Luca’s humour and enthusiasm for all things archaeological was like a glass of the best prosecco you have ever tasted compared to some of the earlier tour guides who were more like the dregs from the previous night’s bottle of Mongolian Red! He was also capable of walking and talking at the same time, so in just two hours we were able to cover every inch of Herculaneum on the coast of Naples as we were told about the sex life of Rectina, the “friend” of Pliny the Elder, The Roman Military Governor of the area at the time and how she may have escaped the Vesuvius eruption of 79 AD; about the toilet habits and sewage system of the city inhabitants; and lastly about the gory details of how the citizens died instantly as hot air/steam at 750 degrees engulfed them and stripped their skeletons to be left in the small rooms where many were cowering together.
Herculaneum is a much smaller site than Pompeii and better preserved with mosaics and frescos still to be seen inside villas and public buildings, wine amphora and their burnt carbonised racks inside storage rooms, and doors, window frames and beams all carbonised and still in situ. The volcanic material and extreme wave of hot air effectively froze the city in time, and as Luca said, what we are seeing is like a time capsule completely undisturbed since the moment of burial.
Herculaneum is only a 20 min coach ride from the port of Naples and then a very short walk to the ticket office and entry to the upper level of the city which seems to be in three levels. The lowest level is at sea level, but strangely has a cliff face rising up in front of it so you cannot see the bay! This is where the sewage system ran into the sea and where most skeletons are to be seen inside small boat houses or workshops. The middle level is mostly public buildings such as bath houses, with the upper level comprising villas and large houses of the wealthiest. This is another difference from Pompeii with Herculaneum being a resort for the rich with immediate access to the sea.
In summary Herculaneum is a “must see” destination, a wonderful peek into the ancient world of Rome which is small enough to walk around completely in less than two hours. See if you can find Luca!