Herculaneum Destroyed

A story as old as the world itself: two brothers, one bigger than the other, more handsome and attractive, more famous and desirable. More everything, to cut the long story short. The other brother, the smaller one, admires the sibling, tries even to imitate him, but remains forever in the shadow of somebody else’s fame, remains forever that ‘other’ one, that second one, that less important one.

Sad as it is, true as it proves to be in the world of men, the same happens in the world created by men, too. Created by men and destroyed by the nature as in case of Pompei, the elder and the famous brother, and Herculaneum, modern Ercolano, the forever second-to-come.

And yes, once again we go back to Campania, Italy.


Since ancient times the city of Herculaneum used to be a real coastal fortress, developing on a volcanic plain cutting into the sea, and embraced by two valleys. First populated by the people of Osci, it later fell under the influence of the Etruscans, who were rapidly gaining wealth and importance due to their well-developed commercial network. In 479 B.C. the Greeks got attracted by the city and its favourable portal position. Once disembarked, the newly arrived forced the Etruscans out of the Herculaneum taking possession of it. As a consequence of this dominance, the city was reconstructed according to the classical canons of Greek architecture. But in the 5th century B.C. it was the people of Samnites’ turn to take over the city enlarging it further.

The highest of its flourishing was reached by Herculaneum under the Roman Empire, which reign over the territory started in the 4th century B.C. Profusely decorated with sumptuous villas, the city became the favourite resort of the Roman aristocracy. The territory around the city was rich in olives, grain and figs, while its fertile vineyards gave birth to the best local wines, such as Lacrima Christi and Lympha Vesuviana.

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The first two reconstructions of the city caused by two powerful earthquakes date back to the reign of the Emperors August and Vespasian. But nothing was to be done when on August 25th of 79 A.D. the monstrous eruption of Vesuvius reduced the city to ashes together with its other victims – the cities of Pompei, Stabiae, Oplonti, Taurania, Tora, Sora, Cossa and Leucopetra.

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The speed of the lava reached 100-130 kilometers per hour and the temperature rose till around 100 Celsius. The wave of eruption, though, once in the whereabouts of Herculaneum, entered it relatively slowly covering the objects inside the buildings and houses without changing their position. That is the main reason why Herculaneum managed to preserve more artefacts than any other of the victim cities. The temperature around was so high that various objects got carbonized which prevented their complete destruction. The biggest part of the city’s inhabitants managed to flee.

There is no exact evidence of when Herculaneum was re-erected with the name of Resina. But it is known for sure that in 121 the Emperor Adrian decided to re-open the road leading to Pompei. The decision brought about the construction of new buildings on the terrotory of the ancient city of Herculaneum and along the recently reconstructed route.

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536 and 553 were the years in the history of Resina that remember some important battles between the Goths and Byzantines. The Byzantine epoch was followed by numerous Saracen attacks that seized with the arrival of the Angioini family in 1266. In 1454 Resina was given by Alfonso d’Aragona to Francesco Carafa and the city remained the property of his descendants until 1699, the year in which it received the free city status.

When the first ruins of the ancient Herculaneum were discovered in the 18th century, the life of the new city changed as well. The wealthy moved closer starting to erect their rich villas in the orbit of Resina calling back the splendour of the Roman times further recovered from under the ground.

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Ercolano excavations brought to light amazing epoch of frescoes in vivid colours, finely decorated floors, columns and porticos, vases, statues and entire variety of interior and exterior decor elements. A life once lived, abandoned, forgotten, but not destroyed.


Hercolaneum was burnt by the wild-fire of Vesuvius and buried under the thick blanket of black ashes exactly as Pompei. Both of them managed to survive and carry their story and cultural heritage through centuries, but despite Hercolaneum managed to do it somehow better, it still remains clouded by the importance of Pompei. The time came to restore a bit of historical justice and pay more attention to the marvellous secrets of Ercolano, spared by both the disastrous eruption and the infinite course of  centuries.

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Brothers as they are, one family, one blood, there should be no competition between them, but a perspective to find the way to put the two pieces of the mosaic together to form an unforgettable and legendary picture in the heart of Campania.

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Photo credits: Machs Gut ©.

This credit of the trip splendid company: our dearest friend Kat Hichko.

 

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