Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Herculaneum highlights

Our first Herculaneum highlight actually happened at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.  Lots of friends had recommended that before visiting either Herculaneum or Pompeii, we should spend half a day or so there. 

This museum houses many of the extraordinary frescoes, mosaics and classical statues that were removed from the ancient sites during excavations in the 18th and 19th centuries to preserve them from the elements and protect them from looting. 
The collection is incredible.  The mosaics, in particular, are exquisitely beautiful.  These photos don't do them justice at all. 
So having seen the museum we set off for Herculaneum, and were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get there.
We caught a Circumvesuviana local train from the clearly signposted platforms at Naples Central station and in less than half an hour we arrived at Ercolano Scavi train station. From there it was only a 5-10 minute walk downhill through the very ordinary modern town of Ercolano.
Initially Stefano was a little dismayed by the small size of the site, but after spending five hours exploring the ancient streets, ruined houses and public buildings, and reading ALL the information, he decided that Herculaneum's size was indeed an asset. 
An unexpected highlight of Herculaneum is that included in the price of the ticket is an excellent, small guide-book and map in English.  The ruins are numbered and the numbers matched the map! Plus, there is a description for each of the buildings clearly explaining their original purpose etc.

And, if you follow the numbered order on the map the history of Herculaneum unfolds as you walk. A perfect way to tour the site without the need for a guide, or even an audio-tour. You can be sure that we saw it all, leaving no doorway un-entered and no column unseen.
One of the reasons we enjoyed Herculaneum is because many of the walls and structures of the buildings are still standing.  Internal walls and stairways gave us a real sense of the dimensions of the houses and public buildings.  Even more incredible was that some of the structures still contained the original wooden beams.  While they had been scorched black when the town was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD, they remain in tact due to sudden pyroclastic surges from the volcano that had the effect of carbonising them in a protective layer of dry heated ash.  The hot ash formed a sort of shell which paradoxically preserved the wood of doorways, beams and windowsills, even in the blast of heat estimated to be as hot as 500 degrees Celsius.  CLICK HERE to read more about the destruction of Herculaneum.
Many of the mosaics have been removed from the walls and floors of the ruins, as we saw in the museum in Naples, but there were still quite a few to view throughout the site.
While some of the mosaics are roped off, many are not.  We were amazed that a few of the ancient tiled floors have been restored but are not protected at all, so we were free to wander over them and inspect them closely.  
More carvings and decorative columns remain on site and have been restored, but unfortunately most of the frescoes that remain are fairly weathered.  
We were fortunate with the weather as it was a mild, bright sunny day.  Finally we were able to leave our puffer jackets behind in our apartment and enjoy the spring sunshine.  
Thanks to all who suggested that we visit the archaeological museum in Naples before our day trip to Herculaneum.  Excellent advice that we now pass on to others.  It gave us a much better perspective from which to appreciate the luxurious lifestyle of the ancient Romans and the wonderful art and treasures that would have once adorned their homes.

How to get there:
It is very easy to reach Herculaneum from Naples.  From Central Station follow the signs to the Circumvesuviana local trains.  It is a little confusing as these trains leave from Garibaldi station, but this is actually just part of the Central station complex.  The line from Naples to Sorrento goes through Herculaneum.  Ercolano Scavi is the stop for Herculaneum.  Walk down the hill for 5-10 minutes through the modern town and purchase tickets once you walk through the main gates to the ruins.  The train trip takes about 20 to 30 minutes.  One word of warning.  The trains are always very crowded so watch daypacks etc as the trains are famous for pickpockets.

Ticket prices
Train ticket from Naples to Herculaneum - one way, per person 2.10 Euros.
Herculaneum ticket - 11 Euros  which includes booklet.
Archaeological museum ticket - 8 Euros
There are also 3 day passes to several museums including the sites of  Pompeii and Herculaneum for 32 Euros approximately.

Tips for visiting Herculaneum
There is very little shade or shelter so it would be very hot in summer.  We bought water with us and while there are a few vending machines, there is only one cafe on-site, which was closed when we were there.  By the time we left the site in the late afternoon, very few bars were open in the modern town.  We wished we'd taken lunch as well as water.

Tip for visiting the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.
Because of budget cuts the rooms of frescoes were closed on the day we visited but the ticket office kindly offered to endorse our tickets so we could return free of charge later in the week to see the frescoes.

La nostra prossima fermata e' Capri.


  1. The height of the buildings is A M A Z I N G - beats our 8' 6" standard ceilings, which are positively hobbit-like by comparison.

  2. Fantastic post Jenny- thanks so much for this info, I will be saving for sure! XO