The Site in February
We used the three-day combined ticket to enter the site; however, the free booklet referred to before was not available but we were given a site map. The entrance to the site itself is now over a span bridge, rather than decending to the lower level - slightly un-nerving for those of us who don't like heights but the end is worth the pain! If there is a snack bar or loos or book shop down in the site itself, we didn't find it. The main ticket office building has loos but no snack bar.
When you come in off the main street and before you walk to the ticket office, stop and look down at the site. Here it is that you become aware of the amount of digging that had to be done to excavate the site.
We arrived soon after noon and for the next four hours, once the English tour group mentioned had gone, there was just the two of us and a French family in the entire site. A group of English tourists who passed us complaining that the tour group planners should have taken into account that they are "old age pensioners" and conducted the tour accordingly!! I wish I could have been with them in Pompeii, as Herculaneum is much easier on the old feet!!
Get your free plan and booklet
Admission when we went in November 2007 was €11 per person for an adult, or €20 for a combined ticket for Herculaneum and Pompeii which is valid for three days. Visits are free of charge for EU citizens under 18 or over 65 years old, and half price for EU citizens aged 18-24 and EU permanent school teachers.
Opening times are as follows:
Winter season (November – March), 8.30 AM to 5.00 PM, with the last admission at 3.30 PM
Summer season (April – October), 8.30 AM to 7.30 PM, last admission 6.00 PM
Herculaneum is closed on 1st January, 1st May and 25th December
Now, this is the tip I wish I’d had before I went:
The cost of your ticket also includes a detailed plan and small brochure (available in English and I assume other languages) which gives a brief description of each building numbered on the plan. This is really useful as it helps you identify the ones you’d most like to see, locate them and understand a little of what you’re seeing when you get there. However, these useful guides weren’t offered to us as a matter of course, and we didn’t know to ask, so we carried on down the path from the entrance to the start of the archaeological area some 5 or 10 minutes walk away. Here there is a bookshop, where we assumed we could purchase the small plans we’d started to see people carrying, but when we asked we were told that these were only available back at the ticket office. Chris kindly went back up the hill to purchase one, and this was the point at which we discovered they were free. Why the ticket seller hadn’t told us this, or even simply handed them over, I don’t know, but I’m telling the story here so that you don’t make the same mistake. If you’re not offered a free plan and brochure, ask for them!
I would recommend getting one of these handheld audio-guides because it will clue you in on what you are seeing and offers interesting historical facts of the city. You are given a map that lists all the stations for listening. When you reach a station you press the audio guide and you will hear the narrator explain a particular area. You may need a extra hand carrying the map and audio guide when taking pictures.
Ancient Tragedy on the Bay Of Naples Shores
Ancient Herculaneum was an elegant city of the Roman empire, located on a narrow strip of land between the sea and the base of Mount Vesuvius. The town was founded by the Greeks in the 4th century BC . As the legend goes it was Hercules himself who founded the city hence Herculaneum - the town of Hercules.
Towards the 1st century BC the town became a resort center for the Roman aristocracy. In 79 AD, instead of being buried in a layer of ash and cinders like Pompeii, Ercolano was drowned in a torrent of fiery mud. When the mud solidified it sealed the city in an extraordinary manner. The eruption was described by Pliny the Younger in two letters to Tacitus; the horrible event buried Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae under cinders, ashes, and mud. The writer’s uncle, Pliny the Elder was killed by the eruption, which he had come to investigate.
Frequent eruptions have been recorded since then, notably in 512, in 1631, six times in the 18th century, eight times in the 19th century, and only three times during the last century - in 1906, 1929, and 1944. With such perfect backdrop as Vesuvius any visit to the Bay of Naples area should include a visit to Herculaneum. It is unjustly less famous than its bigger sister Pompeii as the state of preservation of the buildings are generally much superior. We spent half a day here after climbing Mt Vesuvius and enjoyed every minute of our visit.
The eruption of Vesuvius
Before you start to explore the ruins here, pause for a while to remember what was once here and how it was destroyed. A compact and wealthy seaside town where Romans holidayed raised to the ground in a matter of hours.
Around 1.00PM on 24th August in 79 AD Vesuvius erupted, Pompeii was downwind from the volcano and was quickly buried under a rain of pumice and ash. Herculaneum was upwind and escaped this first onslaught. However it too was destroyed, more than twelve hours later, when the blast cloud collapsed, and a swirl of searing ash, rock, pumice and volcanic gas, 500 degrees centigrade, began to flow along the south side of the volcano at 70 kms per hour. The debris reached the city within five minutes. Everything in its path was instantly destroyed and the entire city was buried under 65 feet of ash and slag within hours. Many residents had already fled when the eruption had first started, but there were others who’d merely taken shelter under the arches of the boat houses on the beach, and these were instantly killed by the searing heat. During the night and at dawn the next day, there was a series of earthquakes and another five burning clouds were expelled from the volcano. The deposits form these buried the city under a blanket 23 metres thick. This has preserved the buildings in a way unseen at Pompeii, with wooden and organic materials like foods, furniture, papyri, cloth and skeletons all conserved to some degree. The Roman author, Pliny the Younger, witnessed the eruption and wrote a description of it which I found on a website and copy here:
A black and terrible cloud, rent by snaking bursts of fire, gaped open in huge flashes of flames; it was like lightning, but far more extensive... Soon afterwards, the cloud lowered towards the earth and covered the sea ...
Ashes were already falling, but not yet thickly... When night fell, not one such as when there is no moon or the sky is cloudy, but a night like being in a closed place with the lights out. One could hear the wailing of women, the crying of children, the shouting of men; they called each other, some their parents, others their children, still others their mates, trying to recognize each other by their voices. Some lamented their own fate, others the fate of their loved ones. There were even those who out of their fear of death prayed for death...
It lightened a little; it seemed to us not daylight but a sign of approaching fire. But the fire stopped some distance away; darkness came on again, again ashes, thick and heavy. We got up repeatedly to shake these off; otherwise we would have been buried and crushed by the weight... At last that fog thinned and dissipated in a kind of smoke or mist; soon there was real daylight; the sun even shone, though wanly, as when there is an eclipse. Our still trembling eyes found everything changed, buried by a deep blanket of ashes as if it had snowed... Fear prevailed, since the earthquake tremors went on, and many, out of their senses, were mocking their own woes and others’ by awful predictions. But we, even though we had escaped some perils and expected others, we did not think even of going away until we should have news of my uncle…