to explore and followed the steady stream of visitors up the black track of volcanic ash that winds to the rim of the cone. Twenty minutes steady walking and we were looking down into the mouth of the active volcano, the clouds of sulphur rising from the sides confirming that it is only resting.
Vesuvius is supposed to have a 30-year eruption cycle and is currently 33 years overdue -a very big bang is expected next time. A footpath took us to the opposite side of the rim offering stupendous views of the Bay of Naples shimmering below, Naples sprawling to our right and Sorrento visible on the left.
Danny managed to locate Pompei through the binoculars and we reflected with awe on the fact that it – and Herculaneum – used to be on the coast, now 2km away after the 79AD eruption deposited so much ash and rock that it created a new coastline.
Back at Ercolano we walked downhill to Herculaneum Archeological Site. Going through the arch and getting the view down to the ruins, the modern town towering above, is a remarkable experience.
Herculaneum was buried under nearly 60 feet (20m) of volcanic mud and ash, far deeper than Pompei, and as a result organic objects such as wooden timbers and furniture, human skeletons and even food were preserved. Only about a quarter of the original city has been excavated and it is surrounded by steep walls of the volcanic material that covered it while new Ercolano bustles and hums around it.
Since Kate’s last visit there have been a lot more discoveries including a boat that is still being reconstructed and is well displayed with associated artefacts,
and, more poignantly, many skeletons. Originally it was thought all the inhabitants fled but in the late 1980’s the first skeletons were found, massed together under arches next to the shoreline from where they were trying to escape. They are still there today and really have an impact.
Herculaneum is smaller than Pompei and has a completely different feel and look. We followed our audio-guides around the ruins, occasionally bumping into small groups belonging to an English school-trip, their teachers struggling to keep them together and interested. Some things don’t change.
A more wealthy and exclusive settlement than Pompei, much of the excavated part is villas and shops, including a dyers with huge pots, a couple of bakeries and a good number of the tavernas – thermopolia – we had seen in Pompeil. Apparently people generally had their lunch away from the home or bought at the tavernas and took it home to reheat. We’d probably have spent a lot of time at them!
Outside one shop a painted sign advertising the prices of various wines has survived surprisingly well. We could see charred timbers within the building structures, surprised that they shaven’t crumbled, and one property even has it’s original wooden partition doors which somehow escaped burning.
Herculaneum was well worth the visit – a very atmospheric experience.