Like Pompeii, Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town that was destroyed by the Mt. Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD. It is lesser known and a lot smaller than Pompeii, with most of the town still not excavated because it is buried under modern day neighbourhoods (which actually makes for some interesting photos) but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth a visit. In fact, I enjoyed my visit to the Herculaneum ruins more than Pompeii.
Herculaneum vs. Pompeii - Which site should you visit?
If you're not as fascinated by ruins as I am, and don't want to spend time visiting both the Pompeii ruins and the Herculaneum ruins, you might be wondering which one you should visit. Here are some things you can consider when making your decision:
- I found that some of the mosaics and frescoes were actually better preserved at the Herculaneum ruins site, and were more vivid.
- Herculaneum is a lot more compact than Pompeii. While you can spend a whole day in Pompeii and not even cover all of the site, you can see all of the Herculaneum ruins in 2-3 hours. So depending on how much time you have or want to spend at ruins, you may want to pick one site over the other.
- Being larger, Pompeii had more variety in types of buildings. For instance, you will not find amphitheatres or brothels at the Herculaneum ruins.
- The streets at the Herculaneum ruins are less uneven and easier to walk on.
- The Herculaneum is less popular, so it is a lot quieter and less crowded!
- The pyroclastic material that buried Herculaneum actually preserved organic material such as plants, wood, and even the upper floors of some of the buildings, which were unfortunately not preserved in Pompeii.
Still unsure about which site to visit? Since I posted about my personal 10 highlights from the Pompeii Ruins, it's only fair that I also post 10 highlights from the Herculaneum ruins as well. Maybe this will help you make your decision!
10 Highlights from the Herculaneum Ruins
1. Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite (House of Neptune and Amphitrite)
In this house you'll find a stunning mosaic in the summer triclinium (dining room where they would eat lying down). It has been so well preserved and the colours are just stunning.
2. Bottega del Lanarius (Lanarius Shop)
While at an initial glance, this fabric merchant shop looks a little bare, the apparatus you'll find here is the only surviving wooden screw press that was used to iron clothes in ancient Roman times. Although it is now encased in glass for preservation, it is still cool to see!
3. Sede degli Augustali (Hall of the Augustals)
The Augustales were an order made up of freed slaves who were dedicated to worshipping the Emperor Augustus. They held their meetings here at the Hall of the Augustals.
There are some amazingingly well preserved frescoes here, as well as the remains of the original wooden beams which have been carbonized.
4. Bottega ad Cucumas (Cucumas shop)
Thought to be an inn where food and drinks were served, what's interesting here is the sign found at the entrance. It shows four pitchers of different colours, with pricing of how much the drinks cost. An ancient Roman menu!
5. Bottega (Shop #30 - there are a number of bottegas on the site)
This was a food shop back in the day, and it has been so well preserved. Here you'll see original wooden shelves, wine amphorae, as well as an exposed upper floor of the shop.
6. Casa dell'Atrio a Mosaico (House of the Mosaic Atrium)
We couldn't enter this house when we visited, but we could peek in to see the beautiful black and white mosaic on the hallway floor by the door. Then further in, you could see the warped mosaic floor of the atrium, which is a testament to the destruction caused by the eruption.
7. Palestra (Palaestra)
This very large complex was used mainly for sporting events. Unfortunately, this complex has only been partially excavated since much of it is hidden underneath modern day buildings.
Archaeologists have been able to tunnel under some of the modern day structures in the Palaestra area and you can actually enter into the tunnel. You'll find what used to be a fountain, complete with a five-headed serpent water feature.
8. Terrazza di M. Nonio Balbo (Terrace of M. Nonius Balbus)
This piazza located near the Suburban Baths (which we unfortunately could not enter) houses a marble funeral altar dedicated to a senator named M. Nonius Balbus. Near the altar you can also find a statue of the senator. He is said to have done many great things for Herculaneum, including building many public buildings.
9. Sacred Area
The Sacred Area near the Barrel Arches was home to a temple that was dedicated to Minerva, Neptune, Mercury, and Volcano. These deities were all related to manufacture and trade. Also found here is the Sacellum of Venus, a small temple that was dedicated to Venus.
10. Barrel Arches
At the time of the eruption of 79 AD, these boat storage rooms actually opened onto a beach. It became the final resting place of hundreds of residents of Herculaneum as they fled here to try to escape from the destruction but were unfortunately killed by the high temperatures from the eruption. Their skeletons are still visible here today.
I hadn't intentionally left the Barrel Arches to the end of my visit to these ruins, but seeing where and how they may have lived their lives before seeing their final resting place made it that much more poignant.
I hope this post helped you make your decision on whether to visit the Pompeii ruins or the Herculaneum ruins. Or maybe it made you want to visit both! If you do visit the Herculaneum, be sure to pick up the free "Brief Guide to Herculaneum" booklet, as well as the site map, at the entrance of the site.
Want to get here?
Hours: Check this site for the current hours
Getting here: Easily accessible via the Circumvesuviana train. Get off at the Ercolano Scavi station. Once you exit the station, walk straight downhill for 10-15 minutes to get to the ruins.
Admission: 11 Euros, but you can can also get the 20 Euro 5 site pass if you're hoping to visit a couple of sites.
Estimated time to spend here: 2 to 3 hours
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