It was finally time to see what we had come to Naples for. Or what I had come to Naples for. We were there to see dead Romans. I’m not so sure my wife was as interested in dead Romans as I was, but after that day, she was.

Pompeii wasn’t the only city buried by the exploding debris and ash that flooded out of the crater of Mount Vesuvius. There were dozens of villages, though only a few have been excavated and are able to be visited. The crown jewel is of course Pompeii, but the real diamond in the tufa is Herculaneum.

The other major ruin which shouldn’t be missed by history buffs is Cuma, where the Roman Sibyl lived, but this history buff missed it due to not having enough time, Cuma being on the other side of Naples, and my just having a massive brain fart and not realizing Cuma was in effing Naples. I am clearly no oracle.

somebody to watch over me

How to get there

There are two ways to these sites. You can take the L2 metro (metro map here) in the direction of Salerno, which is faster and far more comfortable, but drops you off a little further away both places. Or you can take the Circumvesuviana from the main station in the direction of Sorrento, which is slower, much more rickety, but takes you right practically to the doorstep of both.

Pompeii

seeing my dreams at Pompei

And Circumvesuviana, man, that train is like the New York metro. All the signs are busted, there’s graffiti everywhere, the doors may or may not work, and the announcement voice seemed to have been one or two stops off, when it was working. It’s safe though, so have fun.

Ruins in Italian is “scavi”, and Herculaneum is “Ercolano”, so when you’re looking for the two sites, search for Scavi di Pompei and Scavi di Ercolano.

want to make it all easier to visit? try one of these tours:

Herculaneum

We took the Circumvesuviana and did the 5 minute walk downhill to get to the park. No stress there. At the gates were dudes trying to sell tours. No grazie, I’ve got my own little tour in my cell phone. And was I right! There’s quite a number of app based tours, complete with maps and GPS, that are available for both sites. Download those and save yourself some time and pain. You can skim through what interests you and find the really cool stuff.

Herculaneum

view of Vesuvius and Herculaneum

Herculaneum was a small port village for rich people, way back in the day. So there’s huge villa after huge villa, all squeezed together, in what I imagine was a bit of a tourist destination even back then. The walls are all well preserved as are the frescoes on the walls and the mosaics on the floors. There was even preserved furniture, statues, weapons, kitchen supplies, and in several instances, loaves of bread. If you want to get the feeling of how Romans were living in the ancient times, this is the village to visit, as you can walk around inside the houses at your own leisure, take a deep breath of air, and really see yourself there.

Herculaneum

taking in the air

Herculaneum

preserved statue outside the suburban baths

Herculaneum

public water well on the street

The common house had an entrance relaxation room, which was usually with a fountain in the middle and an open space in the roof to let the light in. The bedrooms and the kitchen would have doors from there, unless there was another indoor room for gathering. Even bigger houses would have open gardens lined with covered walks and statues, and the really wealthy would have their own bath (which I think was only the case in Pompeii). The rooms all had mosaic-tile covered floors and brightly painted walls illuminated with mythological scenes.

Herculaneum

the middle fountain with an opening above

Herculaneum

floor tiles

Herculaneum

wall mosaic and frescoes

Herculaneum

frescoes

Herculaneum

interior fountain/pool

Some houses had their own access to an underground aquifer system, while others people had to send their slaves to fetch water from the public fountains, which were at every corner. There were also a few cafes. A cafe would usually have a small bar area, where there would be jars inset to the surface to store hot foods. In Pompeii, the cafe culture was nearly ridiculous, as just about every other building housed a public cafe.

Herculaneum

the holes in the counter would be covered to store hot food

Herculaneum is a small site, so it’s hard to miss stuff, and everywhere you go is something amazing. So just take your time, but just make sure you end up at the boat houses.

Herculaneum

Romans were classy people with classy art

The boat houses were once at the beach, but are now some 20 meters from the sea. The villagers had all rushed down there, taking cover from the falling ash and pumice and waves of heat, bringing with them their valuables, hoping that the sea and the subterranean shelter would protect them from the wrath of the gods.

Herculaneum

the boathouses, were below that plaza in the back left, then there was the sea

It didn’t.

Now what’s left are skeletons reaching to the back of the boathouses, clearly crying out in terror as the probably the vapors and smoke suffocated many them before the heat shock gave them a quick and final resting place. As this was a late find, they left the skeletons as it were, no longer doing the archeological tradition of plaster casting the bones, as they did in Pompeii.

Pompeii

After a quick lunch in the modern town of Ercolano, we hopped back on the train and went to Pompeii.

Pompeii was a town of 11,000 at the time of eruption, strategically placed underneath an active volcano. To be sure, Vesuvius is still an active volcano, so all those towns around it continue to have amazing strategic placement, and are probably either cash crops or nightmares for insurance companies. It strikes me as exceedingly weird that Naples continues sprawling around the mountain, but then again, on the other side of Naples is another active volcano, so…

the main gates and the suburban baths

The town was first settled in the 7th century BC, and was taken by Rome in the 4th century BC. It’s got well-preserved roads, walls, and statues, a bathhouse, an amphitheater, a coliseum, and dozens of other things you’d see in a major Roman town. To put it short in the words of the esteemed Macklemore, this is freaking awesome.

the volcano Vesuvius looming in the background

While I was getting my groove on to Thrift Shop after entering the ruin complex, my wife was already getting tired of the Roman fun. She did get a short thrill from the skeletons, but all the walking was already starting to wear on her. “It’s all the same.”

“No, that’s the Temple of Apollo! And that’s the Temple of Jupiter! And over there is where they celebrated the cult of the Caesar,” I said as I jumped from one ruin with big columns to another ruin with big columns, like a cricket high on crack.

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