The archaeological site of Herculaneum ★★

The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Adam Burt)

The remarkably preserved ruins of an ancient Roman ghost town

The archaeological site is considerably smaller than that of PompeiiHerculaneum was around 1/3 the size, with about 5,000 inhabitants to Pompeii's 20,000—but the houses belonged to the wealthy and were much more elaborate, extensive and sumptuously decorated—and rather more intact. 

Many still have their second stories and preserve floor mosaics, wall frescoes, ceiling stuccoes, and even wooden furnishings. Plenty of plebeian houses are mixed in as well, along with shops like the bakery with its stone grain grinders set up in the backyard.

Be sure you hit the House of the Mosaic Atrium, with an undulating checkerboard mosaic on the floor of the atrium and mythological scenes frescoed in rooms overlooking the garden.

The House of Latticework is the best example of a much cheaper, lower-class form of Roman building—this may have been a military barracks—using wooden laths filled in with tufa stones and plaster.

The House of the Wooden Partition next door has scattered wall frescoes and a huge wooden double door preserved when it was instantly carbonized by the hot gasses (now protected by glass). The ground floor of this building contained shops, and the one at the corner (no. 10) preserves a wooden clothes press.

The Thermae (baths) are in pretty good shape, giving you an idea of the typical ancient Roman citizen experience at these public baths. After a workout in the palestra (gym), you'd continue on to the men's or women's section to dip first in the calidarium (hot tub), then the tepidarium (full of warm water), and finally into the frigidarium (a cold pool to close those pores). Many domed ceilings and stuccoes survive throughout, plus some appropriately aqueous floors mosaics of Neptune and dolphins.

The House of the Carbonized Furniture contains what it promises (an end table and a sofa). Wooden furnishings and partitions also survive in the House of the Neptune next door, along with a lovely polychrome wall mosaic of the sea god posing with Amphitrite.

One of the most famous villas here is the grandiose House of the Stags, named for the two marble stags being swarmed by hunting dogs in one room. This house has it all: frescoes, bits of colorful, intricate mosaics, and two more marble statues—a satyr hauling a wineskin on its shoulder and a seriously inebriated Hercules in the process of relieving himself.

 
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Photo gallery
  • , The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Adam Burt)
  • Frescoes in the Collegio degli Augustali, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Andrea Schaffer)
  • Statues of deer attacked by dogs in the garden of the Casa dei Cervi, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Ross601)
  • The preserved wooden screen of doors in the Casa del Tramezzo di Legno, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Mentnafunangann)
  • Mosaic in the Women
  • The bodies of those who sheltered in the boathouses, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Andrea Schaffer)
  • Wine selling advertisement and prices, "Ad Cucumas" shop, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Jebulon)
  • A bar in the Grande Taberna, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by sébastien amiet;l)
  • Cardo V, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Mentnafunangann)
  • Casa a Graticcio, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Mentnafunangann)
  • Black frescoed room in the Casa del Salone Nero, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Mentnafunangann)
  • Floor mosaics in the Casa dell
  • Preserved wooden stairs at the Casa della Stoffa, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Mentnafunangann)
  • Mosaics at the Casa dello Scheletro, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Mentnafunangann)
  • Mosaicked lararium in the Casa dello Scheletro, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Trapezaki)
  • Frescoes in the Casa del Colonnato Tuscanico, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by sébastien amiet;l)
  • The Casa del Rilievo di Telefo, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • Sign outside the Casa del Telaio, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup)
  • The Casa del Tramezzo di Legno, with a preserved wooden screen of doors, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Andrea Schaffer)
  • Portal column capitol on the Casa del Gran Portale (Ins. V), The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup)
  • Frescoes in the vestibule of the Casa del Gran Portale (Ins. V), The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup)
  • Casa di Nettuno ed Anfitrite (Ins. V) - lower floor wine shop. The fittings, including the amphorae and wooden shelving for their storage, are still intact., The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Dave & Margie Hill / Kleerup)
  • A wine shop attached to the House of Neptune and Amphitrite. This is one of the best preserved shops in Herculaneum. It has many amphorae and carbonized wood from what was once balustrades and partitions., The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Amphipolis)
  • Mosaics in the Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)
  • Mosaic in the Casa di Nettuno e Anfitrite, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Trapezaki)
  • Triton mosaic in the Men
  • Millstones behind a bakery, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Aldo Ardetti)
  • , The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Kris Griffiths)
  • The Palestra, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Carole Raddato)
  • Pistrinum, Caupona, Ins. Or. 9, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Mentnafunangann)
  • Reliefs in the Sacello dei Quattro Dei, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Poiesia)
  • The Forum, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Carole Raddato)
  • The Men
  • The Women
  • Floor mosaic in the Women
  • Balbo Herculano, on the Terrazza di Marco Nonio Balbo, The archaeological site of Herculaneum, Italy (Photo by Mentnafunangann)
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Tips

Free or reduced admission with a sightseeing card

Get into The archaeological site of Herculaneum for free (and skip the line at the ticket booth) with:

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Bring bottled water, a hat with a brim, and sunblock

Though not quite as bad as at Pompeii, it's hard to escape the baking sun in this open site, and there is dust everywhere.

Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
     
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
     
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
     
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
     
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
     
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
     
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
     
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
     
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah


* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).