The Buried Town: Herculaneum

Mount Vesuvius had laid dormant for approximately 800 years – because of this the locals no longer even thought of Vesuvius as a volcano.
Then at around 1pm on the 24th August in 79 AD the unthinkable happened. Mount Vesuvius roared to life and over the next couple of days rained ash and fire over the land below and upon the towns in its shadow.

Pliny the Younger left an account of the eruption from his vantage point 19 miles away across the Bay of Naples.

    “Broad sheets of flame were lighting up many parts of Vesuvius; their light and brightness were the more vivid for their darkness of the night…it was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night.”

Pliny the Younger really describes a vivid scene in his account and it’s not hard to imagine how terrifying this disaster would have been to witness.

Mount Vesuvius

The most famous of the towns to be caught up in the eruption is Pompeii. A lot has been documented about Pompeii in both non-fiction and even in fiction; there was a Doctor Who episode set here and very recently a feature film was released which was praised for its historical accuracy.

But 4.5 miles to the North West lies the buried seaside town of Herculaneum, Pompeii’s ‘little sister’. Much of Herculaneum (estimated at around 75%) still remains buried to this day and would be hard to excavate. This is because the modern day town of Ercolano has been built upon the ruins and anything that is exposed is buried beneath 60ft of rock hard volcanic mud and ash.

You may have read our recent article about Pompeii, which is a popular destination due to its larger scale and higher profile. However a visit to Herculaneum is often preferred by both pupils and teachers alike because, whilst smaller, it is a lot better preserved.

The reason for this is because, unlike Pompeii’s destruction which was drawn out, Herculaneum’s was swift and sudden. Pyroclastic surges (the effects of Vesuvius’ eruption column collapsing under its own weight causing hot gases and ash to race down towards the town at 68mph burning as hot as 500 degrees Celcius) caused the carbonisation of a lot of items in the town, from a wooden screen to pieces of food. It was this carbonisation that protected the rest of the item from the heat, leaving it to be discovered years later. That is why this well preserved town is a must see destination on your educational visit to the Bay of Naples.

Old Harbour Herculaneum

On your visit to Herculaneum, pupils can discuss the impact of the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and compare this to the impact on Pompeii. Pupils can also perform a settlement study, looking at the land use of the city before the eruption, and also a study of the impact of tourism on the area - is there a conflict between the conservation of the site and the financial benefit of tourism to the area?

When you book your tour to the Bay of Naples with us, you have the option to add a specialist NST Field Studies Guides.

Your guide will be with you throughout your trip, and they don’t just know information about the sites you will visit, including Herculaneum, but they also know how this ties back into the curriculum meaning they can help your group get the most out of the trip.

If we’ve inspired you to take your pupils to see the wonders of the Bay of Naples, including visits to Mount Vesuvius, Pompeii & Herculaneum, make an enquiry:


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