Herculaneum (Ercolano to the Italians) is Pompeii’s little brother in terms of size but in many ways better preserved. We visited Herculaneum first and maybe that’s why it was my favourite of the two: more compact, more intimate, fewer no entry signs, few people and no crowds. More peace to soak up the atmosphere and get a sense of what it must have like there a couple of thousand years ago.

In AD79 Ercolano was a thriving Roman resort when Vesuvius began its rumblings. The initial eruption buried the more distant Pompeii in a deep layer of pumice and ash, but spared Herculaneum to the west. By the time the wind changed and brought devastation to Herculaneum, most of the people who could do so had left. Not everyone could or would, however, and some people were still there when a pyroclastic flow ripped through the town, searing everything in 500°C heat. The ash fall here was much deeper, sealing entire buildings underground and preserving them to a remarkable degree.

Some of the original wood of doorways and roof beams can be seen in these photos, petrified in the intense heat. The detail of decoration and painted walls remaining is incredible. Only a fraction of the site has been excavated, the rest of it being covered by the modern town of Ercolano.

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