Roaming the streets of ancient Herculaneum means to take a trip into the past. Every corner has its own fascinating bit of history and culture, which are easily traceable from the well preserved houses and their gardens, which were recreated exactly as they were before the cataclysm of the year 79.
Crossing a high bridge and entering the town, the bastion used by the army, is still visible to the left. To the right, a huge mansion made the archaeologists think that this was a hotel. Its garden must have been so fragrant and so well looking. In fact, it had been planted with pomegranate and quince trees, among which beautiful scented roses were flowering into the sun. A street is leading to the centre of the town and towards the volcano. It is flanked by the remains of many elegant mansions and shops. A hotel is in sight close to the man section of the thermal bath and its gym. To the left, a private basilica which was enriched with the statues of the most important emperors, is still beneath a thick layer of solid volcanic material. At the end of the road, just before entering the forum, which is still hidden under a huge amount of pyroclastic material, there is, to the right, the famous Collegium of the Augustales, a collegial shrine where the Roman priests (called Augustals) attended to the religious rites connected with the worship of the Emperor Augustus and the Julia gens. This large hall is decorated by frescoes portraying the mytholigical founder of the town: Hercules. Exiting this suggestive building, an arch decorated by stucco reliefs will introduce the forum area which was facing the decumanus, the most important street in the city. This is a marvellous street, bordered by imposing architectures. Here, well-preserved carbonized wood is astonishingly conspicuous: shelves, roofs, doors, windows are all clearly detectable. The shops are still decorated with frescoes and the wooden shelves are still hanging from the walls. Limestone drinking fountais, decorated with sculptures representing Gods, are located at each crossing. The decumanus was probably the location where a daily market was held, and many shops were allineated along the road. A few impressive dwellings were facing it. One of them would go down in history as many crucial wax tablets were found in a box inside one of its rooms. They were reproducing the important court case relative to Petronia Justa, a complicated process of the Roman time to determine whether she was a slave or a free person. Going down the forth street, called cardo, the gorgeous, marble embellished women section of the thermal bath is placed to the right, soon after the house of the Black Hall, considered one of the most beautiful homes in Herculaneum. To the left, a series of stunning marble mosaics are visible into the houses facing the road. Here there is one of the most amazing shops where terracotta amphoras are kept inside the original wooden shelves which are still hanging from the wall. Entering the apartment to the left, the eye is captured by a marvellous wall mosaic representing Amphitrite and Neptune.
Continuing along the road the Samnite House to the left is worth a visit. Passed the intersection, another dwelling to the right is characterized by a wooden partition which was used to give some privacy to the owner’s office. Pristine mosaics and frescoes clearly show the importance of the family living here. Close to this building, an ironing wooden press, still untouched, gives us an idea of how laundries were organized two thousand years ago. Returning to the crossing with the Decumanus inferior, which ends right in front of the Palestra (the gym), the small reliefs of winged Victories are traceable to the left. Reaching the next crossroad and turning to the left, a few shops, among which a laundry and a bakery, are aligned to the right. After the visit of the gym, returning to the intersection and continuing along the 5th cardo, it is possible to visit the most impressive Herculanean dwellings: the house of the deers to the right and the Telefo’s house to the left. Heading down towards the sea, the steep road leads towards the terrace of the cenotaph, to the left, and the temples, which are aligned to the right, and are overlooking the ancient marina.
The underneath beach was the place where in 1981 a wooden Roman boat was uncovered, and recently, in 2010 an entire timber roof was discovered together with the set of the wooden panels which decorated it. It probably belonged to the House of the Relief of Telefus fronting the bay. Returning to the main road which takes towards the exit and turning back, it is possible to see, at a distance, the location of the spectaular villa of the Papyri from which a library full of bookcases with carbonised papyri scrolls was found. Unfortunately the villa is still under 25 meters of volcanic material that hopefully will be removed in the near future so to open, to the public, this area too.
For a walking tour of the ancient town, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org