Herculaneum and Pompeii – An Unrelated Tale of Two Cities
The twin cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii were famously destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79. Sumptuous villas, bustling markets and majestic temples were buried underneath lava and ash, and these cities remain an important archaeological site to this day. Despite their shared fate, the two cities are physically and historically distinct; this article takes a closer look at the differences between these two sites, with a focus on one particular area – their proximity.
We know that Pompeii is significantly larger than Herculaneum, but how far apart are they really? According to archaeological records, the two cities were around 18km apart, with Herculaneum situated on the southwest coast and Pompeii located nearby but further inland. This explains why the former was buried in irritatingly thick and solidified mud flows – as Vesuvius erupted, Herculaneum was in the direct line of fire.
The destruction of Herculaneum has been credited with providing insight into the everyday lives of Roman people. Unless there is evidence to suggest they were recovered in Pompeii, most of the organic materials found in the city come from organic materials that have not been preserved elsewhere elsewhere.
However, despite their differences in size and destruction, the two cities do in fact have much in common. For example, both were colonised by the Greeks and remained loyal to the Roman Empire until their destruction. They were also the focus of wealthy and luxurious upper-class society, and thus boast expansive and grandiose villas in the hills and along the coast. With some of the former occupants’ belongings being amazingly well-preserved for thousands of years, the archaeological visitor can infer a great deal about the lifestyles of the aristocracy from these ruins.
As far as we can tell, when the eruption happened Herculaneum was relatively untouched – archaeological evidence suggests that the destruction of the city was swift and deadly. This is why the town is unique and fascinating to explore, as the mud that was hurled from Vesuvius encased the walls, preserving them and ultimately the city itself.
Today, the ghostly beauty of Herculaneum continues to attract tourists and archaeologists who are keen to explore the remains of a city frozen in time. The city’s proximity to Pompeii helps to increase the appeal – many visitors take the time to visit both sites in one day. What’s more, the story of Herculaneum and Pompeii translates to modern day, and is widely discussed in the media; this, along with the two sites’ distinct histories, provides a wealth of interesting topics to explore.
The Fate of Each City
The two cities experienced very different fates at the hands of Vesuvius. The majority of Pompeii remained standing, meaning that many of its inhabitants were killed instantly by falling ash and rock. In Herculaneum, the damage was much more severe; the city was buried under dense mud flows, leaving little of its former glory intact.
Though the devastation caused by the eruption of Vesuvius was more pronounced in Herculaneum than in Pompeii, it is worth noting that the neighbouring city suffered greater destruction at the time. This is emphasized by the fact that while most of the town of Herculaneum remained intact, much of what is left of Pompeii is due to years of further destruction resulting from other natural disasters, such as earthquakes.
The dramatic differences in the fate of each city can be put down to geography. Herculaneum was situated directly under the eruption, meaning that its fate was sealed. On the other hand, Pompeii was lighter in comparison, meaning that much of the city was unable to withstand the force of the eruption.
The two cities share many similarities when it comes to the long-term effects of their destruction. Today, both cities are popular tourist attractions, attracting millions of visitors each year. The ruins in Herculaneum and Pompeii are both considered to be amongst some of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
The excavation of each city has also provided valuable insight into the everyday lives of the Roman Empire. Though many of the artefacts found in Herculaneum, such as jewellery, have not survived over the centuries, items such as pottery and coins have been recovered intact. From these items, we can infer a great deal about the lifestyle of the people in the area.
The ruins of both sites have also been used to recreate the cities in their entirety. Today, digital reconstructions of Pompeii and Herculaneum are available for viewing, giving visitors a glimpse into the past. This is especially important for Herculaneum, as a great deal of the city has yet to be excavated.
Pompeii and Herculaneum Today
Though these two cities were destroyed many centuries ago, today they continue to stand side by side – albeit in a very different way. The modern city of Pompeii has been built around the site of its ancient namesake and is now home to a bustling population. Herculaneum, on the other hand, remains relatively untouched, allowing visitors to explore the ruins with greater ease.
Over the years, effort has been put into conserving the ruins in both cities. The ruins of Herculaneum are the most affected by the elements and are in need of constant repair and restoration. At the same time, Pompeii is continuing to experience ongoing archaeological exploration, with new discoveries being made almost every year. Today, both cities are well-preserved and their historical significance is continuing to be recognized around the world.
The Pompeii Forum Project
Since its discovery in the 16th century, the ruins of Pompeii have been the subject of intense archaeological research. One of the most ambitious projects to take place in the city is The Pompeii Forum Project, which began in 1994 and is ongoing to this day. This project has seen the restoration of the Roman Forum, the main square of the ancient city, and the making of new infrastructure such as roads, drainage systems and monuments.
The project has gained a great deal of attention around the world and is admired for its successful integration of the ancient remains of Pompeii with modern-day infrastructure. It has also been praised for its efforts to protect the remains of the city from any further damage.
The project is overseen by the Archaeological Superintendence of Pompeii, an organization that is also responsible for researching and protecting the ruins of Herculaneum. While Herculaneum has yet to benefit from a project of this scale, the Archaeological Forum has set the bar for the future of such endeavours.
Herculaneum and Pompeii are two cities that are forever linked – even to this day, their shared fate at the hands of Vesuvius continues to fascinate archaeologists and tourists alike. Despite their shared past, the cities are worlds apart in terms of size and geographical placement; this article has sought to explore the differences between the two sites, particularly in terms of their proximity.
The evidence suggests that the two cities were approximately 18 km apart, and while this was not far in terms of ancient Roman standards, it would have taken some time and money to travel between them. This helps to explain why the fate of the two cities was so different; Herculaneum, which was in the path of most of the volcanic eruption, was destroyed in a matter of hours, whereas much of Pompeii was left standing.
From a historical perspective, the story of Herculaneum and Pompeii remains one of the most interesting tales of the Roman Empire, and for this reason the two cities continue to draw visitors and archaeological experts from all over the world. The modern city of Pompeii has made considerable efforts to conserve the remains of its ancient namesake, whilst the ruins of Herculaneum are being constantly restored and researched to new depths.
As the story of these two cities will remain intertwined, the future of research in Herculaneum and Pompeii continues to be of paramount significance, and the Archaeological Superintendence of Pompeii, who oversees both projects, has set the bar high for future endeavours.