The Suburban Baths

October 11, 2010 / Art & Archaeology
Ercolano, Campania
suburbanbaths1Few ancient sites have the power to thrill like Pompeii and Herculaneum Рthe cities Vesuvius destroyed in AD79. Here are history and beauty on a overwhelming scale. But should you ever succeed in becoming blas̩ about wandering the streets of a Roman town, the suburban baths of Herculaneum will stun you anew.

Built in the 40s AD, the baths occupied a mezzanine terrace between this successful, wealthy city and the seashore. It was the manner of the city’s destruction that allows us this vivid picture of the past.. Unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum was not crushed by the weight of stone raining from the skies. When the super-hot pyroclastic flow rushed through the city it carbonised anything and anybody in its path, including 250 poor souls waiting on the shore to be rescued. suburbanbaths2But when 20 metres of mud and ash pushed its way into the streets and houses, many structures stayed upright.

Sumptuously decorated in marble and stucco, these spaces, with patches of lava still clinging to the walls, really do transport us to a vanished culture. Poignant and beautiful.

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Penny Ewles-Bergeron

by Penny Ewles-Bergeron

Writer, artist, … celebrating the many good things in Naples.

12 Responses to “The Suburban Baths”

  1. Kathleen

    Penny,
    A few years back I was in Herculaneum—unbeliveable experience. I saw some of the baths. Your photo with the stair way is an area I do not remember. There was an area still being excavated. Could this photo possibly part of that area?
    -Kathleen

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  2. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Kathleen – I think on most other visits I’ve made this set of baths has been closed – whether because of lack of personnel or because it was being worked on I’m not sure. If you search on Youtube there are some videos of Ercolano and one (though the conditions were dark) walks you through this area.

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  3. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    I didn’t include the extra photo but that ‘plug’ of lava to the left of the doorway, shows where a large marble basin was driven across the room. The basin has been replaced on its stand near the window but it’s a telling record of the material that gushed into this space.

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  4. Kathleen

    I have many photos of Herculaneum. One that really stands out in my mind when I think of how the lava overtook the area, is the one of bars over a window and the pieces of lava that remain on the bars. I will have to go on Youtube to see the video you mentioned. BTW– there was a show on Discovery channel about Vesuvius. Geologists believe it is sleeping and we will see another erruption in the proportions that of 79 AD. They feel that Napoli will be at risk.
    -Kathleen

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  5. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Kathleen – my sister saw that tv programme and is now even more worried! I am absolutely certain that Naples is at risk, unfortunately – I live right in the middle of the city! )-:

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  6. Kathleen

    LUCKY YOU!! When I was planning a trip to Italy I told people one of my stops would be Napoli. So many people told me not to bother because it was dirty and crime ridden. I fell in love with it and enjoyed it more than Rome. I want very much to visit again. My dgt & I spent her 26th birthday (she is an expat in London)on Ischia….another spot I want to explore more.
    -Kathleen
    PS: When lava starts to flow, run up the stairs to the top of the hill.

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  7. Penny Ewles-Bergeron
    Penny Ewles-Bergeron

    Naples is everything people say but so much else/more. A super city to live in.

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  8. Kathleen

    I will visit again ……. but visiting is just is not enough!!
    -Kathleen
    PS: Thanks for emailing me back on the Herculaneum info.

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  9. Gian Banchero

    Brava Kathleen, I agree with you about Napoli!!! Every big city in the world has crime, try New York or San Francisco just to start with. I thoroughly enjoyed living in Napoli, a town that is unapologetic about being Latin and sensual, a town that harbors a wonderful street life that can’t be found anymore in the north, plus the street food is affordable as is sooo good, and the pizza is still the best in the world being it’s a result of the water, the air, the people. Napoli has cleaned up tremendously over the years which as far as I’m concerned has taken a little of its charm away, just a little. The city is still as much of Italy was like decades ago. Thank you Penny for the great article and photos!!!

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  10. Kathleen

    You both have inspired me. I may do a write up on the Circumvesuviana — a wonderful ride with lots to visit along the way.

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  11. Linda Boccia

    Thank you for sending in the photos of Herculaneum. My husband and I are taking early retirement and looking for places to rent for 5-6 months near Rome, in Umbria, or Puglia. Then we’ll begin to further explore beyond his family in Piemonte. Grazie!

    Reply
  12. agnese esposito

    Am new to facebook, but certainly enjoyed your chat. I too have been to Italy many times, and cn’t get enough of it. My husbands family is from Ischia. We visited once but want to possibly retire there.My father cme to America at age 15, alone, and I want to see his hometown some day. He was from Fondi, south of Rome. Thank you -Agnese

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