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The archaeological area lies in the heart of the modern town of Ercolano, a rather depressed and not exactly tourist-friendly suburb of Naples. The town is perfectly safe during the day, particularly by the archaeological area, but rather ugly. If you are up for a little exploring, though, you might also want to visit the showroom of a local talented artist, a maker of cameos, named Biagio Piscopo. He is located at Corso Resina 318 (tel. 081-7391214), conveniently near the archaeological site. The intricate art of cameo making was first developed in nearby Torre del Greco, and the beautiful jewels produced here are exported all over the globe.

The town is struggling to reverse a relatively recent downturn, dating back only about a century. Before -- and since -- Roman times, Ercolano had been a posh resort for Naples's patricians, who built their summer villas at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, to enjoy the cooler weather. The 122-odd mansions, built during the 18th century by members of the Bourbon court, made up the so-called Miglio d'Oro, the Golden Mile. Abandoned after Ercolano became an impoverished suburb of modern Naples, some of the villas have been restored under the supervision of the association Ente Ville Vesuviane (tel. 081-19244532; www.villevesuviane.net). The Museo Diffuso is a self-guided visit to three villas, the starting point being Villa Campolieto, where you pick up the audioguide. The Grand Tour is a longer circuit with five main stops, also starting from Villa Campolieto (tel. 081-3625121 for reservations; villadelleginestre@villevesuviane.net). In late July/early August, the restored villas are the stage for the Festival Ville Vesuviane, featuring concerts -- classical, jazz, and pop -- and dance.

Stretch Your Euros -- If you are planning an extensive visit to the Vesuvian archaeological sites, save on admission prices by purchasing the Biglietto Unico (Vesuvian area cumulative ticket) which grants access to all the archaeological sites -- Herculaneum, Pompeii, Oplontis, Stabiae, and Boscoreale -- for 20€ and is valid for 3 days.

Cameo Making

Coral jewelry and cameos have a long history in Torre del Greco. Coral-fishing in the area dates from antiquity, when the art of the cameo was first invented. Lost during the Middle Ages, the craft boomed in the 19th century when local artisans took inspiration from the jewelry found during the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. In 1879, the Scuola di Incisione del Corallo (School of Coral Carving) opened, giving further impulse to the development of the industry. Today, the school is called the Istituto Statale per l'Arte del Corallo e l'Oreficeria and maintains its own museum, the Museo del Corallo, Piazza Palomba (tel. 081-8811360), where you can admire a large collection from the 18th century onward. Also in town is the Museo Liverino del Corallo e dei Cammei, Via Montedoro 61 (tel. 081-8811225), which is owned by one of the historic cameo factories and which displays over 3,000 pieces dating from the 16th century on.

Although the local coral beds are practically exhausted, which is a cause of concern for some, cameo making still flourishes today, thanks to the use of corals and shells from the Pacific Ocean. About 90% of all coral fished around the world makes its way to this little town on the Italian coast, and the jewelry produced here is exported worldwide. Among the many cameo workshops in the area, some of the most reputable congregate around Via Enrico de Nicola. At no. 1 is Giovanni Apa (tel. 081-8811155); no. 25 is Antonino del Gatto (tel. 081-8814191); Baldo Liguoro (tel. 081-8812600) inhabits no. 35; and Vincenzo Ricevuto (tel. 081-8814976) occupies no. 38.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.