Herculaneum is not as big as Pompeii, it can be visited thoroughly in about 2 hrs.
The first approach is spectacular: the whole ancient town laying at the bottom of an archaeological hollow about 60 feet deep. From the top you can see the entire excavated area at once, dominated by the impressive silhouette of the Mt. Vesuvius in the background: a stunning view and a great photo opportunity!
At the very bottom lays the marina, where about 300 human skeletons were found together with a fossilised boat and some fishing tools.
Crossing a modern bridge, we will start to discover the garden of the “House of the Albergo”, where quince trees were replanted following the evidence of carbonized roots of these ancient fruit tree.
Our next stop is the Council hall of the Augustali, where you can admire beautifully preserved frescoes depicting Hercules.
You will visit the House of Neptune and Amphitrite, to see the wonderful mosaics decorating the outdoor ‘biclinium’ (dining room); this was probably the house of a merchant, in fact next door you have a store with its counter, containers for food and wine and the wooden shelves carbonised still hanging on the walls!
Then you will discover the Bath House (an ancient Spa), still covered with mosaics. It will introduce you to the world or Roman Daily Care and social life : a gym, a changing room, a tepid room, a hot room and at last a cold tub.
Nearby the Grande Palestra – large outdoor Gym – a glorious public sporting place to see. It still lays buried for about 3 quarters, but we can move into the cross shaped pool to feel like an ancient archaeologist moving under the volcanic couch.
And of course not to be missed is at least one of the nearly intact private houses, according to availability, where to admire luxurious mosaics, frescoes and statues.
In between the visits if you wish you can stop for a light lunch.
Or take a longer break at a vineyard on the slopes of Mt Vesuvius if you want something nicer.
Please ask Leisure Italy for good recommendations or reservations.
At Pompeii you will first admire the city walls, dating back to the pre-roman Pompeii (4 centuries BC). One of the best preserved ancient gates is called Porta Marina, it connected Pompeii and its port, with a path for charts and one for people.
Right before this gate there is a not-to-be-missed building, the Suburban Bath House, recently excavated and therefore very well preserved.
Once in town you will be walking on the original road made by basalt stone(volcanic rock), and you will notice on the ground hundreds of little white spots made of travertine which were used to reflect torch light (this is what nowadays people call “cat’s eye”).
Your attention will be caught by big blocks of basalt emerging from the road: they were stepping stones used by pedestrians to avoid getting wet when it rained; in fact, differently from other roman towns, Pompeii didn’t have a complete sewer system because the city was build on top of a lava platform too hard to be worked.
The city centre was called the Forum, it hosts all the buildings with a public function: Religion (the Temple of Apollo, the Capitolium and the Temple of the Emperor), Trade (the meat and fish market called Macellum, the textiles market headed by a priestess called Eumachia), Administration (the Basilica) and Politics (Comitii). Other facilities in the Forum where exchange offices, public restrooms and a public scale (tabula mensurae) where to compare and weigh farmer’s products. In the Forum you will also see a display of the famous human casts.
Close to the Forum there were public Bath-Houses where both men and women (in different sections), poor and wealthy, free and slaves could access daily hygiene. Pompeii had 3 of such complexes in town plus 2 right outside the town, and they all had the following facilities: a changing room (apoditerium), a tepid room (tepidarium), a hot room (calidarium) and a Gym (Palestra).
You will notice several places fronting the road with large vases built in a masonry counter: this is what the Romans called popinae, today’s taverns! In fact those earthenware jars where filled up with food and beverages, and very many ancient Pompeians would stop in such places for lunch.
You will certainly recognise some of the bakeries of Pompeii, with their ovens and their grinding machines: incredible but true some round carbonized loafs of bread where found during the excavations. This is nowadays on exhibit at the Archaeological Museum of Naples together with more carbonized organics such as almonds, pine cones, figs, dates etc…
Your visit would be incomplete without the red light district: the Brothel (Lupanare) shows us today an interesting display of roman frescoes featuring several erotic images!
Do not miss the chance to discover Pompeii places for public performances: an outdoor Theatre (for comedy and tragedy), an indoor theatre (Odeion, for mimes and declamation of poetry) and a big amphitheatre (for games like gladiators or beast fights). You shall visit at least one of those places.
After the tour at Pompeii you could stop for a few minutes for a fresh squeezed orange juice or to browse the souvenir shops if you wish to bring some souvenirs home.
Also available upon request is a stop to one of several cameo factories along the road. It is a still-living ancient roman tradition consisting in the carving of precious and semi-precious stones and corals.