The Ancient City of Ercolano
The Ercolano excavations are located at some 20 minutes from Vico. Although these excavations are less famous, they are as fascinating as those of Pompeii. The dreadful volcanic eruption of 79 AD destroyed a portion of Campania and buried many cities and towns under lava and lapilli. An important centre for trading food products from across the Vesuvian area, Pompeii was the largest city to be struck by the eruption.
Ercolano was quieter than Pompeii, housing the villas of wealthy Romans. With its mild climate and pleasant environment, the town was almost holiday a resort – as were many parts of what was then called Campania Felix. Notably, Ercolano was discovered as an archaeological area before Pompeii was: excavations here began in the 1700s. For those staying in Vico Equense, a visit to Ercolano is a compelling excursion that recalls this terrible tragedy. Such a visit should be stimulating to anyone with even a slight cultural interest in archaeological remains.
Ercolano was also smaller than Pompeii: it had an estimated population of 4 / 5,000 people compared to the 30,000 of Pompeii. Although their destruction took place on the same day, the two towns were affected by different phenomena. On the one hand, mud and lava formed a hard layer that rendered Ercolano more difficult to excavate than Pompeii (which was overcome by ash and lapilli). On the other hand, wooden structures at Ercolano are better preserved. Made with wooden supports, the second floors of houses are therefore seen more frequently in Ercolano. Furniture and furnishings have also been found, making this place particularly fascinating.
Ercolano was a seaside town, and wealthy Romans came to stay in their beautiful villas for a time for leisure and reflection, and a break from public commitments. The Roman elite considered this to be the ideal life. One of the houses, the Villa of the Papyri, was the first to be excavated in 1700. Beautiful statues and a library with an abundance of books (which were a luxury) were found here.
Although the town is only half excavated (the remainder is covered by the modern Ercolano), the visible excavations are extraordinarily fascinating. The entire archaeological site can easily be walked on foot and takes one on a unique journey into the past. Carefully arranged according to an urban plan, the houses that can be visited are not only full of mosaics and decorations, but are also especially interesting for their witness to everyday life. Public spas and a gym, where Romans would congregate and socialise, have also been discovered. A theater is not visible, although this would have been available as a service offered to the citizens in every urban area of the Empire.
So it’s really worth travelling the few kilometers between the beauties of the Peninsula and these archaeological remains that enable an extraordinary journey through time.