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Although smaller than nearby Pompeii, Herculaneum is far better preserved. The devastating eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD covered Pompeii in a thick layer of volcanic ash but left Herculaneum submerged by a 20 m (65 ft) mudslide, which hardened and perfectly preserved the houses, shops, villas and frescoes beneath. The level of detail that survives is extraordinary, from price lists outside shops to wooden doors, beds and decorative objects worn by victims frozen in time. The compact site is easy to get around and unlike in Pompeii, many of the upper storeys of the houses still remain intact.

While Pompeii is impressive, I actually prefer Herculaneum. The ruins are more intact, and the frescoes are surprisingly vivid. Size isn’t everything, either — some of the site’s smaller houses have some of the best-preserved mosaics.

Italy specialist Kimberly

Things to see and do in Herculaneum

The Villas

Herculaneum appears to have been an exclusive place to live, its grand courtyard houses suggesting a certain wealth and affluence. Richly decorated interiors with intricate frescoes of Roman gods and floors blanketed in beautiful mosaics are matched by elaborate gardens. The House of the Wooden Partition is especially worth a visit to see its perfectly preserved wooden doors. Also worth seeking out is the House of the Deer, a luxurious two-storey villa built around a central courtyard and adorned with intricate still life paintings, while L’Albergo, thought to be an ancient hotel, covers a vast area.

The Thermal Baths

There are two public baths in Herculaneum. The Forum Baths are divided into two sections, as was common practice at the time, one for the men and one for the women. Both sections are well preserved with the original roofs, benches, wooden shelves for clothing, beautiful baths and detailed floor mosaics depicting Triton alongside dolphins. The second baths, the Terme Suburbane, are to the south and are some of the best preserved Roman baths in existence. Inside, the stucco work, mosaics, wooden doors and marble baths remain almost untouched by time, making it difficult to comprehend just how old these artefacts are.

The Shops

One of the most remarkable discoveries in Herculaneum are the shops along the Decumano Massimo, the city's main commercial street. The detail of their preservation offers a unique insight into daily life in the city and across the Roman Empire. You can see ancient wine amphorae, the carved wooden shelving used to store them and, intriguingly, also the price of a jug of wine illustrated outside the shopfront. The bakery's oven and grills remain intact, as do the weaver's looms, the dyer's pots, the taverna counters and the large containers set into marble worktops that would have been used to serve hot food to customers.

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Audley Travel specialist Cara

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Suggested itinerary featuring Herculaneum

This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Herculaneum, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Herculaneum

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