You can be forgiven for thinking that there is nothing better than soaking up “la dolce vita” in Sorrento. However, in case you decide to squeeze in some cultural activities, there is plenty to do. How about heading to the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, for example?
Overshadowed by its bigger and more famous neighbour Pompeii, Herculaneum is better in many aspects. There are no overpriced tacky souvenir kiosks at the entrance, no lines to the ticket office and it can be explored in 2-3 hours.
In AD 79, a volcanic eruption of Vesuvius destroyed several cities around it including Herculaneum and Pompeii. Being only 4 miles from the volcano, Herculaneum was covered with a cloud of poisonous gas and buried under almost 60 feet of boiling lava. The volcanic materials solidified with time preserving the city almost intact. Although the story and fate of Herculaneum was always known to historians, it was only rediscovered in 1709 when a local farmer, while digging a well, found pieces of coloured glass where, as it turned out later, the Roman theatre once stood. A significant part of the ancient city remains underground, however, the parts that are visible are fascinating.
|Frescoes in Herculaneum|
Compared to Pompeii, Herculaneum has more remarkably well preserved features such as including wooden beams, furniture and upper floors in the houses. When the city’s most luxurious building, the Villa of the Papyri, was excavated, the archaeologist found numerous papyrus scrolls still stacked on the shelves of its library. Today, they are stored in the National Library in Naples and some of them have been scanned with infrared rays and studied.
|Wall decor in Herculaneum|
Many houses in Herculaneum have spectacular wall and floor mosaics. House 22 has a beautiful formal dining room, triclinium, and a nymphaeum grotto decorated with colourful mosaics. The thermae bath house offers another interesting glimpse in the ancient Roman city’s past where you can see a few surviving precious works of art and even original charred wooden steps.
Photos via Flickr by: Andrew Fogg, Andy Hay, Chris Ruggles.