The archaeological excavations of Herculaneum


The legend of Hercules and the excavations of Herculaneum.

The excavations of the city of Herculaneum, the history  since the foundation to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.


Archaeological excavations of Herculaneum, how to get there 



The archaeological remains of Herculaneum are located in the homonymous city on the slopes of the Vesuvius volcano, just a few kilometers south-east from the city of Naples.


The legend of Hercules and the city of Herculaneum.

A legend tells that it was founded in the XII century BC from Heracles (in Latin Hercules) son of Zeus. He was commissioned by his brother Eurystheus (king of Tiryns and Mycenaean) to perform 12 feats: 12 labours of Hercules. Among one of those was to steal the oxen of the king of the island of Eritea: Geryon (a giant with three heads, with three busts, 6 arms and only two legs).This island is located at the end of the Mediterranean sea: near the Iberian peninsula.

The hero killed the triceps monster and his two-headed dog Otro, so he stole the animals
On the way back he stopped in the lands where today there is the city of Rome. He asked the goddess Fauna (deity of sheep farming and woods) to be able to rest and drink. But the water of the temple was sacred and was only available to the women. Heracles, irritated he was distracted by the rejection.So he lost his oxen: they have been stolen from the son of the god Vulcan, the demon Caco, who took the animals with him to his home: a cave on the slopes of Vesuvius. The son of Zeus looked for them in vain for many days, then finally he heard them bellowing. So The hero killing the demon took the animals back with him.
To celebrate his victory he decided to found a city in that place. Giving it his own name. Today the city of Herculaneum.


Herculaneum: the history of a city.

The founding date is not certain. Not enough artifacts have been recovered to be able to build its history
It is thought to have been founded by the Osci in the 12th century BC, Because we found found transcripts in the Osca language. That it was used until the Roman domination.
But it is thought also that the city was founded by Etruscans between the 10th and 8th centuries B.C. because the conquests of this people extended over almost the entire territory of present-day southern Italy.


In 479 BC Herculaneum was conquered by the Greeks who immediately adopted their urban planning system: a construction technique in order to give the city a more modern configuration.
Hercolaneum was later conquered by the Samnites

The city of Herculaneum in 89 BC it was conquered by the Roman Empire. From that moment the coast of the city became a holiday destination for the Roman aristocracy.

In 62 A.D. a part of the city was devastated by a strong earthquake hit the nearby city of Pompeii. So the restoration work began.

The city of Herculaneum in 79 AD it was hit by another great catastrophe: the eruption of Vesuvius which also destroyed Pompeii, Stabia and Oplonti.
The inhabitants of Hercolaneum didn't stand a chance. They died instantly because the wind carried ashes and water vapor and hot gas.
All pyroclastic materials produced during the eruption covered the city by about 10 meters, maybe 15.
Later over the centuries other eruptions and others ash buried the city reaching 25 meters height. This material that covered the city with has solidified over time, becaming the pappamonte, a kind of tuff but more tender.
This material, for centuries, protected the remains recovered from the subsoil.


The archaeological excavations of Herculaneum

In 1709, during some works to build a well some artifacts were accidentally found: part of the theater of the ancient city.
Then King Charles of Bourbon decided to start excavations in Herculaneum in 1738. Unfortunately it was dangerous to dig for about 25 meters, so more than once, over the centuries, research work was suspended for about 50 years.
The archaeological excavations of Herculaneum have brought to light many finds, but only in 1924 after about 20 years of excavations it was possible to recover finds of 4 hectares out of the 20 total of the ancient city. The excavated area corresponds to the current archaeological site.
The excavations of Herculaneum in 1997, together with those of Pompeii and Oplontis, were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

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