Archaeological Areas of Pompei, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata
Archaeological Areas Of Pompei, Herculaneum And Torre Annunziata
Cultural Italy Europe And North America Province Of Naples, Campania

The impressive remains of the towns of Pompei and Herculaneum and their associated villas, buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79, provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world.

Pompei was an Opician foundation of the 6th century BC, and Dionysus of Halicarnassus maintained that Herculaneum (Ercolano) was founded by Hercules. Both underwent changes of overlord in the centuries that followed: Oscans, Samnites, Greeks, Etruscans, and finally Romans in 89 BC, following the Social War. Pompei was elevated to the status of Colonia Cornelia Venera Pompeiana in 89 BC, whereas Herculaneum was accorded the lower rank of municipium. The lives of both towns came to an abrupt and catastrophic end on 24 August, AD 79. The area had been shaken by an earthquake shortly before and reconstruction work was still in progress when Vesuvius erupted with tremendous violence. Pompei was buried under a thick layer of volcanic ash and stone and Herculaneum disappeared under a pyroclastic flow of volcanic mud.

Since the discovery of the two buried towns in the 18th century, much more of Pompei has been revealed by excavation than of Herculaneum. The main forum is flanked by the foundations of a number of imposing public buildings, such as the Capitolium (temple dedicated to the divine triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva), the Basilica (courthouse), and one of the sets of public baths. Close by is the older triangular forum, where the two theatres are located. The larger of these is of Greek origin, remodelled to suit Roman taste. Among other notable public buildings are the well-preserved Stabian Baths, begun in the 2nd century BC. However, Pompei is renowned for its series of domestic buildings, ranged along well paved streets. The earliest is the atrium house, entirely inward-looking with a courtyard at its centre: the House of the Surgeon is a good example of this type. Under Hellenistic influences this type of house was enlarged and decorated with columns and arcades and equipped with large rooms for social functions. In its most extreme form, this type of Roman house, known from towns all over the Empire, developed into a veritable palace, richly decorated and with many rooms, of which the Houses of the Faun and of the Chaste Lovers are outstanding examples. Perhaps the most exceptional of all the houses in Pompei is the Villa dei Misteri (the House of the Mysteries). This enormous establishment just outside the walls, which developed from a modest town house built in the 3rd century BC, takes its name from the remarkable wall paintings in the triclinium, which depict the initiation rites ('mysteries') of the cult of Dionysus. A special characteristic of Pompei is the wealth of graffiti on its walls. An election was imminent at the time of the eruption, and there are many slogans to be found scrawled on walls, as well as others of a more personal, often scurrilous, nature.

Much less of Herculaneum, built on a promontory overlooking the Bay of Naples, has been uncovered, not least because of the depth to which it was buried. However, the nature of its volcanic covering is such that the ancient buildings are much better preserved than those of Pompei. Organic materials such as wood survive in situ and the upper floors of many buildings are intact. Several impressive public buildings are well preserved, including a spacious palaestra entered through a monumental gateway, two sets of public baths, one of which (Urban Baths) is monumental in scale and vividly decorated, the College of the Priests of Augustus, and a theatre of standard form. The houses are also remarkable for their extent and decoration, especially the House of the Bicentenary. Those fronting on the sea, such as the House of the Deer, have large courtyards and rich decoration. The town is also noteworthy for the completeness of its shops, still containing fittings such as enormous wine jars. Recent excavations in the harbour area have revealed vaulted warehouses which contained the remains of unfortunate citizens who had sought refuge there, only to suffer death by asphyxiation. Of great importance in both towns are the artistic styles represented by their sculptures, their mosaics and, above all, their wall paintings.