Sunday, July 16, 2017

May 19th, Part One: Goodbye Amalfi Coast, Hello Herculaneum

I could have easily spent more time on the Amalfi Coast, but there were other things we wanted to do and see, so it was time to say goodbye to Praiano and head north.

We spent a few minutes enjoying the view before checking out and hitting the road.

I had been a little worried that the drive back out was going to be a nightmare, given the drive to Amalfi the day before, but we barely hit any traffic and it went pretty well. There were some pretty nice views as we drove, and it didn't take very long to get to our next stop...

...Herculaneum! Also known as Ercolano. This was a small city that was also buried by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. It now sits right in the middle of modern day Ercolano, and is only partially excavated because it is mostly buried by the modern city. We bought our tickets, walked down the ramp into the ruins...

...and were instantly sent back in time.

While Herculaneam is a lot smaller than Pompeii, many of the frescoes and mosaics are in better shape because of the difference in how each city was buried by the eruption. (Herculaneum was buried by a pyroclastic flow that hardened into volcanic rock and basically froze everything in place, while Pompeii was buried in ash.) This fresco was in the House of Argus (which is also where we were in the picture above this one). It was really cool to see so much detail still intact, though slightly ridiculous to see how much graffiti people had scrawled below it. This fresco made it through a volcanic eruption intact, only to be scribbled on by idiots who thought they were being funny or cute. Anyway...

Next up was the House of the Skeleton, so named because when they started to excavate this in the early 1830s they found a skeleton on the upper floor. This was in the triclinium, which was the dining room. (It's called the triclinium because there were usually three dining couches arranged in the room.) It was neat to see both the fresco and the mosaic floor still somewhat intact.

There were more neat frescoes in a different part of the house, too. These were modern copies of the original ones that had faded.

The thermopolium was nearby; these were basically fast food shops where people could grab lunch. The openings were the tops of big jars that were sunk into the counter.

The House of Galba was on the far side of the ruins, in a section that hasn't been fully excavated because it lies under the modern day city.

A few of the unexcavated sections were visible as we walked along. It was crazy to think that there could be so many more buildings buried in the area.

The Hall of the Augustals was a short walk away. They think that this building was used by the cult of the Emperor Augustus. The area in the middle was called a sacellum, which was a roofless shrine.

The frescoes were still in really good shape; I especially liked the details.  :)

Really, there were all sorts of cool details hidden everywhere you looked in Herculaneum. This was on the underside of an arch we passed while we were walking along.

The House of the Black Room still had some of the original carbonized wood in the doorway.

The house, of course, has a black room, which is pretty uncommon. I love how much detail is still visible after so much time has passed. When they excavated the house, they found 20 wax tablets with information about someone who may have been the home's owner. (I think most of the tablets were information about his eligibility for public office.)

We walked a little further and eventually wound up at what became one of my absolutely favorite spots of the entire trip...

...the House of Neptune and Amphitrite. This mosaic was in the home's summer triclinium, and it was absolutely stunning.

Granted, they have done some restoration work. but the fact that this has survived for so long just boggles my mind. The detail was incredible.

The cutouts off to the side were decorated with detailed mosaics, too. The room was gorgeous.

This wine shop was connected to the house with the mosaic. You could see some parts of the second floor, too; it was really neat to see it so well preserved.

I think this was in the Samnite House, which was one of the oldest buildings in the area (it dates to the 2nd century BC). Either way, I liked the combination of the intricate mosaic floor and the brightly colored fresco.

The House of the Wooden Partition also had the remains of a bed in one of the rooms, which was kind of crazy...

...but the main attraction of the house was a set of wooden partitions that had survived the eruption.

The Palaestra was on the far side of the ruins and hasn't been fully excavated. This area was supposedly used primarily for sporting activities, but has also been mistaken for a temple in the past.

There was a really cool relief in the House of Relief of Telephus, which was named for this relief. I think this may be a copy of the original relief, but either way, it depicts the myth of Telephus and was cool to see in such detail.

We eventually made our way through most of the ruins and wound up on the Terrace of M. Nonius Balbus. He was a senator and benefactor who restored and built many of the public buildings in Herculaneum. The statue in the back is a partial restoration of the statue that was damaged in the eruption.

We followed the steps down from the terrace, across what had been the old shoreline, and into a tunnel. You could see the boat houses, which were the arches along the bottom. (If you're a bit squeamish, I won't mind at all if you want to skip the last couple pictures below...)

The arches were where many of Herculaneum's citizens hid (and unfortunately passed away) during the eruption. Over the years, researchers have found about 300 skeletons in the boat houses, many of them carrying personal items they brought when they tried to flee the eruption.

The casts at Pompeii were one thing, but seeing the skeletons was very different. You could see exactly where and how the people were sitting when they were overwhelmed with the hot gases that killed them instantly. We spent a few minutes looking, quietly, before making our way back up the ramp and out of the ruins.

Mount Vesuvius loomed a lot closer in Herculaneum than it did in Pompeii, so it's amazing that the city survived as well as it did. Herculaneum was easily one of my favorite stops of the entire trip, but we had more places to see and things to do. We said goodbye to the ruins and started driving north.

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