Friday, May 15, 2009

Herculaneum: A Self-Guided Tour

Bird's Eye View Of Herculaneum

Herculaneum, as the myth goes, was founded by Hercules. The town does have Greek origins, the city having come into existence sometime in the 6th century B.C. The Romans had conquered Herculaneum by 89 B.C. and soon the city became a high-class resort, which included many patrician residences. The eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, however, plunged the city into a huge river of boiling mud and debris ten meters deep. The population probably had time to escape to the sea, but they were forced back to the shore by a violent tidal wave, as evidenced by the human remains found lying next to boats.

In 1709 Austrian Prince d'Elboeuf discovered part of Herculaneum's theater and in 1738 the "Villa of Papyri" -- an area still not open to the public -- was found with a library consisting of 2,000 papyrus scrolls. Today, the scrolls are housed in the Naples National Library located downtown and the National Archeological Museum preserves the other treasures found in the Villa.

After leaving the ticket office, a long bridge curves above the entire city, giving a bird's eye view of its streets and buildings. What makes Herculaneum so unique is that these well-preserved structures include wood materials that normally would have decayed if the city hadn't been covered by volcanic ash.

What to see:

Wandering over the bridge, you then walk up a long street straight ahead.  Take a right turn at the very end and you come to the Welder's Shop with terracotta vases. Next to this house is a preserved lead pipe -- evidence that the city once had a highly developed plumbing system.

Preserved Lead Pipe

Take a right down down another street and you immediately come to the House of Nero's Living Room. This villa shows the opulence and grandeur though its large atrium and faded frescoes.

A little further down along this road also is the most impressive sight of the entire site -- the House of the Neptune and Amphitrite Mosaic. This wall mosaic located in the summer dining room shines with vibrant colors.

Neptune and Amphitrite Mosaic

More of the Neptune and Amphitrite Mosaic

Further along the same street the Trellis House, which still has the original wood and reed laths. This used to be a lower class multi-family dwelling.

Trellis House

Go down to the end of this street and turn left.  Turn left once more.  You enter the impressive House of the Stags that contains sculptures of stags inside. This villa once had a view to the sea.

House of the Stags

Leave the villa and turn left up the street to the Gymnasium. To your right is a vast area that was once dedicated to sporting activities.  A tunnel inside the gymnasium was once the entrance to the indoor pool. Now, a large hydra replica adorns the hollow space.

Hydra in Indoor Pool

Return back toward the House of the Stags and follow the stairs until you reach the Ancient Beach where archeologists found more than 300 skeletons of people trying to escape in boats. They also uncovered a nine-meter long ship.

The Port

A bridge passes from the port to a tunnel where stairs take you back to the entrance. You pass a house that has an exhibition re-creating what Roman ships looked like.

Here are some other gems you can find along the tour:

Road With Water Fountain At End

Water fountains exist on many blocks

Theater Mask

Across street from Villa of the Stags, this marble picture depicts a surgery

Getting There: Herculaneum sits on top of the present day city of Ercolano. It's fairly simple to get there and taking the autostrada is a welcome break from the bumper to hood traffic of downtown Naples. A map is provided in .pdf file at

La Cucina Napoletana: Several other toppings also make pizza quintessentially Neapolitan. In the last post, I included a recipe for making pizza dough. Here I only add the regional toppings common on most restaurant menus. From the book Cucina Napoletano by Roberta Avallone:

Pizza with Fresh Anchovies
Clean the anchovies, de-bone, cut off the head, and rinse under running water.
Drain the filets in a strainer and pat dry.
Spread the anchovies on the pizza dough.
Peel 2 cloves of garlic and slice very thin, then sprinkle around the pizza.
Douse a bit of olive oil on the top.
Season with salt and pepper.
Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes.

Sailor's Pizza
Clean 1/4 cup clams and 1/4 cup mussels.
In two separate pans, heat a little olive oil and thin sheets of garlic (1-2 cloves), then add the clams or mussels and cover until they open. Next, de-shell.
Fry 2/3 cup shrimps quickly in a pan.
Boil 2/3 cup calamari and then cut into strips.
Flavor about 1 cup of tomato sauce with crushed garlic and parsley.
Spread the tomato sauce on the dough, then add the clams, mussels, shrimps, and calamari all around.
Sprinkle parsley on top.
Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit or as high as you can for about 10 minutes or until ready.

Four Seasons Pizza
Make indentations into the pizza dough with a knife to make four sections.
Ladle tomato sauce on the whole pie.
Spread diced mozzarella cubes on one of the four sections.
Spread artichoke hearts in oil onto another section.
Spread green olives onto the third section.
Spread anchovies onto the fourth section.
Bake at 450 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes.

And remember -- Neapolitans make pizza with a thin crust. Spread the toppings only in small portions; don't heap them on the pizza. Unless it's a snack on the street, usually a whole pie is eaten by one person using a fork and knife.

Buon Appetito!


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that I never thought I would like anchovies until I tried the fresh ones. Yum! You've put up some great recipes!

Barbara Zaragoza said...

I definitely agree! Anchovies just taste different here. I'm not sure I'd be as open to eating them anywhere else in the world. But in Naples, they are divine. :)