advertisement

9.5km (6 miles) SE of Naples

The volcanic mud that covered Herculaneum during the eruption of Vesuvius in A.D. 79 killed most of the town's estimated 5,000 inhabitants and quickly hardened to a semirock material, protecting the structures underneath but also making archaeological excavations much slower than at other sites. Herculaneum was discovered in 1709, and although excavations started shortly after and proceeded alongside those in Pompeii, the uncovered area here is much smaller than that of the more famous sibling site. Also, unlike at Pompeii, much of the ancient town lies under the modern one, making excavation even more difficult. The findings, however, have been stunning.

Although many questions about Herculaneum remain unanswered, researchers tell us that this town was about a third of the size of Pompeii and had a different urban makeup. A glitzy seaside resort for wealthy Romans, Herculaneum had little commercial and industrial activity although it was a moderately busy harbor. Most of the town was composed of elegant villas -- many even more richly decorated than those of Pompeii -- and some apartment blocks for poor laborers, while the middle-class of merchants and artisans, which was so present in Pompeii, was almost completely absent here.