Herculaneum, once called Heracleia, is an ancient town lying on the western slopes of Mount Vesuvius. It is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating town of the Naples area because it is not only famous as an important archaeological site, but also as a lively town which offers a variety of beautiful scenery and invaluable arts. Apart from a visit to the ruins and the Volcano, it is worth visiting the Vesuvius Villas, such as Villa Campolieto, Villa Signorini, Villa Ruggiero, Villa Favorita, the medieval Pugliano Church and the Astronomic Observatory.
The ancient town, of Greek origins, was destroyed and buried, together with Pompeii, Oplontis, Stabiae and other small villages by the Vesuvius eruption of A.D. 79. During the mid-eighteenth century excavations of part of the buried town brought to light the marine side of the old town. A lot of human skeletons were found at the ancient shoreline, suggesting that numerous inhabitants attempted to escape but perished because of the pyroclastic flow and the volcanic gases. The excavation had begun quite by accident in 1709 when during the digging of a well, some workers discovered a wall which was later found to be one of the stages of the ancient theatre. Regular excavations were started later under the patronage of Carlo III Borbone, the king of the Reign of Naples who appointed the engineer Karl Weber as director of excavations. Numerous buildings and manufacts were uncovered and Karl Weber documented all of them but this was not sufficient to prevent that most of the artefacts were removed by treasure hunters. One of the most important and fascinating discoveries was the excavation of Villa of the Papyri, a suburban villa, where a large number of ancient papyri written in Greek and Latin, were discovered together with marvellous bronzes and marble works. The ancient papyri, most of which dealing with the philosophical subjects of Epicurean inspiration are still object of study and are preserved at the Archaeological National Museum of Naples.
The excavations were then discontinued and were alternatively abandoned and resumed for almost two hundred years because of the difficulties given by the compact mass of tufaceous material and the infiltration of water into the ruins. They were resumed in 1927 under the direction of Amedeo Maiuri and most of the public monuments of the old town were uncovered. The special condition under which Herculaneum was buried preserved most of the buildings and made possible the conservation of magnificent paintings, wooden furniture, pieces of cloth and splendid jewelleries which offer detailed information about the life of the old inhabitants of the Naples coast. This information are very difficulty achieved in other centres of the ancient roman society because the Romans, unlike other populations, did not have the tradition of burying the dead with their own belongings. The excavations of Herculaneum which, together with those of Pompeii, had precipitated the modern science of archaeology are still continuing but although the ruins were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, they are bound restricted by the presence of the inhabited dwellings of the present town.
In Ercolano understanding actions and habits of our ancestors is easy and it is especially easy to imagine the moments of everyday life and to discover that world was not so different. Visiting these excavations means having the possibility to know a lot about our past and to feel special sensations thanks to the objects, houses, and so on, that are so well preserved.