Herculaneum was a seaside resort for wealthy Romans in the 1st century AD and contained many elegant residences. These were covered by lava, mud, ash during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. The site consists of homes, shops, baths, and temples – many still displaying their decorations. Part of the forum is visible, although most have still to be excavated, although this is hindered by the modern town of Ercolano being situated over the ruins.
During the eruption of the volcano 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 boathouses 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 up to the present day. Nevertheless, only about 25% of the town is believed to have been excavated. 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, which can be seen above the ruins and the closeness of the houses can be seen in the photograph below.
Some urban clearance is now taking place in the modern town, in order to expose more of the archaeological remains and a feel for the place can be obtained by walking along the streets.
Herculaneum was a resort for the wealthy and contained many elegant residences. Providing an indication of the style of living of the inhabitants with beautiful decorations which are remarkably well preserved, both externally and inside the buildings.
The Site also contains garden furniture being in place as though it were still in use.
The remains of businesses and facilities to provide for them are also to be seen. These consist of bakeries, wine merchants, temples, and shops.
They also include baths - 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. The ruins also provide an insight into the methods of construction with columns being constructed of bricks then covered in stucco, which is a fine plaster. The lead pipes used to carry water are also visible as the Romans were superb water engineers.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.
To watch a presentation given on Pompeii and Herculaneum by Ron Gatepain as part of a lecture programme on Iconic Buildings and sites on a cruise ship, click on the image below.