According to the legend, this Greek settlement
was founded by Hercules. Whatever the truth of this,it later passed
to the Samnites before becoming a Roman town in 89 BC. Twelve
kilometres south-east of Napoli, modern Ercolano is a congested,
tangled suburb of the city. Ercolano was previously peaceful fishing
and port town of about 4000 and something of a resort for wealthy
Romans and Campanians.
The fate of the city paralleled that of nearby Pompei. Destroyed
by earthquake in 63 AD, it was completely submerged in the 79
AD eruption of Vesuvio. The difference was that Ercolano was buried
by a river of volcanic mud, not the tufa stone and ash that rained
on Pompei. The mud helped preserve it for posterity. When the
town was rediscovered in 1709, amateur excavations were carried
out intermittently until 1874 and much of the material found was
carted off to Napoli to decorate the houses of the well-to-do
or to end up in museums. Serious archaeological work was began
in 1927 and excavation continues today.
Ercolano’s main street, Via IV Novembre, leads from the
Stazione Circumvesuviana, at the modern town’s eastern edge,
to Piazza Scavi and the main ticket office for the excavations
– an easy walk. There is a tourist office ( 081 788 12 43)
at Via IV Novembre 84, but it has little more to offer than a
brochure with a map of the ruined city.
The site is divide into 11 insulae (islands) carved up in a classic
Roman grid pattern. From the main entrance and ticket office you
follow a path above and around the site, until you arrive at the
entrance to the ruins proper in the south-western corner. To leave
the site, you must go all the way back to the ticket office.
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