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.

Mount Vesuvius: Facts About the Famous Volcano

Here are some facts about Mount Vesuvius:

  • Mount Vesuvius is one of the most well known volcanoes in the world. It is located in Italy, on the Gulf of Naples, about 9 miles from the city of Naples.

  • Mount Vesuvius is about 4,190 feet high and measures about 30 miles around its base. Geologists estimate it to be about 17,000 years old.
  • Vesuvius is the only volcano on the European mainland that has erupted during the last century and is still active. It has erupted over 50 times during the last 2,000 years.

Mount Vesuvius

  • The last eruption occurred in 1944, during the height of the Second World War, destroying US bomber planes stationed a few kilometres away. A long period of calm usually means an eruption may happen soon.
  • Over 3 million people live in the immediate area of Mt Vesuvius. More people live dangerously close to it than to any other volcano anywhere in the world.
  • The most famous eruption happened in 79 AD. Mount Vesuvius erupted continuously for almost a day, killing thousands of people and completely burying the nearby city of Pompeii. The town of Herculaneum was also buried.
  • Archaeologists have found many well preserved items in and around Pompeii over the years. They include heating stoves, eye patches, cooking utensils and goblets, as well as the remains of dogs and cats.
  • When the volcano erupted, most people fled to where they felt safe, although they were actually running towards the volcano. The only surviving account of the eruptions are two letters written by Pliny the Younger, a local writer.

Mt Vesuvius

  • The volcano was made a National Park in 1995. Visitors can climb the mountain and walk to within 200 yards of the summit, where sulfuric smoke can be seen coming out of the crater.
  • Mount Vesuvius is actually a volcano within a volcano and is known as a stratovolcano because of its conical shape. The two
    distinct cones are separated by a 3 mile long valley.

What next? Discover more volcano facts or take a look at our resources page on the topic of mountains.