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  Herculaneum/naples
21 sept. 

we are up early and decide to brave the autrostrada again.  with a staggering number of helpful signs everywhere, we end up in a narrow little road that unbelievably takes us directly to Herculaneum. so overwhelmed by the numbing lack of traffic, absence of tourists or their stupid buses and the ability to park absolutely anywhere, we freak and drive a kilometre away and leave the beast on the sidewalk with the hood up. there is only a slim chance it will still be there when we get back, but if we drink enuf, it probably won't matter.  

Plan of the excavations of HerculaneumHerculaneum now found under the charming Naples suburb of Ercolano, was an ancient Roman town destroyed, along with Pompeii, in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius beginning on the afternoon of August 24, AD 79.  During the night, the column of volcanic debris which had risen into the stratosphere, began falling back down onto Vesuvius. A pyroclastic flow formed that sent a mixture of 400C (750F) gas, ash, and rock racing down toward Herculaneum at 100 mph. At about 1 AM it reached the boat houses where its intense heat killed the inhabitants within seconds. This flow and several following did little damage to the structures, instead slowly filling the structures from the bottom up.

The amazingly good state of preservation of the structures and their contents was due to three factors: by the time the wind changed and ash began to fall on Herculaneum, the structures were already filled up and the roofs did not collapse; the intense heat of the first pyroclastic flow carbonized the surface of organic materials and extracted the water from them; and the deep (up to 25 meters), dense tuff formed an airtight seal over Herculaneum for 1700 years.

After the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, the town of Herculaneum was buried under 50-60 feet (approx. 20 metres) of lava, mud and ash. It laid hidden and nearly intact for more than 1600 years until it was accidentally discovered by some workers digging a well in 1709.  However, once the nearby town of Pompeii was discovered, which was significantly easier to excavate due to the reduced amount of debris covering the site (four metres as opposed to Herculaneum's twenty metres), digging stopped. In the twentieth century, however, excavation once again resumed in the town. However, many public and private buildings, including the forum complex, are yet to be excavated

It was long thought that nearly all of the inhabitants managed to escape because initial excavations revealed only a few skeletons. It wasn't until 1982 when the excavations reached boat houses on the beach area that this view changed. In 12 boat houses archaeologists discovered 250 skeletons huddled close together, of varied age, sex, and class. The skeletons were preserved on the seafront, where people had fled in an attempt to escape the volcanic disaster, including the 'ring lady' who gives her name to the house where she was found. 

The volcanic mud, ash and debris covering Herculaneum, along with the extreme heat, left it in a remarkable state of preservation for over 1500 years. However, once excavations began, exposure to the elements began the slow process of deterioration. This was not helped by the methods of archaeology used earlier in the town's excavation, which generally centered around recovering valuable artefacts rather than ensuring the survival of all artefacts. The carbonised remains of organic materials, when exposed to the air, deteriorated over a matter of days, and destroyed many of the remains until a way of preserving them was formed. Today, tourism and vandalism (huh?) has damaged many of the areas open to the public, and water damage coming from the modern Ercolano has undermined many of the foundations of the buildings. Reconstruction efforts have often proved counterproductive, however in modern times conservation efforts have been more successful. Today excavations have been temporarily discontinued, in order to direct all funding to help save the city....sure. that is why the place is covered with places to put garbage ( here in canada we call them 'waste receptacles'), the odd security guard ie to protect all of that ancient graffiti, blah blah blah.

 

click on a picture to see a larger image. hit arrows at either end of the slideshow for more pictures.

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we are about 1 km from herculaneum. we 'leave' the car on the sidewalk. l pray that at least some of it is left there when we get back

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