The houses of Herculaneum, an ancient Roman town destroyed in the destruction of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 AD, provide a fascinating glimpse into Roman life. How did such a vibrant town become an ash-choked wilderness? Since time immemorial, what would become known as the Amalfi Coast has been a tourist haven.
In August 79 AD, however, the coast of Italy was on fire. Mount Vesuvius’ famous eruption threw the coast into chaos. Herculaneum’s residents met a variety of horrid fates, and the emotional aftershocks of that eruption still echo in Italy today.
By late August 25th, the former resort town lay motionless under piles of ash and debris. When the debris was cleared away, the result was stunning Herculaneum remained much as it was in 79 AD. Furniture remains; parts of tile floors and wall murals and decor can still be seen, attesting to the decadence of Roman homes. In affect, Herculaneum is a bit like an eerie living history village intentionally preserved to keep the culture of 2,000 years ago alive.
Herculaneum has many houses that will delight Roman history enthusiasts and ancient architecture lovers; the town also provides a great springboard for teaching school-age kids. Here are some places to consider.
House of the Mosaic Atrium. So named for its beautiful interior design, the majority of the house is intact. This is one of many Herculaneum must-sees. In ancient times there was a stunning view of the Bay of Naples; visitors can easily imagine what it must have been like to visit a Roman resort villa.
Trellis House. Herculaneum sports streets that remain much as they were during the ancient Roman Empire; across the cardo (street) from the House of the Mosaic Atrium, visitors will find the Trellis House. It was possibly used as a boarding house when Vesuvius erupted with a vengeance.
House of the Alcove. This is a lovely Roman structure located along one of the main thoroughfares of Herculaneum. Visitors will find remnants of beautiful decorations; it is important to remember that, though the buildings of Herculaneum now sport plain facades, in Roman times they were likely decorated to impress.
House of the Tuscan Colonnade. This impressive home sports some of most enticing ruins of Herculaneum. Walking through the passageways, one might easily imagine themselves in Roman times. Small, forgotten items such as the broken base of a column further the idea of Herculaneum as a romantic ruin.
Villa of the Papyri. One of the most archaeologically-important Roman houses in Herculaneum, the Villa of the Papyri was a huge endeavor that modern visitors can still enjoy, albeit in ruined form. What remains — murals, floor tiles, statuary, etc — will be appreciated by anyone who has a fondness for Roman history.
These are only a few of the houses one will find in Roman Herculaneum. One can also find the House of the Deer, the House of the Double Atrium, and more. It is good to get an idea of which houses are located where before traveling to Herculaneum. If you choose to visit, please show the proper respect. This was the site of tragedy; the violent echoes of Vesuvius still ring.
Herculaneum Itineraries, http://www.pompeiisites.org/Sezione.jsp?titolo=Itineraries&idSezione=1803&idSezioneRif=1772, Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei
Herculaneum, http://www.roman-empire.net/articles/article-011.html, Roman Empire Net