The modern day Herculaneum archaeological site in Ercolano.
REM MALLOY visits Pompeii's forgotten sister. It was a smaller but wealthier town and wasn't buried in hot ashes and lava flows, giving archaeologists a better idea of how its residents lived. For those of you who know history and even if the subject is not your forte, you probably have heard of both Pompeii and Herculaneum. Since that fateful day in 79 A.D. the two cities have been in an eternal battle for the hearts minds and dollars of visitors from around the globe; Herculaneum just dealt the death blow to Pompeii; and the world waits for the bell to ring ending the fight.
The two cities are located in the same area around Naples and are only a few miles apart but they have drastic differences that make each unique; but recently the region of Campania has made changes to Herculaneum that puts it on the top of the ruins to see in Italy.
Let's talk a little history why don't we. First let's talk about the name; Herculaneum is the ancient name and is no longer used except in books and movies. In fact when you are driving on the A3 highway or taking the chercumvisivania (train that runs from Naples to Sorrento with stops along the way) from the Amalfi coast the signs do not say Herculaneum. If you don't know this little titbit of information you will be forever lost trying to find the site. Today the name used in modern Italian is Ercolano. On August 24, 79 AD the eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the town in superheated pyroclastic material.
Pompeii being just that much closer to Mount Vesuvius resulted in a huge amount of damage compared to its sister city just a few miles further away. Throughout history and the expert promotion efforts of the Italian Government and various guide books, TV shows and made for TV movies; Pompeii has risen to the winner's podium in the eyes of the world.
A superbly preserved street in the Roman town of Herculaneum
Herculaneum has always been much better preserved than Pompeii and much smaller but was located tightly in a small neighbourhood and was fraught with difficult access, parking and support by the local community. Pompeii on the other hand established itself as the easiest to visit with dozens of parking lots, cafe's, restaurants, audio guides and an infrastructure that could handle thousands of visitors each day.
When I went to Pompeii for the first time, it was a hot summer and the first thing that blew my mind was the size of the site. Pompeii is huge, I mean city huge. There is no quick visit of Pompeii; in fact it will eat up a travel day in a New York second. The site surprises people from around the globe with a maze of ruins that would take most people a week to see correctly. The majority of the structures that remain are double and single walled compounds without roofs but the structures that are more complete are quite amazing such as the bath house and gladiator arena. Pompeii is so large that you see parts of the city one at a time not just individual buildings. If you have the time, Pompeii is a must but Herculaneum is coming up fast and may pass its competition due to the impressive and grand improvements around the archaeological site.
Less than 20 months ago the town of Eurculaneo decided that the site deserved better; actually they wanted more money from tourist's visits so they made some impressive changes.
Prior to the improvements the access to the site was primitive at best. Tour buses, cars and people had to walk long and hard to enter and ticketing access, information and restrooms were few and far between. The changes made to the flow of people and information is dramatic and places Herculaneum at the top of easy access sites.
The improvements to the area include a new underground parking garage, new bus parking, new wide access entrance area and garden, huge ticketing, information and rest area with ample access to restrooms. Herculaneum is well below ground level by about 200 feet so a very wide and smooth walkway has been built that follows the upper rim of the site and offers a very mild slope to a new bridge that puts you directly at the highest point of the ruins. Prior to the new ramping system, visitors had a gruelling 200 step climb through a tunnel that was formed through the rock that surrounds the site; that tunnel is still open for those who explore to the lowest point of the site and want to depart from there instead of trekking back up to the new bridge.
For visitors with limited mobility or those that don't care to walk far; Ercolano is the only choice. Pompeii is very spread out and requires hours of walking, Herculaneum is much smaller and one can walk from one end to the other in less than 5 minutes. While Pompeii offers a vast arena of archaeological wonders spread over a half mile radius; it can take a time and imagination to put your mind's eye back in time to the golden days of life in the town while Ercolano offers almost a complete town to explore. Instead of seeing many single and double walled ruins you can take your time to go inside houses, meeting rooms, shops, bakeries, town halls and baths and see complete spaces from ancient wall paintings to wood doors as they stood in 79 A.D.
The shear amount of details within the ruins is stunning and will keep even the most restless of the family members happy and eager to explore the ancient past of this great city.
Rem Malloy is owner and President of http://www.italy4real.com a tour operator and custom trip planning company with offices in USA and Italy. Visit the site for information and ideas for planning your own trip to Herculaneum.
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About the Author: Rem is an experienced travel professional with more than 20 years of corporate and independent travel experience. It began with the dream of international travel. The blend of artist, corporate professional, entrepreneur, leader, and visionary were the attributes that mother and son team Rem Malloy and Deborah de Maio combined to create Italy 4 Real, France 4 Real and Brazil 4 Real, all subsidiaries of Travel 4 Real LLc. As co-founder and President of Travel 4 Real, Malloy is responsible for organizing both small group tours and independent travel to Europe and South America. In addition to his travel expertise, Malloy is an accomplished travel photographer. He is also on the faculty of several American educational institutions as an instructor of international travel studies. Rem is also a professional guide; personally escorting clients throughout Europe each year.