Monday 5th August
So this was a long, looooong day for us. My health app says we walked 14km yesterday but I’m convinced it was nearer 20km considering how sore both of our feet were.
We had an early breakfast in our hotel (for free yahoo!) and headed out to catch the train. It was pretty busy at the station which we expected; most people cleared off at the stop for Pompeii but we stayed on until Ercolano. It takes about 50 minutes from Sorrento so it’s a decent distance and it’s about another 500m from the train station to the archeological site of Herculaneum.
A bit of info on Herculaneum. It’s a much smaller, more well preserved site in comparison to Pompeii. The blast from the volcano sent torrents of volcanic “mud” down the mountain where it coated the town and buried it until 1738 when excavations started. The science is still shaky as to why the pyroclastic rock preserved the town the way it did rather than destroying everything. There is still large scale excavations ongoing as well as constant preservation efforts. We’re taking about materials that have been around for 2000 years here.
We picked up a guide book which is numbered with all of the open “exhibitions”. Basically they close some of the rooms/houses/shops if they are no longer safe or if they are actively working on preserving the mosaics for example. The numbers are marked on the outside of the exhibits so you know what part to read. There is an option to hire a guide; and they probably have more information that you get from the book alone but alas we’re on a travellers budget and found the included guide book to be fairly concise.
I’m going to include a lot of pictures here that I’ll explain but you get the gist that we walked about and read the guidebook. It took us 3 hours to see pretty much everything. We missed the skeletons as we only realised the exhibit was open as we were leaving. It does take it out of you, all the walking, as the streets of the site are original so you’ll trip if you don’t look where you’re going and it was very hot with no breeze. A view from above since the site is below the current ground level. If you can see in the background the yellow buildings are modern day apartments. They know there is more of Herculaneum under the current town but there is no way to safely excavate this without destroyed no current properties.
Here are the roads, you definitely need to watch your step coming down off the pavements as they’re much higher than their modern day equivalent.
Before the whole Vesuvius eruption thing; you would have been staring at a view of the sea. The marina came right up to the city walls however lava + water = new land.
Did you know – during the first excavations the archaeologists actually thought that everyone had fled the city and made it out alive. Until they started digging up bodies where the marina was.
Here is some of the preservation and excavation works. The metal snake ornament was originally part of a fountain and shows the old school Roman god version of medusa.
I’ve included pictures to show how the original wood, even though it’s black, has still retained form and texture after being buried under liquid rock. Even some metal poles from the windows have survived.
You can see here the new wood on the right versus the original on the left. Another example of the work that the site puts in to try and preserve the structures.
The Romans’ weren’t silly. While we were still dying of dysentery during the Victorian era; they had worked out how to “flush away” their 1’s & 2’s and keep their city clean. Also spot the “cats eye” marble – an ancient way of lighting the streets at night as it reflected the moonlight.
An ancient vino list and NOLA was the advertisement for a show. Say what you want but they knew how to have a good time!
These are all original frescos “paintings”. 2000 years old and still intact! You can just make out the man walking on the beach in the last one.
One of the most impressive parts for me is how well preserved the mosaics are. They still in really good condition and you can see the effort that the artists would have put in back in the day. Only the wealthy had mosaics in their homes and you can bet they weren’t on their hands and knees placing each little square.
This is from the women’s baths. One guess what it is! All the symbols utilised are done so for a purpose. Symbols of protection, luck, healing, and in this case fertility.
Lastly these are to show you the scale of some of these buildings. I naively like to think that 2000 years ago people were living in mud huts but these pictures go to show that they had massive buildings with atriums and gardens in the centre. Some were two and 3 stories high and had separate rooms for their kitchens. The rainwater pools allowed water to drain from the roof into the pool to be used for drinking and cooking. The Romans also ate out of the house as mealtimes were considered social events. The marble table tops held terracotta jugs filled with soups, wine, nuts and legumes. Staples, obviously.
I’ll be honest, I personally think Pompeii is a bit of a disappointment after Herculaneum but everyone always says that Pompeii is the one not to miss so obviously we spent the 15€ each to see it in all of its glory.
Pompeii is huge like 33km of huge. It’s poorly mapped out, very confusing since everything looks like the same ruins of a building and the streets go on for miles with one good room popping up every now and again. You could spend all day traipsing about and still not see all the good bits. Again I would probably suggest if you have the money to get a guide or at least an audio guide.
Here’s the funny in retrospect story – we’re obviously on a budget traveling for 3 months; so we’re skipping the “unnecessary expenses” for example very useful and knowledgeable tour guides and instead doing it ourselves. (We’re not giving up gelato so we have to make cuts somewhere). Well that was all good and well – I (meaning Katy) had downloaded an internet audioguide to tour Pompeii with and combined with a map (which we never got as they ran out!) thought it would be easy to trot off on our own and see everything. It was not. We got lost a lot at the start. Struggled to find where we were on the map we had pulled up on Mitch’s phone and were getting pretty disheartened at the start. Thankfully with a lot of rewinding and re-listening to the walking instructions, we actually saw a lot of what is considered the highlights. Still it took us close to 4 hours. We used Rick Steves audioguide which was actually really good if a little outdated as some of the rooms he mentioned were closed off and one exhibit had been moved to another area of the site, so we had to double back to see it at the end.
In the guide he explains that Vesuvius was rumbling and making noise for a few days prior to the eruption but the locals didn’t think anything of it because it hadn’t erupted in 1,200 years; so they went about their day ignoring the volcano’s warnings! As we know it erupted and shot ash and gases into the air. The ash could be as big as a boulder (which explains why nearly all of the buildings in Pompeii don’t have roofs preserved) or fine like snow, thus burying everything.
Here are the streets of Pompeii. Wider than Herculaneum and with these stepping stones so when they washed the streets everyday day – to wash away the wee wees and poo poos – they wouldn’t get their sandals wet. Also the distance between the stones is just enough to allow carriages pulled by horses to pass through. This is the forum which was a meeting place for the people of Pompeii. They had markets and food stalls here as well as Jupiter’s temple seen above where the locals would go to worship and make sacrifice. Jupiter is the Roman version of Apollo. This is the unfinished basilica, it was in the middle of construction when Vesuvius erupted. The columns which you can see on the right aren’t actually made of marble but instead cheaper brick (like those in-front) and were covered with a crushed marble paste to keep the costs down. The basilica was essentially used as a court and was where judicial affairs were conducted. This is how busy it was at 2pm. These arches were responsible for providing water pressure to the city. There was a tank that used to sit hidden on the top of the arch that filtered into a smaller tank below which supplied each neighbourhood with reliable water pressure. The house of the faun is one of the largest properties in Pompeii with an estimated 40 rooms. The house was know for the sculpture of the dancing faun which sat in one of the rainwater basins. The house would have had many frescos and mosaics but one of the only remaining is a mosaic of Alexander the Great defeating Darius 3rd of Persia in the battle of Issus. He is shown without a hemet and the Persians are shown with their head scarves. Mill used to grind flour and the oven behind it. You can see the holes in the stone where donkeys (or slaves) would have pushed a wooden bar around in a circle to move the top part of the stone.
Some more of the surviving mosaics. We think the bottom one is dedicated to Neptune, god of the sea. Onto one of my favourite parts of the site. I love it because there is absolutely no hiding what kind of business it was. The paintings on the walls are assumed to be a kind of menu of the services provided. Here are some of the pictures of us in the theatre piccolo (little theatre), the grande theatre – which we think is still used as a music venue because there are seat numbers – and the amphitheatre. Mitch pointed out that Pink Floyd played there in 1971.
We finished our long day of walking by seeing the dead bodies, as we decided to name them. This is the exhibit that had been moved when we were listening to our podcast. They aren’t actually bodies as opposed to plaster cast shells of dead bodies. When the excavation was going on they found these air gaps in the stone where the citizens had been trapped in a lava cast. So when their bodies disintegrated, it left behind a shell of their form. Hope that wasn’t to grizzly an explanation.
That wraps up a very verrrry long post. Honestly it’s taken 2 days to write and the app has crashed about 5 times!
I’ll speak to you too soon – Katy xxx