Few ancient sites have the power to thrill like Pompeii and Herculaneum – the cities Vesuvius destroyed in AD79. Here are history and beauty on a overwhelming scale. But should you ever succeed in becoming blasé 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. But 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.