Herculaneum is famous in the world for the archaeological excavations of the Roman city founded, according to legend, by Hercules and destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79; Together with those of Pompeii and Oplontis, they are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The stretch of Resina Street, that from the archaeological excavations reaches Torre del Greco is called Golden Mile, for the splendid 18th-century villas aligned to its sides. From Herculaneum the road leads to the great cone of Vesuvius for a visit to the crater.
The Virtual Archaeological Museum (MAV) is one of the most beautiful of its kind and source of knowledge and education, especially for the little ones. Let me say this: Herculaneum is a jewel of enormous potential, ready to explode and is still, inexplicably, strongly underestimated by the tourists.
And if you want to learn more, I invite you to click on our blog. The blog is constantly updated and will offer you not only ideas on what to visit, but give you technical details of the individual monuments of Naples.
According to legend, Herculaneum was founded by Hercules, who was returning from one of his Twelve Labors. Under the control of the Romans, the city was a renowned seaside resort where some of the richest Roman citizens spent their summer vacations. The city lived his heyday thanks to the Tribune Marco Vernier embellished, who built new buildings, such as the Basilica, and restoring others: in the same period two thermal complexes and the theater were also built. But the history of Herculaneum is closely linked to the eruptions of Vesuvius. So much so that it was severely damaged by the earthquake of Pompeii of 1962 and then completely buried as a result of the eruption of Vesuvius in 1979.
In 1631 Mt. Vesuvius violently erupted after a long era of quiescence destroying the area all around, killing more than 4 thousand people and altering the geography of the places. The territory of Resina was struck by two legs of lava that split behind the hill of Pugliano and spared the houses of the village; one of the legs filled the valley on the western side of it and when it solidified the village grew on the new plain and the large via Pugliano was built heading straight to the basilica on the top of the hill. The news reached King Charles III of Naples, who became aware of the importance of the finds and bought the duke’s farm and started a methodical campaign of excavation with the aim of digging out all the underground treasures. In the meantime the news of the discovery of the ancient Herculaneum spread all around Europe, and boosted the cultural movement in Europe called Neoclassicism as well as the custom of the Grand Tour among the British and European upper-class.
Enthusiastic about the large amounts and the beauty of the archaeological finds, the king had the summer Palace of Portici constructed, on the border with Resina. Findings of Herculaneum were housed in a dedicated part of the palace, which was open for the king's guests. Following the king’s example, nobles of the kingdom started building their summer villas and gardens next to the royal palace and the surrounding area. On the stretch of the main street called Royal Street of Calabrie, which is the royal street towards to the region of Calabria, from the center of Resina to the beginning of nearby Torre del Greco, large and representative villas were constructed. This part of the street is known as the Golden Mile (Miglio d’Oro).
Together with the construction of the first Italian railway in 1839, some industrial facilities were established along the coast (glass works, tanneries, train wagons, etc.) that altered the previous landscape. In 1845 the Royal Vesuvius Observatory was inaugurated, the first in the world. In 1865 the King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II inaugurated the open-air excavations of Herculaneum. In 1880 the funicular railway on Mount Vesuvius was inaugurated, and the event inspired the world-famous Neapolitan song Funiculì, Funiculà. In 1895 in Resina was inaugurated the Vesuviano aqueduct, which drew the waters from the Serino river.
Since 1904 the Circumvesuviana railway operated from Naples to Castellammare di Stabia with a station in Resina-Pugliano, close to the Basilica of Santa Maria a Pugliano and the funicular to Mt. Vesuvius. In 1927 King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy inaugurated the new entrance of the archaeological site of Herculaneum on the Miglio d’Oro, and a new street was opened some years later to join the archaeological site to the Circumvesuviana railway and funicular stations. In 1997 the Archaeological site of Herculaneum was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage together with Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius and the Golden Mile were included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves under the UNESCO's Man and Biosphere Reserve Program. In 2005 the MAV (Virtual Archeological Museum) was opened.
Archeological Site of Herculaneum
The Archeological site of Herculaneum is the area south of the town center of modern Ercolano where the Roman town of Herculaneum has been excavated. Herculaneum was destroyed and buried by lava and mud during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79 together with Pompeii, Stabiae and Oplontis. In 1997 the Herculaneum site was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In 2016, it recorded 437,107 visitors.
Herculaneum is smaller and less famous than Pompeii, but better preserved due to the different volcanic materials that covered the town. In Herculaneum there are many wooden remains (doors, furniture, beams) and organic goods (fruit, bread, seeds, rope) that were burnt in Pompeii. Many Herculaneum buildings still retain their upper floors either entirely or in part. The excavated area of Herculaneum consists of only one quarter of the entire ancient town because the rest of the site still lies beneath modern Ercolano.
A new entrance was recently opened at the eastern side of the archaeological site with a large parking area for cars and buses, souvenir stands, and public gardens. In Corso Resina n. 123 there is the old entrance to the underground Theater of Herculaneum, the first of the ancient town's monuments to be discovered and made famous around the world. Access to the Theater has to be negotiated with the office of Scavi of Ercolano depending on the underground conditions.
The MAV is located a few steps away from archaeological excavations of ancient Herculaneum. It is a center of culture and technology applied to cultural heritage and communication among the most advanced in Italy. Inside is a unique and extraordinary museum: a virtual and interactive tour where the excitement of an amazing journey back through time just before the Plinian eruption in 79 AD that destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. More than seventy multimedia installations returned life and splendor to the main archaeological sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Baia, Stabiae and Capri. Through reconstructions, visual interfaces and holograms, the visitor, conducted into a virtual world can experiment through play and interaction new media opportunities that technology offers for the enjoyment of the archaeological patrimony.
The museum is located on an area of 5,000 m.q. divided on 3 levels and situated in the heart of Herculaneum. It is near the main tourist attractions: the archeological excavations, the famous vintage market of Resina, the National Park of Vesuvius and the Golden Mile, the stretch of coast at the foot of the volcano along which you may see the beautiful eighteenth-century villas, fine examples of Neapolitan baroque. Through a multi-sensory experience, visitors take a dive into history in order to learn and explore the historical realities of Herculaneum and Pompeii in detail prior to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. With more than seventy multimedia installations, life and splendor have been restored to the archaeological sites of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Baia, Stabiae and Capri.
The journey begins after having passed through a sort of ancestral door which dematerializes bodies leading to the discovery of names and faces of ancient Herculaneum, across which you become aware of the community’s history and their lifestyle. Going along the Bourbon tunnels, you can take a glimpse at the magnificent Villa of the Papyri. A passage through a glowing cloud acts as a prelude to the exploration of houses and monuments of the ancient Vesuvian cities displayed in their entire splendor. Continuing the journey, you enter the Villa of the Papyri library, which restitutes fragments and thoughts of philosophers and poets of Herculaneum. Amongst voices, images and market rumors we move into an environment with an interactive table, which at the touch of a finger, illustrates and describes the customs of people who lived in the area.
A dark corner that lights up leads you among the most beautiful Vesuvian frescoes, details which can be zoomed and analyzed in detail. The practice of leisure and the search for pleasure both belong to the Roman world: the paintings found in the brothels and the central thermal baths are an important testimony of ancient Pompeii. Together with the theatre, the “Schola Armaturarum” (a military training place in Pompeii for young men), introduces to an excitement lived through an immersive experience, the eruption of the Vesuvius on August 24th 79 AD.
Golden Mile Villas
The Golden Mile is the leg of Corso Resina (the old Royal Street for the Calabrie) in Ercolano from the Archeological Site of Herculaneum leading to Torre del Greco where are lined the largest, the finest and the most sumptuous villas designed by the best architects of that time and built in the 18th-century by the noble families of the Kingdom of Naples around the Royal Palace of Portici. The most famous are Villa Campolieto, Villa Favorita and Villa Aprile. All the villas had backside gardens and woods, some of them rivaling with the ones of the Royal Palace.
In 1997 the Golden Mile, together with Mt. Vesuvius, was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves under the UNESCO's Man and Biosphere Reserve Program. Although the expression Golden Mile was created in the 19th-century to highlight the splendor of the buildings along the leg of old Royal Street for le Calabrie in Ercolano (Resina) and the beginning of Torre del Greco, it was recently and inappropriately expanded to a broader area where the 121 villas of the 18th-century listed by the Authority for the Vesuvius Villas were built; this area includes the Neapolitan quarters of Barra, San Giovanni a Teduccio and Ponticelli, and the towns of S. George in Cremano, Portici and the whole territory of Torre del Greco.
Vesuvius National Park
Herculaneum is one of the thirteen towns that have their territory (or part of it) included in the area of the Park, the smallest in Italy. From Ercolano starts the main street heading to the Gran Cono (twelve km from town centre) where visitors can ascend on foot along a panoramic path up to the edge of the huge crater where some fumarole can be seen. Alongside the first leg of Osservatorio Street are displayed ten stone statues of the permanent exhibition Creator Vesevo that where made in 2005 by as many international artists.
According to the organization of Ente Parco Nazionale del Vesuvio, some paths in the woods around the Gran Cono are accessible. From Osservatorio Street it is possible to reach the historic Osservatorio Vesuviano, that was founded in 1845 by the King Ferdinando II of Bourbon and was the first center for volcanic studies and monitoring in the world. The visits have to be agreed with the National Institution of Geophysics of Naples.