While we were in the Amalfi Coast we had the choice to visit Pompeii, the well known and incredibly popular tourist destination or Herculaneum…an ancient town that shared the same fate as Pompeii. A lot of people haven’t even heard of Herculaneum, but it has some significant advantages over Pompeii which made us choose it. It is smaller than Pompeii, which to us is a good thing as it can be draining trying to see too much. Herculaneum is also better preserved because it was more affected by the pyroclastic flows than Pompeii was. As it is not as well known, this also means it isn’t as busy.
We visited from Sorrento, taking the Circumvesuviana train, so it was a longer journey to the modern town of Ercolano than to Pompeii. The site of Herculaneum has only been open to the public since the early noughties, but this hasn’t been enough time for the town of Ercolano to build acceptable toilets at the train station. They weren’t just poor, they were rural backpacking around Asia poor. The women’s were locked and a key was needed (not sure why women had to get a key) the men’s had 3 cubicles, one was broken and the other two had no locks and were squatter toilets! They were practically just holes in the ground and obviously there wasn’t a hint of soap…or water. On the train line along the Amalfi Coast Ercolano is one of the most popular, so I would have thought some of the tourist money would have gone towards a decent toilet at the train station.
The ruins of the old city of Herculaneum are a fairly short walk from the station. The entrance to the site is through an archway, which looked like it used to be the ticket office. Now visitors can take in the great views of the ancient town from the pathway before reaching the modern day ticket office. Tickets are €11 each for adults, the same as Pompeii. We took a free map, but decided against an audio guide, as we like to explore at our own pace.
The streets are in great condition and with so many buildings standing it had a real ancient vibe to it. As a huge ancient Rome fan I have been wanting to come here for a long time and to walk the actual streets of an ancient Roman town was a wonderful experience, although a bird did poo on me. Even though Herculaneum is smaller than Pompeii there is still a lot to see, such as the College of the Augustales, the men and women’s baths, which is still well kept and the Samnite house which is one of the oldest buildings on the site, built in the 2nd century BC. I also loved the thermopolium, which once served hot food and wine in containers that were set in the stone counter.
One of the main attractions are the skeletal remains in the arches that were used for boat storage. These were some of the town folk that must have believed hiding in these arches that faced away from Vesuvius were going to protect them from what was taking place. But they were never to know of the high temperature of the clouds that erupted from the volcano. The temperature would have reached 500 degrees, which is why their skin and clothes were incinerated and left as skeletons. Annoyingly for us the pathway leading up to the arches were roped off so we couldn’t get close to have a proper look. I’m not sure why tourists were blocked off as the individual arches themselves were roped off too.
If you only have the opportunity to visit one of these great sites it is a difficult choice and I don’t blame anyone who wants to play it safe and visit Pompeii. But Herculaneum should not be sniffed at and has just as much on offer as Pompeii. More excavations are being made too, so in a few more years the site will be bigger and there will be even more to see in this frozen in time town.