Herculaneum: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Herculaneum.

  • Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town located near Naples and Mount Vesuvius in southern Italy. It was named after the Greek hero Hercules and is today a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • The settlement was founded by the Greeks around 600 BC. Because of its strategic location near the Bay of Naples, the town became an important trading centre.
  • The residents of Herculaneum were probably quite wealthy, as shown by the design of the buildings and some of the archaeological discoveries. At its height, around 20,000 people lived in the city.
  • The nearby volcano, Mount Vesuvius, erupted on August 24th, 79 AD. The people of the city did not think the volcano was a serious threat as it had not erupted for about 800 years.
  • When Mount Vesuvius began to erupt, Herculaneum was evacuated. It was long thought that all of the inhabitants managed to escape, but more than 300 bodies have since been discovered huddled together on the beach and in arched buildings (thought to have been boat houses).
  • The people were killed by the intense heat of generated by the volcano’s eruption. The temperatures were so high (approaching 500 degrees C) that the inhabitants of Herculaneum were killed very quickly, even if they were sheltering in buildings.
  • The buildings in Herculaneum were buried from the ground up, by ash and several flows of boiling mud. Many of the upper floors are still intact and have beautiful mosaics and frescoes.
  • The eruptions of Vesuvius were the first to be documented. Pliny the Younger described the eruptions in letters and today, scientists use the word plinian to describe a volcano erupting.
  • Excavations at Herculaneum were first carried out by Spanish archaeologists in 1738. When nearby Pompeii was discovered, the excavations were halted and then began again during the 20th century.
  • Herculaneum had bath houses for men and women, a gymnasium and a temple. Visitors today can even see the remains of an ancient Roman fast food restaurant which used heated bowls.
  • Many of the structures were expensive villas overlooking the waterfront. One of the most luxurious was the Villa of the Papyri, which may have been the home of Julius Caesar‘s father in law.

What next? Find out more facts about the Romans, or learn all about volcanoes.

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