Named after the Greek Hero Hercules
On our second part of this trip and in the same day after the Roman villas of Stabiae and Oplontis, we visit the major highlight, the ancient city of Ercolano. Second in size after Pompeii, but way different to this in the sense of how incredibly well preserved everything stood after the 79AD Mount Vesuvius eruption. Unfortunately only 1/4 of the total city has been excavated, while the remaining of the city might never been uncovered. The new city of Herculaneum was built on top of the ancient. Back then they even did not even know what was below ground, but the over construction covered most of the former city limits which lie well below the current street level.
I cannot say that I like one or the other more. Both compliment each other. While in Pompeii you do not have such great paintings and large villas, or so incredibly well preserved thermaes; you have in the other hand the complete area of the forum, theatre and coliseum, something that is completely buried under the new city in Herculaneum.
What is best on this place, the lack of mass tourism. In Pompeii expect hordes of tourists, but here in Ercolano you will be happy to enjoy the city mostly to yourself, but of course, mind that during the high season months there will be lots of people but nothing to compare with overcrowded Pompeii.
How to get there
The trip from Naples to Ercolano is around 25 minutes. The best and easiest way is by taking the Circumvesuviana trains. Very frequent, running until late at night. They operate from the lower level of the main train station at Piazza Garibaldi or Porta Nolana station which is the end of the line. Be sure you are on a train towards Sorrento or Poggiomarino, stopping at Ercolano Scavi.
The site is opens from 08:30 am to 17:00 pm during winter months and extended to 19.30 pm during summer months. For the best and official information check their website here, with prices for each of the sites or combined tickets should you wish to visit more than one site. Basically 11 Euros for one site, or 20 Euros for the ticket that gives you access to 5 different sites, including Pompeii, Oplontis, Stabiae and Boscoreale.
How to visit the site
The city is much smaller in size than Pompeii, meaning much less overall time for the visit. Originally a coastal city, was much luxurious and richer than Pompeii; a renowned seaside resort where some of the richest Roman citizens spent their summer vacations. A city which had a proper sewage system and a large amount of mansions and big houses compared to the small population.
What remains today is even better preserved than Pompeii as the layer of ashes was much thinner and lighter meaning the roofs of the buildings did not collapsed in the extent they did in Pompeii. You will have the chance to visit almost perfect homes, complete with paintings on the walls, floor mosaics and even the original wooden structures, now largely replaced for newer ones in order to keep preserving the site for future generations while keeping the originals sealed on glass cases as you will see everywhere. Even full staircases, doors, windows, tables, amphorae. Only 1/4 of the city is what was ever excavated. The remaining of the city lies beneath modern Herculaneum and might never be excavated. This would mean demolishing all the current buildings on top.
The area by the old sea shore is the place where most of the bodies were found. When the eruption happened, people rushed to the boat houses on the hope someone would come to save them. Unfortunately the superheated pyroclastic material made the bodies turned into ash in matter of milliseconds.
As this is for anyone a day or half day trip from Naples or other cities nearby such as Sorrento, there is no place I could recommend you other than our already large experience in Naples, our base city every time we fly to this region. The guide contains a good bunch of hotels we’ve been and of course, a fantastic listing of every sight.