Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum

Vesuvius is the only active volcano in continental Europe and the most studied by researchers. It is an enclosure volcano, consisting of a truncated outer cone, Monte Somma, which surrounds a smaller cone, Vesuvius, 1,281 metres high.
When you reach the highest part of the crater, you will enjoy a 360° panorama of the entire volcanic system. To the east, you can see as far as the Molise-Abruzzo Apennines, while to the west, you can see as far as the sea and the beautiful islands of Capri and Ischia, with a fantastic overview of the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The hike to the Crater, with a difference in height of about 140 metres, is suitable for everyone: children, elderly people, disabled people. It is not recommended for people with serious respiratory or cardiovascular problems.
As with trekking in general, it is advisable to wear suitable shoes as the ground is very slippery. It is also possible for disabled people in wheelchairs to visit Vesuvius, although it will be a bit more effort for the guide, but it will be worth it!
Reaching the summit you can observe various fumaroles, constantly monitored by the Vesuvius Observatory, the oldest volcanological observatory in the world, founded by the King of the Two Sicilies Ferdinand II of Bourbon.
Finally, the famous mouth of a volcano burning in an area where heat is the main component of a territory, its traditions and its beauty, will be waiting for you.

The excavations of Pompeii are a chilling reminder of the lifestyle of the city at the time, seemingly peacefully asleep beneath the volcanic dust.
Pompeii was one of the largest and most splendid cities of Roman times, as evidenced by the evidence that continues to emerge from the earth. The great production and export of oils and wines made Pompeii a very rich city, which became a tourist destination for Roman patricians when the city was absorbed by the expansion of the future capital of Italy.

Entering from Via Marina one comes across the ancient Foro of Pompeii within the archaeological excavations.
It was the economic, political and religious centre of the city, the place where public debates and religious events took place: it was the true heart of the city. During the second century B.C. the Pompeians decided to give the Forum a structure more in keeping with the office it held.

The area was enlarged, roofs were built for the shops, porticoes were erected to protect the promenade from the rain and important public buildings were constructed along the sides of the square.
The traditional tufa paving was replaced by travertine, which is still widely used today, and the square was enriched with numerous workshops and public buildings.
In the centre stands the Temple of Apollo, one of the oldest buildings of worship in Pompeii. Several deities were worshipped here, including Apollo and Mercury. The statuettes found are in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.

Not far from the forum, in Via della Fortuna, is the “House of the Faun”, one of the oldest and most majestic houses in the city.
Its grandeur suggests that it belonged to a prominent member of the Roman nobility. It owes its name to the Faun, the Roman deity of the woods and nature; his small bronze statue stands in the atrium in the centre of the impluvium.

The structure is surrounded by large gardens: a sort of modern residence, inside which there was also a kind of shopping centre. The structure, in fact, consists of two large communicating areas, each with its own entrance, linked by a series of shops rented out to shopkeepers.
The structure was built using very modern construction techniques: lead plates were installed under the plaster of the walls to protect the environment from humidity.
The floors are covered with mosaics while the decorations date back to the first Pompeian style.
The centre of the house was adorned with a mosaic depicting the victory of Alexander the Great over Darius, King of Persia, which is currently on display in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.
It has not been possible to determine the identity of the owner of the building from the finds, but it is thought that the villa belonged to the nephew of the tyrant Sulla.

The Villa of the Mysteries is one of the most visited sites in Pompeii, especially for the series of frescoes showing the Dionysian mysteries whose real meaning is still unknown (hence its name).
It has over seventy finely decorated and frescoed rooms, many of which were used for dinners and social events. The building is located slightly outside the ancient city walls, but if you love mystery and are eager to push the boundaries of the known, this is the place for you.

Again, it is not possible to ascertain who owned the large building, but some findings suggest that the owners must have been wealthy Roman patricians.
Some claim that the villa belonged to Livia, the wife of Emperor Augustus, whose statue has been found in the ruins.
The main currents of thought agree that the frescoes depict a young woman being initiated into a cult: some say it is a Dionysian rite, others believe the woman is being prepared for marriage.
Also in the Villa of the Mysteries, the bodies of people who were carrying out normal daily activities were found when they were swept away by the impetuosity of Vesuvius’ lava.

The Amphitheatre is the oldest stone building ever discovered, dating back to 80 BC (the first Amphitheatre in Rome, the one of Statilius Taurus, was built in 29 BC), it was the scene of bloody battles between gladiators and has a capacity of 20,000 spectators, you can easily reach it from the Forum by taking Via dell’Abbondanza. The arena was accessed through a gallery, the crypt is connected to four entrances.

Unlike the other Roman amphitheatres, the Pompeian one has no underground, in the upper part you can see some holes used to support the roof of the arena in order to protect the spectators from both the hot sun and the rain.
The tiers of seats in the Amphitheatre of Pompeii’s archaeological excavations were divided into three orders, one of which was undoubtedly reserved for women.
If you have the chance to stay until sunset, Via dell’abbondanza is a truly surreal setting for a walk. You will have the sensation of being suspended in time between dream and reality.

Not only excavations: the history of the Sanctuary of Pompeii is the story of a dream that involved thousands of believers. Bartolo Longo undertook to raise funds for the construction of the Basilica, which was built thanks to donations from all over the world.
Today the Basilica has the appearance conceived by the architect priest Monsignor Spirito Maria Chiapetta, with three naves. The two smaller ones have three altars on each side, and are joined behind the apse, where there are four semicircular chapels.

Despite the work, on 8 May and the first Sunday in October, the days when the Supplication to Our Lady of Pompeii takes place, the Basilica cannot contain the pilgrims who come from all over the world to attend this important prayer, which is broadcast on radios and televisions all over the world.

Herculaneum‘s fame is overshadowed by the much more famous Pompeii, but it is no less fascinating: this ancient town on the slopes of Vesuvius is certainly one of Italy’s most beautiful archaeological sites,
As with Pompeii, it was the violent eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD that buried Herculaneum under a blanket of ash and mud.

It was not until the 18th century that excavations uncovered a number of artefacts, revealing the existence of a hidden treasure: marble, bronze, buildings and objects that time had concealed, and which now re-emerged into the world.
Herculanum was devastated almost twelve hours later than Pompeii and covered by a layer of lava over 18 metres high, and therefore, compared to the archaeological excavations at Pompeii, those at Herculaneum have fewer human remains (a sign that a large part of the local population had time to take refuge elsewhere) but contain a great variety of buildings, statues and objects whose state of preservation is incredibly good.

The House of the Skeleton is a typical Roman house with mosaic floors, corridors, a grotto and a triclinium: it owes its name to the discovery of the skeleton (the first one found in the city) of an unfortunate inhabitant of Herculaneum who was unable to save himself.
Unfortunately, the house suffered the stripping of the marble floor of the atrium during the Bourbon excavations, but despite this it still has much to show.

The domus is a combination of two or perhaps three smaller houses with several very sumptuous rooms, including the ballroom, where you can still see frescoes in the fourth style.
Of the two original floors only the ground floor has been preserved.
Very beautiful are the lararium decorated with mosaics and the triclinium with decorations in red and orange panels that tend to reproduce architectural elements.
Among the various rooms, two cubicles stand out, one decorated in the third style with black wainscoting and a red middle section, with a raised floor area, while the other is also decorated in the third style, with different shades of black.

The Herculaneum Theatre, recently reopened to the public, was built in an area near the forum during the first phase of the Augustan age, at the behest of the duumvir Annius Mammianus Rufus, and designed by the architect P. Numisius. It could hold about two thousand five hundred people and comedies and satires were performed inside.
The visit takes place through a series of flights of stairs and tunnels that allow you to see parts of the building, descending more than 20 metres below the lava that covers it, until you reach the orchestra floor, paved in white marble.

The route is not suitable for claustrophobic people or those with walking difficulties and is reserved exclusively for people of age: due to the shape of the route, it is only possible to carry small bags.Due to the considerable difference in temperature along the route, it is advisable to wear closed, waterproof shoes and comfortable sweaters or jackets.
It is built entirely of opus reticulatum and cement, except for the stage and the external façade in brickwork, and is supported by seven radials joined by vaults; the cavea has a diameter that varies from fifty-four to forty-one metres and the flooring is in lavapesta and cocciopesto.
The external façade has two orders of round arches, for a total of seventeen arches per floor.
The orchestra has a semicircular shape and was paved with slabs of white and ancient yellow marble, of which few traces remain.
The stage is made of brickwork and is divided into two levels with a large exedra in the middle with the royal door and two hospitales doors at the sides; it was entirely covered with marble and there were columns of red, antique yellow, cipolin, alabaster and African marble.
Behind the stage runs a long corridor of about seven metres, with brick columns in white stucco, which was used by the spectators during the intervals of the performance. No human remains have been found inside the theatre, except for some bones near a staircase in the middle cavea, possibly belonging to a Bourbon worker.

In ancient Roman cities, the baths were one of the most frequented places by both the elite and the middle class of the population. At Herculaneum, three large bath buildings have been brought to light. The first, known as the Central Baths, had a men’s and women’s section and still show a well-preserved succession of thermal rooms and their decoration. The state of preservation of the Suburban Baths, near the city’s coastline, is also exceptional, with its striking entrance hall and the interesting and innovative water heating system with a bronze boiler in the centre of the pool. The same system was also used in the third bath building at Herculaneum.
The suburban baths of Herculaneum are one of the best preserved bath buildings in Herculaneum.
It could be accessed either from the sacred area or from the sea. The structure is relatively small, so that access for both sexes took place at different times.
The thermal complex was located at a lower level than the city’s ground level and for this reason the rooms were illuminated by openings in the ceiling giving them a suggestive appearance.

The Gymnasium is characterised by a large garden planted with trees with a swimming pool in the centre with four arms forming a cross. On three sides it is bordered by porticoes with columns, while to the north, a vaulted corridor supports a terrace onto which a series of rooms open. Only a part of this important building was brought to light during the open-air excavations. It was probably a multifunctional structure, based on the model of the Greek gymnasium, capable of housing the headquarters of sports and religious associations and guilds, as well as some large rooms dedicated to worship. On the façade facing the street there were workshops and rented shops.

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