Visit Herculaneum, the magnificent archaeological site near Naples, an ancient town petrified in AD 79.
Are you ready to travel back in Roman times, during a history-filled and emotionally charged excursion? Herculaneum, like its sister town of Pompeii, was destroyed by the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Though smaller in size, Herculaneum is in many ways a more interesting place to visit than Pompeii, offering a rare illustration of exceptional preservation. Since Herculaneum lays to the west of Mt. Vesuvius, it was only mildly affected by the first phase of the eruption: only a few centimeters of ash fell on the town. Subsequently, there was a succession of six pyroclastic flows (a mixture of ash and gases) which buried the city’s buildings from the bottom up and solidified. This allowed Herculaneum’s internal architecture and decor to remain intact, including features in wood and marble, decorations, jewelry, and even food remains, providing a unique view into the daily lives of the town’s ancient population.
Also read : The 14 best things to do in Naples
Visit of Herculaneum: a little history
Located in the Campania region, Herculaneum was a charming Roman town, set at the foot of a volcano: Mount Vesuvius. The town was populated by 4,000 inhabitants who were primarily living from fishing, agriculture, and crafts. Wealthy Romans and other Campanians also owned beautiful seaside villas in Herculaneum.
On the night of 24-25 October AD 79, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius obliterated and buried several Roman settlements around Naples, including Herculaneum, Oplontis, Boscoreale, Stabiae, and Pompeii. Since Herculaneum was located close to the volcano, the eruption left no chance of escape to the villagers who were wiped out by the cloud of toxic gases. The entire city was frozen in time, literally sealed under a flow of ash and volcanic rock 50 feet deep that solidified, preserving almost perfectly intact organic remains like fabric, food, vegetation, and wooden structures.
Discovered by accident in 1707, the buried town gradually revealed its treasures and secrets which can be seen today: ancient houses, beautiful mosaics, and frescos, but also skeletons of victims in positions that reflect the terror of the inhabitants at the time of the eruption.
What to see in Herculaneum?
The ancient town of Herculaneum is located in an archaeological “hole” more than 65 feet deep. Since only one-third of the area has been cleared, the site is much smaller than Pompeii. Indeed, the excavations have halted where the current city of Ercolano begins. The majority of public and religious monuments still lie underneath the modern city and have yet to be excavated.
When visiting Herculaneum, don’t miss the following must-see monuments:
- The port area, where a boat and 300 human skeletons have been excavated (this area is open to the public only on weekends).
- The garden of the “Casa dell’Albergo,” home to replanted fruit trees
- The public building named Sacellum des Augustales, with its magnificent frescos depicting the exploits of Hercules
- The House of Neptune and Amphitrite and its mosaics
- The adjoining small store displaying food and wine containers still intact
- The ancient Roman baths, still covered with mosaics
- The spectacular Villa dei Cervi, featuring beautiful mosaics, frescos, and luxurious statues
How to visit Herculaneum?
A visit to the Herculaneum Archaeological site will take about 1 to 2 hours if you want to see the most important buildings. The ancient city of Herculaneum is entirely pedestrian and accessible to people with disabilities. Bring a good pair of shoes and don’t forget to bring water, especially if you’re visiting Herculaneum on a blazing hot summer day. To further enjoy the visit, we recommend that you take a guided tour. Tour guides are real history buffs: they are never short of surprising anecdotes and will make you relive the history of Herculaneum and the events that followed the eruption with great intensity. A guaranteed thrill!
How to get to Herculaneum?
If you are staying in Naples, and you plan on visiting Herculaneum on your own, without a guide, you can get there by train quite easily. You can purchase a one-way trip (charged at €2.50) from Naples Central Station: a direct train will take you to Herculaneum in about 20 minutes (take the Circumvesuviana line to Ercolano Scavi).
If you are based in Sorrento, note that there is a day tour that allows you to visit Herculaneum and Pompeii with a guide. Find out more about this excursion from Sorrento.
Herculaneum: rates and opening hours
- Full price : €11
- Students aged between 18 and 24, as well as teachers : €5.50
- EU nationals under 18 years of age: Free
- first Sunday of the month : Free admission for all
The tickets to Pompeii are the same rate. You can buy an all-access ticket for €21, allowing you to visit Herculaneum, Pompeii, Oplontis, Boscoreale, and Stabiae over three consecutive days. This three-day pass costs 30€ if you take the “skip-the-line” option.
OPENING DAYS AND HOURS
- April to October:
- November to March:
open from 8:30 am to 7:30 pm (the ticket office closed at 6 pm)
open from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm (the ticket office closes at 3:30 pm)
The site is closed on January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th.
GOOD TO KNOW
– A complete visit to Herculaneum can last for about three hours, the site has lots of things on display and we would recommend not rushing even though the site is rather dense and things tend to be close by. Loose yourself in what was once a living and vibrant city!
– The paths and roads in Herculaneum are cobbled and were built about two thousand years ago, they will be bumpy and it can sometimes be tiring to walk around the city, with all the blocked off areas and stairs which is why we recommend you bring good walking shoes and pace yourselves.
– Photography is permitted in most areas, do check for signs in some places indoors or that need additional protection, especially from flashes.
A comment ? Ask us here !