A February 2001 trip
to Naples by Taylor252
Quote: Archaeologically speaking, there is more to see in Naples than Pompeii.
It is famous for a huge heavy basin, that was thrown across the room by the force of the pyroclastic flow, so violently that it left a permanent indentation in the rock on the other side. (see pictures). At least one documentary I've seen on Discovery Channel has this event located in Pompeii, but that is incorrect. I've been there and this basin is in the Suburban Baths of Herculaneum! Also in the Baths, there is a wooden door, still hanging in place. It is entirely carbon so care has been taken to make sure in remains intact. Imagine wood lasting underground for 2000 years! There are quite a few rooms in the Suburban Baths: men's and women's separate dressing areas, the women's bath and the men's bath; a hot water area and a cooler water area. These all have Italian names like Tepidarium (cooler water bath), but since most of the audience reading this is English-speaking, I haven't used them all. Herculaneum was a very wealthy community and as such its baths had state of the art plumbing, albeit using lead pipes. But water flowed in and out keeping the bath clean. Our entry into the Suburban Bath was the first step in what was to prove to be one of the best days of viewing ruins we have ever had!
Attraction | "The Bakeries of Herculaneum"
Adjacent to the bakery is the baker's home. One of the largest bakeries has the owners seal on a wall. His name was Sextus Patuleus Felix. He apparently baked cakes and did quite well. His home has vaulted ceilings, beautiful wall paintings and a dining table with griffin head feet. In his shop, bronze baking pans of many sizes were hung on the back wall and mixing bowls where on a shelf nearby. Felix was also careful about protecting his cakes from the Evil Eye. Over the oven door were two phalli, side by side for protection. In the dough room there were two ceramic phalli. One had the hind legs of an ass! This is so foreign to the Western mind, but to Felix, it was essential and his protection still stands guard today. When Felix fled, he left behind not only pans, bowls, and animals, but he also left bread in the oven, large supplies of grain in the back, and stacks of money. So many bodies are being uncovered now in the arches next to what was the ancient harbor, I often wonder if this or that person whose name we have, survived to carry on their craft. Did Felix bake again? The odds are against it. If he didn't leave the first day of the eruption (when Pompeii was being destroyed), he was in trouble. It was on the second day that a huge explosion on Vesuvius sent a cloud of super heated gases up into the air and then down its slope as a pyroclastic flow. Since Felix left his money, my guess would be he fled in panic at the second eruption of Vesuvius and probably perished. That is a sad note to end on, but then studying a city destroyed by a volcano will have its sad moments.
Western Foot of Mount Vesuvius
Bay of Naples, Italy
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In Herculaneum, a few very wealthy Senatorial class homes overlooked the sea. Other Patricians whose income had declined lived further into the city and sometimes became landlords, splitting up their homes for apartments and shops and living off the income. The Samnite House is one such case.
The house foundation was laid almost three centuries before the eruption in AD79 as part of the Samnite Culture that existed in this area prior to Roman influence. It was more in the Etruscan style favored by the Samnites. A large open garden, a second floor peristyle that was sort of a complete balcony going all the way around an open air atrium. There were rooms off both the second and first floor. The walls had relief slabs carefully painted to look like marble. The house was sure to have had a sense of quiet elegance at that time. However, hard times came upon the owner. A top floor apartment had to be created and rented. There is a narrow staircase and a new opening to the street that rises to the apartment. Shortly after that a new wall was put in that effectively cut off the garden and its peristyle. They were probably sold. So now the former wealthy owners were living in a fraction of the space that they had once owned. One intimate note, when the house was excavated a bowl of cookies was found sitting on a table and also on the table was the inscription in Latin, which essentially translate as, "Let love burn here."
Some of the walls still have the lavish paintings so there are a couple of pictures below. Note the detail in the dragon.
This home is preserved so well because all walls and ceilings are intact with the exception of the front. The front wall is completely gone. When excavators uncovered this home they saw a bedroom on the second floor complete with a wooden bed, bronze candelabra and marble table. They saw a latrine with the pipes that went to the sewer. It was reported that the domestic scene was so complete that everyone there expected the owners to walk out much like victims do after a tornado or other cataclysm. All the walls downstairs were decorated with painted panels or mosaics and in a little inner garden was the famous mosaic that gave the home its name. The blues and golds are brilliant punctuated with red and other colors. The artist was even able to mimic a fold effect above the two main figures (see pictures below). I feel quite certain we would not have found the gem if it had not been for our guide. You can not see it from the Herculaneum street in front. (The street is called Cardo IV.)
We can only imagine the horror of that day in AD 79 and we can only wonder if the owner of this house survived to mourn the loss of his home and livelihood or not. At any rate, those of us who appreciate today, what he commissioned to be done in his home so many years ago, can say thank you and continue the work to preserve all antiquities.
The Imperial College has one of the largest rooms in the city. The ceiling of this room is supported by four strong columns. All around the room are beautiful and detailed paintings most of which are surrounded by red paint. One of these paintings is of Hercules with Minerva and Juno. Another is of Neptune with Aimone and Amphitrite. There are charioteers and dancers in pictures as well. One wonders how the students studied in such distracting areas.
Our guide who who leading us through the city told us to go on in this building while he held the door open. We were stopped cold by the incredible walls. Our guide chuckled to himself as he knew what we would find in there and I think he enjoyed our surprised Oooos and Ahhhhs! We had only allocated a morning for Herculaneum and that simply was not enough time. We''re going back in Oct. of 2003 for an entire day at Herculaneum and that is the amount of time I would recommend if you can spare it. This is an amazing archeological treasure that gets passed over for it''s more famous sister city in destruction Pompeii, and that is unfortunate. Herculaneum contains treasures unlike anywhere else.
In the Forum Bath, many of the rooms are lit by open air sky lights such as can be found in the men's frigidarium. Another aspect of a bath house is the use of large basins for washing hands and feet before getting into either a cold or hot bath with others. The Calidariums (hot baths) were heated by boilers close by. The water was routed to the tub while hot air was circulated under the floors of these rooms. The calidarium rooms were all supported on short columns 18'-24' high. Roman plumbing was pretty sophisticated!
One of the snack bars had a figure with an exaggerated phallus, a large jug, and a woman holding a purse and a bell painted on the wall behind the counter. All of these are symbols of protection from the Evil Eye. The owner of this shop was either paranoid or having trouble with sneak thieves because he also had a small peep hole to keep on eye on the transactions in his shop.
The homes, presumably of the shop owners, were either behind or next to each shop. You can tell how well the shop did by the size and grandeur of the homes. If there was a marble floor, or the like, the owner was doing well.
Even though Herculaneum was a wealthy seaside resort, there was a middle class and the snack bar owners belong to that class. There were also slaves in abundance. One amazing find was in slave quarters of a wealthy home (The House of the Bicentenary). At that site there is a cross, some 10" high, scratched into a plaster panel. This would be one of the earliest examples of the use of a cross in Christian worship. I mention this in connection with the snack bars because it is from the middle class shop owners and slaves that Christianity got it's start and apparently there was a cell in Herculaneum at the time of the eruption.
Today several of these homes are just a heap of ruins. The first excavation tunnels were dug here and the goal of these first efforts was loot more than archeological preservation. However, the crown of the bluff has been excavated in modern times and it is here we find the spectacular Deer House. The house got it’s name from two statues of deer being attacked by dogs. Those statues are now in the Naples Archeological Museum. This home is unlike almost every other home in the city which is probably due to its dating. The construction and decorations place it during the time of Nero or Claudius some 25 years before the eruption. It was the most modern home in Herculaneum.
The house is divided into two sections primarily by usage demands. The north side, or that furthest from the ocean has a street entrance. There is a very small reception area or foyer and then other rooms designed for storage or servants quarters branch off from there. In the center of the house is the dining room. It is more ornate with marble pavement and architectural designs in embedded on alternating black and red bands. A lonnnng hall connects to the kitchen so that none of the heat reaches the diners. Off to one side of the dining room is a small ornate bedroom. It is lighted by a skylight with no other windows and as a result, it is always cool inside.
As we move toward the front of the house that overlooked the sea, there are more bedrooms and gardens. They all had ornate and/or bawdy drawings and mosaics on the walls (Many of which have been removed to the Naples Archeological Museum for safe keeping). There is also a sun terrace and red columned portico that can be seen from the walkway around Herculaneum. In one of the bedrooms an unusual item was found -- a bronze bathtub. Most Romans preferred the public baths. Also found in this house were ordinary things that instruct us even more in the everyday life of Romans. Things like lamps, glassware, tiny statuettes, bowls, a bell for calling servants, perfume flasks, a necklace and a pair of dice. This is a beautiful home and worth your time while in Herculaneum.
Attraction | "Overview of a Visit to Herculaneum"
Herculaneum suffered a different but equally devastating destruction when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Whereas Pompeii was buried by ash, Herculaneum was flash carbonized by a pyroclastic flow and then covered by debris and lava. Lava is much harder to dig through and for this reason as well as others, Herculaneum has not been excavated for as long as Pompeii. This means it’s murals and mosaics are wonderfully more colorful and vibrant than those in Pompeii! If I had just one day to visit ruins in the Naples area I’d pick Herculaneum. Even the structures are better preserved. and the site is open year round.
Herculaneum can be explored by yourself with maps and guide books which are available on site. (some of the better ones will cost $5-$10.) However, if your are a first time visitor you might want to join a group tour or hire a professional tour guide at the gate. Professionally guided group tours can be booked at any major hotel in either Naples or Rome. If you hire a professional guide they can take you into rooms that are roped off to the general public, find beautiful mosaics hidden in the back rooms,or show you the carbonized door that still stands where it did when the pyroclastic flow flash carbonized 2000 years ago.
In 2001 we paid a local guide $15 a hour. NOTE: Arrange your price with the guide before you begin the tour. The amount of time and his hourly fee will both play a part and everyone should know what is expected.
The highlights can be seen in 4 hours if you’re willing to move really fast, but it’s better to plan most of a day to truly take in the atmosphere of a place which reminds us of life in Roman times.
TRAVEL HINT 1: Herculaneum is not wheelchair friendly.
TRAVEL HINT 2: The people of ancient Herculaneum had a very different view of sexuality than our modern times. If you have children or easily offended adults in your group, mention that to your guide and he will steer clear of some of the more ribald pictures and buildings. On the other hand, if you’re not easily offended and interested in the culture and history of these people let the guide know there is no problem and he’ll expand your tour a bit.
TO CLOSE, MY BEST TRAVEL HINT: If you are able, travel off season in late fall or winter! The crowds are light and the temperature is usually in the 60’s. In the summer it is HOT HOT HOT! and CROWDED CROWDED CROWDED!
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