Day 12: An Wannabe Archaeologist’s Wet Dream

Many moons ago, I was an archaeology major at the only university that truly matters in my state. 😉 While there, majors in our department had to take a variety of classes on archaeology, anthropology, and history. For our history requirements, some of our choices for courses came from the art history department. In all, I’ve taken I think four art history classes at the collegiate level, and I don’t mind saying that that first one kicked my ass! But that first was one majorly important as it was all about Etruscan and Roman art and sculpture. It was in this class, that I first met the Primaporta Augustus and the Farnese Hercules. This class taught me how to lay a grid for groundwork digging and how to interpret the mythology of various temple reliefs. My professor in this class was strict, no frills, and extremely knowledgeable. He also happened to be the lead archaeologist at Pompeii at that time. He spent his summers (and the occasional semester) working on further uncovering the buildings and artifacts left behind after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Had I stayed at my beloved university, it’s quite likely I would have spent some time working under him, exploring the mysteries of what was part of Ancient Rome. However, to make a long story very short- I met my husband, made a decision, transferred schools to be near him, and ended up majoring in a”Well-what-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-do-for-a-career-now?” Not that I regret making that choice, but having the opportunity to visit somewhere like Pompeii was a very poignant and special opportunity for me.

Since the husband finished up his work on time during our week in Naples, we were fortunate enough to have time to plan a day trip to not only Pompeii, but also its “sister-site” Herculaneum.

After breakfast at the hotel, we hopped an early bus to get to the Naples train station in order to catch a train to nearby Ercolano on the slopes of Vesuvius. The train tickets and traveling system were fairly easy to figure out, though signage in the station is a little lacking. But the ride from Naples to Ercolano was only about 15 minutes, and we got to the Herculaneum site just as it was about to open. For about the first hours, it was just, a flock of nuns, and an older British couple. The husband played tour guide reading from a great guide that we had purchased at Naples’ archaeological museum with layouts, maps, and details about both Herculaneum and Pompeii. He directed to us to various sites while I got a chance to play camera nazi and tell him little tidbits that I remembered from my archaeology classes.

Herculaneum is far smaller than Pompeii. It was a seaside town which is interesting to note since it is not any longer. You can stand on some of the ruined houses that were at one time oceanfront dwellings. Now they front a massive wall many feet high of cooled, dried lava. Because of the eruption, the coastline actually moved about 1,500 feet to its present location. Like Pompeii, Herculaneum suffered tremendous damage in a large earthquake in 62 CE, from which it only started to recover when Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE. However, unlike Pompeii which pretty much got smothered in ash, Herculaneum was actually overrun by flows of volcanic mud.

A few photos from the town of Herculaneum:

a view of the city as you enter from above

surviving painting

inside one of the buildings

Poseidon and Amphitrite

Unfortunately, there’s no wine left in these guys.

surviving frescoes

remains of a bed

This building was appropriately called “The House of the Wooden Screen.” Here you can see the surviving wooden screen.

You can really see the amount of shifting in the floor. I can’t remember if this one was still damage from the earthquake or if it was caused during the volcanic eruption, but either way… that’s a LOT of movement!

more surviving room decor

This was taken standing in one of the homes that USED to be oceanfront. Now, you look out and what do you see? The wall of solidified volcanic mud that covered the city.


love the red columns

part of the city


A shot that gives you some idea of what the buildings looked like when they stood. Most of them were two stories, but few of those second stories survive today.

fragment of sculptural decor

wall paintings

My next house is totally getting some Roman-like wall paintings!


inside one of the homes

inside one of the baths

floor mosaic in the bath house

Look! An ancient Roman spork! 😉

wall decor

Herculaneum’s versions of McDonald’s


street view


broken pottery


another street view


surviving frescoes


one home’s private altar


another home, another altar


floor tiles


more wall paintings


multicolored marble floor tiles


I loved all the different wall painting styles and colors.


part of what used to be a HUGE house– The treed area is what was their atrium.


more floor mosaics


a look down on the oceanfront houses from the top of the lava wall


inside another home

That’s probably enough pic spam/porn for today, ha! Hopefully they all come out, since I know I have to go back and edit a couple of posts that got overloaded with pics in earlier reports. Stay tuned for Part Two: Pompeii!








Days 6 through 11: Naples in a Nutshell

Since I was pretty much on my own during the day on this part of the trip, I think I can more easily combine these days and give you a list of hits and misses for Naples. We’ll resume with the regular format for day twelve.


Santa Chiara. This was the church of the Angevin Kings in Naples. It’s gothic, originally constructed in the 14th century, with lots of great sculpture. In addition to seeing the church, you can also visit the cloisters that house a museum with relics from Roman times and from the Middle Ages. There’s a lovely garden area with some truly amazing lemon trees in the atrium area and also remains of a 1st century Roman bath that you can visit within the cloister area.

the altar of Santa Chiara

This is how I need to be buried!

lid from a child’s sarcophagus

Madonna and Child at Santa Chiara

The Neapolitans take their nativity scenes very seriously. This is a huge one on display in the cloisters at Santa Chiara.

The cloisters at Santa Chiara has some amazing frescoes and mosaics.

sumptuous lemon trees

— San Lorenzo Maggiore: I didn’t actually get to see the basilica since it was closed by the time I got out of the scavi and museum, but that’s ok, because I felt the scavi were worth the visit regardless. The museum houses some pieces associated with the area dating from the Roman times through the 19th century. But the real fun comes in visiting the ruins (scavi) underneath the cloisters by the church. Here you can descend a stairway into an actual Roman street and walk around a few blocks of preserved ancient Roman and Greek city. The ruins date back to the 4th century BCE and include market stalls that still have the benches for their wares and one home/room(?) that still contains an oven. I went once on my own and once with my husband and enjoyed it both times. In fact, the on the first visit, I was down in the excavations by myself so I just wandered in and out of the stalls, rooms, and buildings at my leisure and enjoyed every minute.

the cloisters at San Lorenzo

This room was the seat of the Napoli government for a time.

close-up of part of the ceiling


Oh, how those Italians do love a painted ceiling! Taken from another room at San Lorenzo’s cloisters.

sarcophagus top from the museum

fast asleep… forever.