Herculaneum, Italy

Day 93, Wednesday December 6, 2017

We are up early to take the train to Herculaneum, which is another ancient town that was destroyed by the eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.

We are a bit early for our train so we visit the church in Pompeii. Yes, another church! I should be tired of them but it seems that each one we visit is so different for the others that there is always something new and amazing to see.

The Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of the Holy Rosary is an international place of pilgrimage.  It is considered the most important shrine consecrated to Mary in Italy.  4 million pilgrims from all over the world visit here every year.

The church has many hallways and rooms covered in thousands of ex-votos. These devotional images were created in thanks for the fulfillment of vows by those who survived an illness or disaster because they prayed to the Virgin Mary. I keep seeing images in the marble. What do you see here?

Every town we pass on the way to Herculaneum is crowded with apartments. I think just about everyone in Italy who lives in urban areas must live in apartments.
We can see the smog over Naples. There seems to be more smog here than in Rome.Believe it or not, this is the ‘street’ that Google maps tells us to walk down to get to the archeological site.  It was long, narrow, dirty and full of garbage!This is our first view of Herculaneum. Unlike Pompeii, which was covered by about 4 meters of ash, Herculaneum was buried under more than 20 meters of mud, ash, and other pyroclastic material. This thick layer preserved wooden and other organic-based objects such as roofs, beds, doors, food and even skeletons.

Until these skeletons were discovered inside boat sheds near the shore of ancient Herculaneum it was thought that most of the residents escaped the town. However excavation of the boat sheds in 1981 revealed over 300 skeletons. It is thought that they were waiting for boats to take them to safety but they died before this could happen. Please take a look at this excellent five minute video from the Smithsonian which explains all about these skeletons.

I understand that the skeletons on display are replicas of the originals but they still make a powerful impact.
These walls were painted from dark orange-red changing to light yellow…and the column’s construction was interesting.There were more places for buying prepared food…and this is one of the many water fountains we saw both here and in Pompeii.Many beautiful mosaic floors were well preserved because they were covered with the hot mud that flowed down from Vesuvius.

This is part of a huge sport centre here which had a pool and areas for other types of recreation.Herculaneum is especially known for having well-preserved buildings with upper floors.It is possible to see carbonized charred wooden beams. doors and shutters…as well as railings and shelves inside the buildings.There are several of these ‘balconies’ along the streets.The College of the Augustales was an order of freemen dedicated to the Imperial Rulers of Rome. The big carbonized beams that supported the upper floor are still in place.

It is possible to see how the modern town of Ercolano was built on the buried remains of Herculaneum, and there is Mount Vesuvius in the background.More preserved areas. Unfortunately many of the largest and best preserved villas were closed to visitors today. It was disappointing but not much we can do about it. We read a sign that said that it was not possible to properly look after the site for many years, and that by the year 2000 two-thirds of the site was closed to visitors due to safety concerns. With the support of the Packard Humanities Institute, work is now ongoing to restore this site and reopen areas to visitors This building is particularly well-preserved…and has a carbonized bed inside.The doors in the back of this photo are the original wooden doors that were carbonized, which really just means to be changed to carbon by burning.Some of the villas were very grand and must have been incredibly beautiful homes.

We were able to peek into the entrances of the closed sites.

As we leave we look down on this ancient town one last time. The arched rooms in the bottom of the photo are the boathouses where the skeletons were found.I read that the peak of Vesuvius has been reforming and there is danger of another eruption sometime in the future. The volcano is closely monitored and the hope is that there would be enough warning to evacuate nearby residents if this happens. I wonder about that.We did find a longer but more appealing route back to the train station. We see some interesting graffiti along the way…and roads paved with large square stones, laundry hanging right on the sidewalk and streets, some interesting buildings, and finally we are at the train station just as the sun is setting.

So, to answer the question of what I saw in the marble, it was a cartoonish horse figure, standing up on its back legs looking straight out at me.

I forgot to post this video titled A Day In Pompeii yesterday. It is a reconstruction of what likely happened in Pompeii during the eruption. I found it helpful in trying to make sense of what we see now in Pompeii. Take a look if you are interested.

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