Friday, October 31, 2008

Ercolano, Italy: the Road to Herculaneum

 On our first full day in Italy, we decided we were going to see Herculaneum and Pompeii. They are relatively close to each other, and we figured it would be do-able. Once we boarded the local narrow-gauge train Circumvesuvia and spoke with other people, we realized that plan would not work...there is no way to see them both unless you absolutely run through them - not exactly the way we wanted to do it.
 We decided instead to just see Herculaneum the first day. This meant taking the train from Sorrento to Ercolano (see map below). Exiting the train, we were to head downhill towards the Gulf of Naples coast, where the Herculaneum excavations (Ercolano Scavi in Italian) are located. Once we got the Herculaneum site, it dawned on me that I should have taken photos, so I turned around and took the first photo in this post. It is looking uphill back towards the Curcumvesuvia station. Too bad the Indian gentleman refused to get out of the way. The streets are narrow and full of fish markets, but the walk is only about a half-mile and feels relatively safe.
The train ride typically takes about an hour from Sorrento to Naples, so Sorrento to Ercolano is just a bit shorter than that. When you exit the train station at Ercolano, head right. The street will bend left within about a half block and then head straight for the coast.
This is a map of the excavations. The first photo in this post was taken about where it says "Enter" on the right side of the map. The gray area that heads across the south side of the map is actually the walkway to the Visitors Center, which is located approximately at the southernmost point on the walkway.
 Here is the key to the map above. It is in Italian, but google should be able to help you find the equivalent names in English. This is the map they hand you when you purchase your ticket. 46 and 47 were closed on the day we visited so we won't be covering those in these posts. Now, let's show you some of what you can see while walking from the entrance to the visitors center.
 Turning the camera around and looking the opposite direction from the first photo in this post, this is what you see. The already excavated portion is to the right of the walkway. Pretty much everything to the left of the walkway has not been excavated yet. What treasures are still waiting to be discovered?
 Taking a few more steps and pointing the camera to the right and down, we begin to see some of the excavated city. Notice how the city of Ercolano is built right to the edge of the excavations. There has to be even more treasures under those buildings. The large amount of scaffolding towards the center of the photo covers the Upper Hall (aula superiore) along the Decumano Massimo. It is undergoing conservation efforts right now, and many workmen were as busy as bees. The two-story building to the left of the scaffolding held businesses on the ground floor and homes on the second floor. In one of those shops, a cabinet was found that contained documents that described the current and former owners of all the properties in town. What a great find! The cabinet is still there, but I am sure the documents have been moved elsewhere. Herculaneum is the only excavation in Italy with 2 story buildings that are still standing.
 Herculaneum has been much better preserved than Pompeii in the 2000 years since the Mount Vesuvius eruption. The reason is that Herculaneum was covered in mud, which helped perserve objects, especially wood, much better. Pompeii was covered in volcanic ash. Walking farther along the path, we approach some trees. Cypress trees, if I'm not mistaken.
 Here is my beautiful wife posing for me beneath one of the trees from the previous picture.
 Looking to the left of the walkway, there is a small section that has been excavated, complete with an intact 2000 year old tile roof. This is a part of the Roman Gymnasium which was built around a colonnade with a cross-shaped pool at the center.
 Looking to the right again, here is what was over my wife's shoulder. The fabulous city of Herculaneum. The roof in the foreground has obviously been restored.
 And finally, we make it to the Visitors Center. It is a nice building with restrooms and a desk where tickets can be purchased. It is a large building but it is practically empty because it only holds what I just described. They give visitors the option to buy a pass for all excavations in the area, which is what we chose to purchase.
This is the side of the building that faces the part of Herculaneum that has been excavated (the side to the right of the walkway). Notice that a sliver of the Gulf of Naples can be seen along the horizon. Herculaneum was basically a seaside resort town. The average folks lived in Pompeii.
 In the previous photo you can see people walking towards the right - they will soon be on a large levee-like structure that separates the excavations from the bay. The photo to the left was taken standing on that levee, looking to the right (towards the excavations, not the bay). 2000 years ago, the levee did not exist...the buildings you see in this photo were on the beach. To the right of the photo is the Suburban Thermae (suburban baths) and to the left of that are the boat houses. 250 skeletons were found in the boat houses, having been pushed to the seaside by the heavy smoke and mud. The wetlands in the foreground is known as the Antica Spiaggia.
 Here is a closeup of a statue from the previous photo. This statue is of Marco Nonio Balbo and was found in many pieces on the ground. It has been rebuilt using those pieces. The roof on the right side of the photo is original and is the roof of the Suburban Baths. The interior of those baths have not been excavated so in 2006 they used a 3D laser scan to map the architecture and room contents inside. More on that in a future post.
 Also taken from the levee, this is a closeup of Casa dei Cervi (House of the Deer - number 8 on the excavation map), a beautiful home with many fine paintings still on the walls. The owners of this home had awesome views of the Gulf of Naples, and judging from this original patio deck then took full advantage of it. More on this home later on.
 And finally, looking up a random street towards the heart of the city. The roof in this photo is not original, but has been recreated to protect paintings from the elements.
Here is a photo showing a part of the levee from which I took the previous photos. Towards the middle of the photo you can see the bridge that will take us over to the city itself.

But that will have to wait for a future post. Stay tuned, this is going to be a spectacular tour.

Herculaneum: In Through the Out Door

 As it does most everywhere I go, the male really came out in me at Herculaneum. Though they handed us a wonderful map (included in the first Ercolano post in September), I quickly glanced at it and forged ahead into Herculaneum. As it turns out, I took us in through the exit. That's right, we went in through the out door. If you look at that map, the first picture in this post was taken on the ramp leading to the "exit" sign, the other photos were taken between "exit" and the number 43 (House of the Inn).

This first photo is taken on the ramp, looking towards the statue of Marco Nonio Balbo. What you are looking at in this photo used to be oceanfront villas and, on the lower level, boat houses. The dirt area to the right of the photo was beach two thousand years ago. When Herculaneum was first being excavated, it was thought that most everyone had escaped the city since few skeletons were found. In 1982, the boat houses were excavated and 250 skeletons were discovered. It appears that the residents had tried to escape the volcano's wrath by fleeing to the ocean.
 Stepping off the exit ramp, this is the first thing we encountered. I wanted to show these to you because they are typically construction in Herculaneum, and very eye catching. Interlacing the red clay brick with the stone yields a very visually appealing pattern.
 Here that pattern is mixed with another common theme in Herculaneum - square stone turned at a 45 degree angle. Again, very visually appealing.
 Taking a few more steps, we found ourselves in this courtyard, re-planted to look very much as it may have 2000 years ago. The orange truck on the hill is at the edge of the excavations, actually parked in the city of Ercolano. It is clearing the ancient sewer system in the excavations.
 These photos show a very typical flooring pattern in Herculaneum. Small shards of while tile laid in a very tight manner, interlaced with a few black tiles aligned in a pattern. We'll see this repeated over and over as we go through the city.
 Here is a close-up of that tile. Note the dark black repairs done in an attempt to prevent further deterioration.
 And finally, here are some partial wall remains, livened up by the spring Italian red poppies that added just the right punch to an overall sea of gray and brown. Go here in the late spring if you can in order to see these poppies yourself. As you'll see on our train trip to northern Italy, the country side was filled with a sea of red flowers.
One more shot of the poppies, and now we'll make our way over to the House of the Opus Graticium. See you over there!

Herculaneum Map

 Here is an easier-to-read, English map of Herculaneum...I will reference the locations noted on this map as we go along...hope it helps.
Also, here is a map that clearly shows the public areas (Yellow), the private areas (Peach), and the locations of the shops (Purple).

Herculaneum: Entering the City from the Boat Houses

 After viewing the Suburban Baths and the boat houses, we climbed a ramp that leads from the waterfront to the city itself, passing through the city wall.
 Looking to the right from the ramp, the statue of Marco Nonio Balbo can be seen. Rust marks are clearly visible on the backside, perhaps from modern metals that are used to keep the statue together.
This is the view upon entering the tunnel into the city. One can image Herculaneum residents trodding these same stones two thousand years ago. Now, we will take a quick tour of a few of the oceanfront villas in Herculaneum.

Herculaneum: House of the Wooden Partition

 After coming in through the out door, we turned right and walked past a number of unmarked rooms. We peered inside and saw this interior wall. This was our first up-close look at a Roman-era ruin! The colors were so rich it was hard to believe it was painted 2,000 years ago. These first two pictures are from the House of the Alcove, as close as I can determine.
 Herculaneum had an earthquake in AD 63, 16 years before Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79. Therefore, much of Herculaneum had been rebuilt and was only 16 years old when the mud from the volcano covered the city. Herculaneum is much better preserved than Pompeii - the reason is that Herculaneum was covered in mud while Pompeii was covered in ash. In my opinion, Herculaneum is the better of the two, though much smaller. One thing that is frustrating about Herculaneum is seeing the modern graffiti and vandalism - note how someone has attempted to cut out the face on this painting.
 Returning to the first street we saw (Cardo IV) and heading up the street, we came upon the House of the Opus Graticium. This house gets its name from its construction method. Opus Graticium is a quick and inexpensive form of wall construction having a wooden framework combined with Opus Incertum (a wall with irregular facing of small stones overlain with mortar to form a cohesive mass).
 Here is a close-up of the front of this home.
Just past the House of Opus Graticium we came upon the House of the Wooden Partition. This home is particularly well-preserved and has also been reconstructed somewhat. This photo is taken standing on the street, looking in the entrance hall (the vestibulum).
 As with most Roman homes of the era, the center of the home is what we would now call a courtyard (atrium) with an open roof (compluvium). It has the typical basin (impluvium) to collect rain water as well as a bench.
 This house gets its name from these, the sliding wood doors that separate the atrium from the next room. These doors still slide on the original bronze tracks. How is that for long-lasting quality?
 The doors appear black because they were carbonized by the pyroclastic surge that whipped through the building before it was buried in the flow.
 Here is a close-up of the doors - note they are encased in glass now for protection from the elements...and vandals.
 The roof in this house has been rebuilt to protect the interior from the elements and to give visitors a feeling for how this home must have felt in AD 79. The temperature in this home was quite comfortable, even with the visitors that were coming through.
 Here is a close-up of the basin. Note the floor is fairly warped from being buried in mud for close to 2,000 years. But still, original tiles remain on the floor!
 Looking up and original wall paint in a sideroom.
And down at original flooring in a sideroom.

Herculaneum: Where People Ate

 One thing that quickly becomes obvious walking around Herculaneum is that there were numerous food shops around the town. Usually, these consisted of an 'L' shaped counter with several embedded clay jars and a tile or stone countertop.
 The jars were used to store food or to keep foods warm or cool. While some of the larger homes in Herculaneum had ovens, some did not making these food shops practically a necessity.
 Many of these shops were small and therefore must have been used to purchase food and take it away for consumption, in much the same way that fast food restaurants work today.
 Some of the stores were larger and probably had several tables so that food could be consumed on the premises. It is not hard to imagine that Herculaneum felt much like an urban neighborhood in big cities today, with small food shops on the ground floor and especially on street corners, with homes above them and in locations less favorable to businesses.

Herculaneum: House of the Skeleton

 It is about this time that we notice everyone has a tour guide device around their neck with earphones. Deciding this would be a nice thing to have, we start heading for the exit to find the rental kiosk. On the way out, we pass the House of the Skeleton.
 The entry to this house is pretty nondescript from the street. It has been reinforced for stability and has nice tilework on the floor.
 Here is a close-up of the sign on the way in. Note it says Casa dello Scheletro, which is House of the Skeleton in Italian. The house was given this name because a skeleton was found upstairs when the home was escavated. It was one of the few skeletons found in town - most of them were found in the boat houses as residents attempted to flee.
 A close-up of the painting above the niche in the first photo.
A close-up of another painting in the same area. This photo and the previous photo were found on the web.
Finally we start our trek out the exit to find the kiosk. Note the width of the street. Herculaneum, unlike Pompeii, was likely a fairly tidy city as it had underground sewers.