During the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD which covered Pompeii with several metres of ash, the seaside town of Herculaneum was also destroyed, but by the Pyroclastic surge, a mixture of lava, mud, ash and hot gases, (with temperatures of 500oC) which swept down on it at 100 mph. The first surge instantly caused the death of a number of people who sought shelter in the boat houses at the seashore. The high temperature caused their bones and teeth to fracture and skulls to explode.
A succession of surges buried the city's buildings from the bottom up preserving their structure and the objects within. The intense heat extracted water and carbonised the organic material. The depth of the layers (20 metres) protected the town until it was discovered during the course of a well being dug in 1709. Excavations began in 1738, but were curtailed when efforts were moved to Pompeii, which presented an easier task.
Over the years the excavations at Herculaneum were undertaken in stages, with periods during which no work was undertaken. In 1927 work commenced again, and is continuing until the present day. Nevertheless, only about 25% of the town is believed to have been excavated to date. The difficulty of excavation results from the hardness of the layers, (which solidified) and also the fact that the town of Ercolano is situated over the ruins, although some urban clearance is now taking place in the modern town, in order to expose more of the archaeological remains.
Herculaneum was a resort for the wealthy and contained many elegant residences complete with decorations as well as the businesses and facilities to provide for them. These consist of bakeries, wine merchants, baths and temples - all of which provide an insight into the lives of the residents. Part of the forum is visible, although most has still to be excavated.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.