Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sorrento, day 5 - 7000 steps in Herculaneum, part 1

On Friday, we caught the train to Ercolano. Given that we’d already visited Pompeii, there were mutterings of ‘it’s going to be the same thing but smaller’. However, as Herculaneum was covered by a pyroclastic flow and was better preserved, I thought that it would be worth the visit – and it certainly was!

It was a lot smaller than Pompeii – you could see the whole town from the top – but it was better preserved, and it turned out there were lots more frescoes and mosaics.
A lot has been removed from Pompeii to preserve it (in the museum at Naples, which we didn’t have time to visit) and I can understand that, but it would’ve been nice to see some reproductions in their place to put things in context. At Herculaneum, you had a much better idea of what the layout of the town and houses were like and what it was like to live there. According to the brief guide book, Herculaneum was seen as more ‘advanced’ than Pompeii.

As at Pompeii, there were raised pavements, but without the stepping-stones to cross the street. And I loved it.

The first place we visited was the House of Aristedes – so-called from a statue found there that was identified as Aristedes, an Athenian politician (though it was actually of an Athenian emperor, Aeschines).

Next was the Thermopolium (i.e. caupona where you could buy hot food and drinks).
Here, the dolia (jars) where the hot food was kept were very well preserved.
You could also see just what the archaeologists had to dig through to reach them.

Then we visited the Hall of the Augustals – the freed slaves (or liberta) became ‘Augustals’ (worshippers of the emperor Augustus) when they were trying to move upwards in society.
The frescoes show Hercules, Juno and Minerva. Apparently, in the caretaker’s room, a skeleton was found on the bed.

There was a fair bit of carbonised wood here, which I thought at first was lava used as bricks - then I spotted the tree rings and realised what it was. Here’s a close-up of a bit by the door – the wood was carbonised in the heat rather than burned, because the pyroclastic flow took out all the oxygen so the fire couldn’t take hold.

Next was the Cucumas shop, where the fresco showed four different coloured pitchers (cucumae) and listed the price of wine.

You really could see how things were laid out and imagine the delicate porticoes.

Next we saw the House of the Corinthian Atrium, which is one of the oldest buildings in the town.

I was very taken by the mosaic floor.

And it was amazing to see just how big the storage jars were (Chris is about 5 feet 8 here, possibly a little taller).

Because there were no stepping stones, there were crossing places where the stone had been worn away by people stepping on them (or maybe it had been carved - though it felt more as if it had been worn away).

This is the House of the Large Portal (i.e. door) – it was built just after the earthquake in AD 62.

Then we visited the Samnite House, which was built in the 2nd century BC and originally occupied the whole of the south side of the road.
I was particularly taken by the floor here – it’s made of signinum opus (or powdered terracotta mixed with lime and sand, to keep out the damp) and decorated with tiny white tiles.

The men’s baths were closed off during our visit, but we did get to visit the women’s baths. You go through the changing room (which has a barrel vault and a mosaic floor of Triton)
then into the tepidarium (warm room) which has shelves for storing clothes, and then the caldarium (hot room), which has marble benches.
The water was taken from a well behind the baths that was 8.25m deep, and heated by the furnace.


Caroline said...

Wow! Love the photos. As I mentioned before the wip I'm editing features Herculaneum in it - so thanks for the visual stimulus Kate. Can't wait for the next installment. Caroline x

Nell Dixon said...

Fantastic pics.

Lacey Devlin said...

Those mosaics are just gorgeous!

Kate Hardy said...

Caroline - it's an amazing place, it really is. I loved every second of it.

Kate Hardy said...

Nell - thanks :)

Kate Hardy said...

Lacey - I loved the frescoes, too - and there were a lot more of them than there seemed to be at Pompeii.