Pompeii and Herculaneum

THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL AREA OF POMPEII, HERCULANEUM AND TORRE ANNUNZIATA

The tragic eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

Within about 30 km from Vico Equense, there is the possibility of visiting the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum, one of the UNESCO World Heritage, which actually includes three distinct archaeological areas: Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata. Buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the three sites are a freeze image of daily Roman life at the time, as well as a unique and crystallised evidence to the three cities destroyed by the volcano's relentless force. The crater burst, showering great quantities of lapilli, stones and a kilometre-long column of incandescent ashes. Like a dark cloud, expanding into the surrounding space, the ash coloum fell at a high speed and temperature, leaving no way out for people in the area. Fortunately, we have numerous testimonies from prominent personalities of the time who tell us about those dramatic moments.

In fact, the phenomenon was extensively and minutely observed and described by Pliny the Elder, a historian, scientist and naturalist who was then chief admiral of the imperial fleet in nearby Misenum.  Because of the numerous falling rocks, he could not disembark to help the population and headed towards Stabia (today's Castellammare di Stabia) to his friend Pomponianus, but here he was struck dead by ash and burning lapilli. His nephew, Pliny the Younger, who stayed with his mother in Misenum and was present at the time of the eruption, narrated the tragic events years later in his two famous letters to the historian Tacitus.
Without any doubt, we can consider these like authentic open-air museums. Paradoxically, the event that caused devastation and death, literally burying Pompeii, Herculaneum, Stabia, Oplontis and the Phlegraean Fields under a layer of several metres of eruptive material, gave us one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, brought to light thanks to Charles III of Bourbon, who ordered its excavation.

Pompeii Archeaological Site

Starting with the nearest site, Vico Equense is only about 17 km from the ruins of Pompeii.  The foundation of ancient Pompeii dates back to the 8th century BC. The Greeks were the first to settle in the area. Thanks to its strategic position that allowed the development of a flourishing trade. Pompeii became a very active and flourishing centre not only from the economic point of view and also during the annexation to the Roman Empire.  Some 2000 years after that tragic event, nowadays we can  admire numerous remains and paintings, mosaics, objects and utensils of all kinds, which are perfectly preserved.

 

Walking along the main street of the city, the Decumanus, on both sides we can appreciate numerous buildings and a counter with holes facing the pavement: the Thermopolium. From the words "termos" (hot) and "poleo" (I sell), the Thermopolium was a very popular refreshment point in Ancient Rome where it was possible to have and buy hot drinks and, sometimes, also ready food. As a matter of fact, it was a sort of ancestor of the modern bars, small and equipped with a counter with holes in which large terracotta amphorae containing food were fitted.

 

In the south-eastern part of the ancient city stands the Amphitheatre, one of the oldest and best preserved in the world. Built in 70 BC, it is just where of circus games and gladiator fights took place. With a capacity of 20,000 spectators in three tiers, it is the fourth largest in the world, preceded only by the Colosseum, the Amphitheatre of Capua in modern Santa Maria Capua Vetere and  the Tunisian Amphitheatre of El Jem.

 

On the slopes of a hill, using the ridge for the steps, we find the Great Theatre where comedies, mimes, pantomimes and the famous comedies in Oscan language, the Atellane, were performed. Clearly Hellenistic in inspiration, it has a horseshoe shape, departing from the traditional and classical hemicycle. The theatre dates back to the 2nd century BC and could accommodate up to 5000 spectators.

On the other hand, performances of a purely musical nature and poetry recitations were held in the Small Theatre, also called the Odeion. With a semicircular shape inscribed in a square, it had a capacity of about 1300 seats.

 

Like any Roman city, Pompeii also had its baths. For the Romans, the expression "Mens sana in corpore sano" (that is a healthy mind in a healthy body), taken from a verse by the poet Juvenal, reflects the Romans' cult of the body, but above all the close relationship between physical and mental well-being. The baths are a moment of relax from the hardships of the day, a time for socialising and discussing political and city life.  In ancient Pompeii, there were as many as five buildings used as baths: the Stabian Baths, the Forum Baths, the Central Baths, the Suburban Baths and the Sarno Baths, all of which had the typical Calidarium, Tepidarium and Frigidarium.

 

Indeed, one of the major points to see is the Forum, the economic, political and religious centre of the city. It is located at the end of the Via Marina, and consists of a travertine-paved square of about 142 by 38 metres, where justice was administered and markets were held. It was overlooked by the main religious buildings. Three out of four sides of the forum had a portico consisting of a loggia with a double order: Doric on the lower side and Ionic on the upper. The fourth side housed the Temple of Jupiter.

There are also numerous private villas, of which only a few are attributed to the actual owners, while the others were classified and named according to the finds or characteristic frescoes found inside. Among the best-preserved villas are the House of the Faun, the Villa of Julia Felix, the House of Menander (located in the centre of the city) and the Villa of the Mysteries located almost outside the archaeological site. Although it takes about 10 minutes' walk to reach it, it is well worth because there is a fresco that has practically survived intact, depicting the initiation of a woman into the cult of Dionysus.

Finally, one of the most famous buildings in Pompeii is undoubtedly the Lupanare (from the Latin word lupa meaning prostitute). The Lupanari or "brothels" in ancient Rome were places of pleasure where clients found prostitutes, mainly Greek and Oriental slaves, who received between two and eight aces for their performances. The peculiarity of these two-storey buildings was that, unlike the shops, they were very carefully decorated. On the upper floor were the rooms of the owner and the prostitutes, while on the lower floor were the rooms for the activity itself. The rooms, closed by a curtain and equipped with brick platform served as a bed, were arranged along the sides of the corridor and each doorframe bore erotic scenes as if to represent a sort of description of the services offered.

How to Reach Pompeii Archaeological Site from Vico Equense

By train: Circumvesuviana train line from Sorrento to Naples

Frequency: 1 train every 30 minutes 1

Travel time: approx. 19 minutes

Your final stop Pompei Scavi - Villa dei Misteri 

By car:  through Strada Statale 145, Via Sorrentina. About 15 km  and approx. 20 minutes. Tolls are charged on the route. 

By taxi: about 20 minutes, fares: approx. between 19/23 euros.

By bus: about 26 minutes. Line from Sorrento to Naples.  Departure from Corso Filangieri- Next to Circurmvesuviana station. Frequency???? Your final stop is Pompei Scavi

The Herculaneum archaeological site

Just 30 km from Vico Equense, Herculaneum sites is undoubtedly worth a visit. Although mistakenly considered a minor city compared to ancient Pompeii, the ancient Resina still occupies an important place from an urban point of view. If Pompeii was the centre of maritime trade and productive activities, Herculaneum was considered the cultured city of refined and tastefully furnished villas.

In any case, there is a very rich variety of buildings, constructions, statues and objects in a good state of preservation. Unlike Pompeii, the visit to the most representative structures is concentrated in about 2/3 hours. Thanks to the excavations, it was possible to learn about the urban layout, which testifies to its perfect organisation.  The conformation of the city included perpendicular intersections and decumani, streets paved with lava stones, and a very efficient system of water pipes and sewers.

As soon as you get to the entrance of the site, even before you cross the threshold of the ticket office, facing the sea, there is a sort of walkway from where you have an incredible view of the city, with Vesuvius in the background. Entering the city that was destroyed by the eruption of 79 A.D. is an emotion to be experienced. During this dramatic event, all the citizens tried in vain and desperately to escape, being buried under piles of ash. While these incandescent materials caused a tragedy of enormous proportions, they kept the city with its houses, baths and taverns almost unchanged for centuries.

In Herculaneum, we can admire houses in which the original two floors, mosaics and spectacular frescoes that decorated them are still preserved. In the area closest to the sea are the largest and most luxurious residences, including Villa dei Papiri.

Once the visit to the most important part of the city of Herculaneum is over, we reach the lower part, where we come across skeletons. These skeletons are believed to be inhabitants who sought shelter from the ashes of Vesuvius.

Along the way, you will be catapulted into the magical atmosphere of ancient imperial Rome and will be able to admire numerous patrician houses including the House of the Mosaic Atrium, the House of Neptune and Amphitrite and the House of the Skeleton. In addition to the private residences, there are numerous public buildings where normal daily activities took place, including the baths, the theatre, the shops of the ancient marketplace.

How to reach Herculaneum Archaeological Site from Vico Equense

By train: Circumvesuviana direzione Sorrento-Napoli

Frequency: 1 train every 30 minutes

Travel time: approx. 37 minutes

Your final stop Ercolano Scavi (located at Corso Resina)

 

 

By car: through SS145 and A3/E45- Distance 30,5 km in approx. 31 minutes. Tolls are charged on the route.

By taxi: about32  minutes, fares approx. between 30/40 euros. 

By bus: about 48 minutes. Line from Sorrento to Naples-  Departure from Corso Filangieri- Next to Circurmvesuviana station. Frequency???? Your final stop is Ercolano -Corso Resina

The archaeological excavations of Oplontis (Torre Annunziata)

The name "archaeological excavations of Oplontis" indicates a complex of archaeological finds discovered in the suburban Pompeian area of Oplontis, which was swept away and buried together with the cities of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae by the disastrous eruption of 79 AD.

The archaeological site is currently located in the centre of what is now known as Torre Annunziata. As a seaside town, it has always been an attraction, making its beaches and thermal springs a real source of wealth.

Among the main remains of the original structures belonging to the archaeological site, worthy of mention are the Villa of Poppea (built in the 1st century BC), the Villa of Lucius Crassius Tertius (dating back to the 2nd century BC) and the remains of the Baths of Consul Marcus Crassus Frugi (dated 64 AD).

How to reach Oplontis- Torre Annunziata Archaeological Site from Vico Equense

By train: Circumvesuviana train from Sorrento to Naples

Frequency: 1 train every 30 minutes

Travel time: approx. 24 minutes

Your final stop is Torre Annunziata-Oplonti

By car: through  SS145-Distance: 17,2 km in approx.21 minutes. Tolls are charged on the route. 

By bus: about 30 minutes. Line from Sorrento to Naples.  Departure from Corso Filangieri- Next to Circurmvesuviana station. Your final stop is Torre Annunziata -Via Veneto

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