AUGUST 24th, 79 AD.
Mt. Vesuvius is a sleeping volatile giant ready to reawaken at any moment.
It looms above the ancient Roman town of Herculaneum, named for Hercules.
Standing at the rim of the
excavation site one can view the haunting remains of the town, once prosperous
and flourishing, it is now a ruin. A town that lay buried under 60 feet
of volcanic ash until its rediscovery in 1709.
Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD.
I find it nothing short of remarkable that through letters of Pliny the Younger, who
witnessed the eruption from sea, along with archeological excavations, the
eruption of Vesuvius can be dated to
August 24th, 79 AD., to the day.
Herculaneum is on the Western side of Vesuvius, where as Pompeii was
located in the path of the prevailing Southeastern winds on that fateful day.
Herculaneum was subject to extreme temperatures and buried in ash from the blast, as
Pompeii suffered vast destruction and loss of life from the pyroclastic volcanic material, fires, ash, poison gases and extreme heat ( 500 F.).
Herculaneum was build at the shore of the Bay of Naples and was largely residential.
In general it was a wealthier town than Pompeii.
Walking through the site we find remains of once elegant homes, surprisingly intact,
with remnants of decorative wall paintings and mosaics.
Romans used public baths, divided between men and woman, so Herculaneum being a Roman town, had baths and the structures can be seen here. There are remnants of pipes and plumbing (lead),
that brought water into and out of the baths and homes.
MOSAICS AND WALL PAINTINGS
The homes must have been exquisite with their patterned mosaic floors and finely painted
Many of these homes were designed in a Roman fashion with rooms off a central atrium
which featured an open roof directly above the pool. The rainwater that was collected by
the pool then went to a cistern beneath the room for household use.
All quite civilised and inventive, as well as being very beautiful,
Form and Function.
Typical patterns on the floors at the site.
I must say, I found myself surprised that in many of the buildings visitors are allowed to walk on these wonderful and ancient mosaic floors, as we moved from room to room.
Fragments of color in these frescoed walls is eye-catching.
The dominant colors are, red. blue, yellow ochre, white and black.
The first excavations at Herculaneum was in the 18th Century ( 1738).
It is interesting to note that during the 'Grand Tour' wealthy Europeans, on returning home after visiting the site, brought the idea of these wall colors into their own homes creating a new fashion.
'Pompeii Red' was especially popular.
The artists first incised the design into the plastered wall. Design motifs might
include architectural elements such as columns, pediments and door casings. most
being geometric in design.
Elements from nature, such as birds were frequent subjects as were mythological
motifs, gods, figures and even still life images can be viewed on what remains of these decorative works on walls and ceilings.
A wall once pristine and finely painted now abstracted by the
I was struck by the beauty of this painting. Its elegant design and use of color is stunning.
It is possible to walk right up and get a close view of the details of vines, figures and decorative elements, as if you were a guest at a banquet.....which indeed you are.
The scale of this atrium is grand. The upper portion is decorated with columns.
As it is with other homes, one enters through a foyer then into the atrium, with pool.
Off the atrium are smaller rooms, such as bedrooms, that would have also been decoratively painted in a such a wealthy household.
Here is the place where wine was stored.
Wine as important then as it is now!
And finally....The Fish and Neptune ( Poseidon) floor mosaic.
This is the one James wanted to see.
Thankfully, this is roped off and cannot be walked on.
A few thoughts from this visit...
First, James and I recommend a visit to Herculaneum, which is now a
UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Excavations continue, but now more attention is being paid to the human and environmental impact
on the buildings, wall paintings, mosaic floor tiles, etc. Preservation and conservation
issues are being addressed.
It is thought that only 25% of Herculaneum has been excavated. Also, originally it
was believed that everyone had escaped the fierce last phases of the eruption, but human remains have been found in more recent excavations, yet nothing like the human loss at Pompeii.
The last eruption of Vesuvius was in 1944, causing minor damage.
No one know when the next eruption will happen.
The negative human impact, graffiti.