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The Wonder and Solemn Feeling of Pompeii and Herculaneum

It’s my third day in Naples and I am off to meet the tour group for a tour that I have been excited about for months. I have a short walk to the train station at Piazza Garibaldi, to meet the guide and the rest of the small group. This is another tour that I booked through Viator (THE TOP 10 Naples Tours & Excursions (UPDATED 2024) (viator.com)).

 

Gate to Herculaneum archeological excavation site
Gate to Herculaneum archeological excavation site

Today, I am going to be touring the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum; first Herculaneum and then at Pompeii. Yesterday, I toured the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Mann Naples|National Archaeological Museum of Naples (mann-napoli.it)), located at Piazza Museo 19 – 80135 Napoli (see their website page for directions: Where we are|Mann Napoli (mann-napoli.it), and because of my guide Luca, ldelvaglio@icloud.com, +39 338 3787399, I acquired a good understanding of the beautiful mosaics unearthed in both Herculaneum and Pompeii.


Now, I will be touring the actual excavation sites (THE TOP Pompeii Tours & Excursions (UPDATED 2024) (viator.com).

 

Pompeii Entrance to archeological site and excavation
Pompeii Entrance to archeological site and excavation

As described by Viator, this was a small group tour (about 12) and was led by an Archeologist. In fact, our tour guide explained that he actually worked the Pompeii excavation site several years ago. By the way, the excavation at Pompeii is an active, ongoing archeological dig. Only about 44 of the 66 hectares of the Pompeii urban area have been excavated and are visible. Not all of this area is open to the public. The current focus is on preservation of what has already been excavated. Many feel that the remaining 22 hectares should be left under the volcanic rock and ash in order to preserve the ruins for future generations (see: BBC - History - Ancient History in depth: Pompeii: Its Discovery and Preservation).

 

Leaving Naples, our tour group traveled south along the road which runs between Mount Vesuvius and the Sea. Our first stop was the town of Ercolano, where the excavation of Herculaneum is located (Herculaneum - Wikipedia) and (Herculaneum | History, Archeology, Papyri, & Facts | Britannica). Much smaller than the excavation of Pompeii, the excavation of Herculaneum only covers a few acres and has stopped due to the potential of undermining the streets and homes of Ercolano. While Pompeii was a major seaside port and trading center with commercial and residential areas, Herculaneum was more of a residential seaside resort area for the wealthy Romans and had only about 4,000 people at its peak.


Herculaneum archeological excavation site below the modern town of Ercolano
Herculaneum archeological site

The excavation of Herculaneum has been more difficult than Pompeii due to the material that buried the town. Due to its location, much of Herculaneum remains unexcavated and under Ercolano.


According to Wikipedia, “Unlike Pompeii, the mainly pyroclastic material that covered Herculaneum carbonized and preserved more wooden objects such as roofs, beds, and doors, as well as other organic-based materials such as food and papyrus (Herculaneum - Wikipedia).


Even though I was looking forward to the visit to Pompeii, our visit to Herculaneum was fascinating. The buildings, statues, and other structures are incredibly well preserved, due to the lava and pyroclastic material that buried Herculaneum. I was amazed at the preservation of wood beams, painted walls, and the numerous mosaics. Although some of the mosaics on the floors were shifted and warped, like waves, due to the earthquakes during the eruption. Most of the buildings we went into were complete, walls and ceiling, wooden doors, and some even had a second floor.


These photos of Herculaneum (and a map) show examples of beautiful mosaics and street scenes.


One of the more interesting structures was the athletic field and the adjacent swimming pool. Although the pool is currently underground, it was actually a large, uncovered, above ground pool. This gave a good idea of the hardness of the lava and pyroclastic material that covered Herculaneum. It is as hard as concrete.

 


Vault over (once above ground, now underground) swimming pool carved from solid lava.


After about an hour and a half or so at Herculaneum, we boarded the minibus and headed to Pompeii.

 

Interestingly, the city of Pompeii is on the top of a hill. In fact, during Roman times the sea came close to the city gates. Pompeii was a major trading port in the Mediterranean during Roman times. Today, the seashore is some distance from the city gates.

 

NOTE: ***As I have described in many of my blogs, and Pompeii is no different, make sure you wear good hiking shoes, with sturdy soles and ankle support. Good advice for all ages. All of the excavated areas of Pompeii are paved in very uneven cobble stones of varying sizes. Wearing lightweight tennis shoes/trainers or other type of lightweight shoes or sandals will make your tour of Pompeii miserable. ***

 

Porta Marina city gate at Pompeii and steep road up to the gate
Porta Marina city gate at Pompeii

After arriving below Pompeii, we had a bit of a hike up to our point of entrance, Porta Marina. A very steep walk up to the gate. Although there are about 7 or 8 identified city gates, only 2 or 3 are used by tourists as entrance to and exit from Pompeii.

 

Through the gate, we began our tour on Via Marina, walking toward the Forum, the center of the commercial area of Pompeii. Before reaching the Forum, our guide took us to the right of Via Marina through the Basilica and past several buildings which were used for municipal offices. The Forum is a very large area, with about two football fields of open area. It was the main market area in Pompeii, large statues at one end and the Temple of Jupiter (Tempio di Giove) at the other. From here we walked through many of the residential and commercial streets around the Forum.

 


Pompeii cobbled street, very uneven, numerous tourists. Close-up of wagon wheel grooves in cobbled street.


During our tour, the guide took us through several interesting buildings and explained their use. We visited a couple of the five public baths (Terme) in Pompeii. One was the Forum Baths (Terme del Foro), a large building on the other side of the Temple of Jupiter, opposite the Forum. All the baths followed a similar pattern – men’s and women’s sections, rooms for cold baths and hot baths, and a communal bathing area. We were told that the wealthier citizens had private baths in their homes. However, since the act of bathing was social, not just hygienic, even the wealthy frequented the public baths.

 


Pictures from Pompeii tour


We saw several laundries (Fullonicae) and food vendor shops which served hot and cold dishes (the shops were called Thermopolia). The guide explained that laundries were almost exclusively staffed by slaves that walked on the clothes in a large pool filled with a liquid of animal and human urine. At the time, this mixture was considered ideal for treating and cleaning fabrics. The Thermopolia looked like a fast-food place with one or more counters with holes in the top, into which were place clay jugs (dalium and amphorae) containing drink and food. The people would get their food and drink and eat it standing outside the building. Some of the counters were elaborately decorated with paint and tiles, others were simple masonry.

 

 Thermopolia looked like a Pompeii fast food place serving hot and cold food and drinks
Thermopolia looked like a Pompeii fast food place

We viewed numerous houses (Domus) during our tour of Pompeii. Some were large and had a well decorated entryway and opened to a garden (Hortus) surrounded by utility rooms, bedrooms, and other spaces. The wealthier had much larger houses with a larger garden area, more rooms, and richly decorated. Less wealthy citizens had a similar layout but in a much smaller space.

 

In Pompeii, the bakery was a unique establishment. It was part mill and part bakery, because at that time producing bread was one process from grain to bread. The mills that grounded the grain were operated by slaves or animals. Once ground, the flour was taken to the bakery area and made into loaves which were then sold at the bakery. Pompeii had about three dozen mill/bakery establishments.

 


Additional Pompeii photos: flour mill and bakery oven, entrance to wealthy Pompeii home, and fresco from Pompeii brothel.


On our way back to the Porta Marina city gate, we walked through part of the red-light district. Evidence of the red-light district were the numerous phallus symbols carved into the sides of the buildings and near the street signs. Some of the phalluses pointed the direction of the nearest house.

 

In all our tour lasted about 3 hours. Since there is no cover at Pompeii, I was glad that we had a cloudy day. Again, the unevenness of the pavement stones made walking a challenge. Just had to concentrate.

 

This was a full day tour and we arrived back in Naples, at the Pizza Garibaldi pick up point. Just in time for an afternoon aperitif.

 

Salute!






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