The houses of Pompeii & Herculaneum (Italy)

When Herculaneum and Pompeii were excavated, four distinct forms of interior decorative style were noted.  I suppose it’s the same as if any modern UK town were preserved for a 1000 year: a mixture of 1950s, 1970s, 1980s and modern interior decoration would be discovered (plus possibly the odd 18th or 19th century interior).

About this I first learned when I attended the wonderful 2013 British Museum exhibition, “Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum“.  It left me determine to visit both towns, something that I finally did in May this year.

Herculaneum was covered in a rush of hot ash and much of the wood, for example, was carbonised, leaving the structure much better preserved than in Pompeii, where rocks rained down from the eruption of Vesuvius.

At Herculaneum, you can still see two-storey houses and wooden interior walls.  In fact, Herculaneum was discovered first in 1789 by a peasant who was digging.  He hit a marble floor and then tunnels began to be built (as the town was covered up to 80 ft days), to take out the statutes and marbles that lay beneath the fields.  This was about getting to the goodies; it was not a systematic archeological dig.

In contrast, in Pompeii, the cover layer was only about 20 ft deep, so after the eruption, large sections of Pompeii were revisited by the Romans and they took away materials to recycle it, leaving behind only the town that was buried under the solidified ash.

Because of this difference, it is important to visit both towns.


The houses

Most of the houses follow a similar layout: an open courtyard as the entrance hall with a pool of water.

There are staircases

Some of the houses had been built on top of the cellars of earlier houses that had (perhaps) collapsed during earlier earthquakes/eruptions, so in places you can look through the AD 79 floor to the mosaic floor of an earlier era.

But not everyone lived in a house.  There were apartments too.

Two houses were found to have a glass conservatory.  And if the courtyard garden didn’t do enough to bring some of the countryside into the town, from The House of the Golden Braclet, a entire room was decorated with garden frescoes.


Interiors were designed to show wealth and culture.  To impress.

To see many of the objects removed from the towns, you need to visit the museum in Naples.   I didn’t take my camera.  So no photos, sorry!

Having had to split my photos into numerous posts, this perhaps suggests how overwhelming a visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum is.  I definitely have to go back.  If you haven’t yet decided on where to go on holiday next year, I highly recommend a week in Sorrento, Naples, Capri & (of course) Pompeii & Herculaneum.

If I have one word of advice: get there early, i.e. before they open, and if it’s hot, take lots of water.  Herculaneum can actually be visited in half a day, so your other option is to arrive there after 2pm.  Pompeii takes more than a day: we only touched the tip of the iceberg.

The first Sunday of the month is Museum day (with free entrance) and that is when we visited Herculaneum: we queued for over 2 hours as a result, as all the locals were visiting too.  Yet, inside it was nearly deserted.  So perhaps avoid the first Sunday of the month, unless you can get there very early.

Further viewing: here (a very interesting lecture)

When visited: May 2015

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