Sunday, November 15, 2015


Neptune and Amphitrite
On August 24 in 79 AD, Mt. Vesuvius erupted with a vengeance over Pompeii and Herculaneum. Sadly for the people there, but luckily for us the devastation happened so quickly and so completely that today we have the opportunity to see exactly how they lived at the time. With our extended stay in Sorrento we are able to spread out our visits to these two cities and the museum in Naples that holds most of the statues and other artwork that has been removed from the two sites.

Notice the wood beam over the doorway. These were not all burned away in the eruption
Herculaneum is a small site easily visited in half a day. Even so it is packed with highlights of the Roman lifestyle. While Pompeii was covered in ash, Herculeum was hit several hours later by a pyroclastic flow that came down the mountain at 100 miles per hour and buried the city under 60 feet of superheated ash. In both cases many people were trapped by the volcano and the buildings were left essentially intact other than the roofs that caved in.

On one of the walls of a home
Note the interesting designs
Old seawall on the left,
Pyroclastic flow pushed the shore 1/2 mile away on the right
We enter the city at what used to be the seashore but is now a quarter-mile inland. The pyroclastic flow filled in the space between the old shoreline and the new. As we wandered through the ruins, we partly followed Rick Steves’s printed guide, partly listened to a local guide who happened to be where we were, and partly wandered in and out of rooms reading signs and comparing what we saw with how people live today.

Another home decoration
The streets of Herculaneum have raised sidewalks to separate the carts and dung from the people’s walking space. I’m sometimes amazed that we still have communities today that don’t value sidewalks enough to require them in all new neighborhoods. Try going for a pleasant evening walk in those neighborhoods or allowing your child to walk even to the school bus in the morning.

Sidewalks were smoother walking, too

We passed several places where food was being sold from what looked like a lunch counter. Perhaps people sat at these counters while being served by the waiter or the chef. One shop sold wine and still has its wine list frescoed on the wall.

Like a fast food takeout place.
The terracotta urns keep things warm or cool so you could get your wine and a meal.
A bakery's grinding wheels. The front one is missing the wheel.
The wine list is in the middle on the left.
The Seat of the Augustali with frescoes of Hercules adorning the walls was built by and for an association of freed slaves working to climb the ladder of society. This building was one of several that still has the now-charred wood beams that supported the stone ceilings and door frames.

The house of Neptune and Amphitrite still has the remnants of its second floor and some beautiful mosaics in a frame of inlaid shells. Nearby is one of the baths with its tiled floors and separate rooms for steam, hot baths and cold plunges.

Along the streets we saw that the marble-looking columns were really just brick columns plastered with cement and carved to look like fluted marble columns like we see in richer cities like Rome.
Brick columns covered with cement to look like marble

Running water for drinking and the overflow moves the waste to the sea
Our last stop was below the town where archaeologists finally found dead bodies. The ones that remain are inside arches below the town at the beach in boat storage areas. It’s probable that they were running from the pyroclastic flow and thought the arches would protect them. It was probably their best chance, but there was just too much hot ash and steam for anyone to escape.

As we sat streetside eating a pizza on our way back to the train we thought about how the city buildings are still built in much the same manner as they were in Roman times. They are brick and stone covered in a plaster of cement and painted. It is still an effective method of construction.

New Ercolano
Meanwhile the old roads are still of the same stone as they were in Roman times or later before we began paving everything in asphalt or cement. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend money replacing perfectly good stones or covering them with something that will need to be replaced every several years. These streets have lasted for a millennium or more. That was a pretty good investment.

Statue near the train station

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