Naples Attractions, Archaeology Sites Near Naples
Digging History on a Naples Vacation
From Pompeii to Herculaneum, step back in time at the several archaeological sites near the city.
On August 24 in A.D. 79, Vesuvius, a volcano that had been dormant for as long as anyone could remember, roared to life, taking the local population by surprise. The consequences were apocalyptic and all life at the foot of the volcano was wiped out in one clean sweep. The cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried in ash, mud and lava and only rediscovered some 1,700 years later, “frozen” in time.
Though Pompeii is probably the most famous archaeological site in the world, and at the top of visitors’ wish lists, you might want to consider the smaller and less-visited Herculaneum, or the even-less trodden site of Oplontis. But the remains from volcanic disaster aren’t the only ancient ruins in the area. Don’t miss archaeological sites on the other side of the bay, such as Cuma and Baia.
The eruption of Vesuvius drowned the thriving and bustling city of Pompeii in 20 to 23 feet of ash and cinder. Over time, four-fifths of the city was excavated and a walk through the excavations is a once-in-a-lifetime journey into the past, offering an insight into life during Roman times.
Surprisingly, many objects (such as bottles, glassware and silverware) were found intact in the city’s homes. The most famous houses are the House of the Faun, and the Villa dei Misteri, both filled with splendid frescoes, some of which are on display in Naples’ Museo Archeologico Nazionale.
Pompeii’s information office is located at Porta Marina, Piazza Anfiteatro, tel. +39-081-8575347, www.pompeiisites.org.
The nearby archaeological site of Oplontis is a short walk from the Circumvesuviana station of Torre Annunziata. This ancient suburb of Pompeii was also destroyed by the eruption of A.D. 79 and is where you will find the under-visited Villa Poppea, a grandiose holiday villa from the 1st century B.C. that houses what are considered to be some of the finest examples of Pompeian wall paintings in the familiar bright vermilion and turquoise hues. Originally the villa had a pool, courtyards, arcades and servants’ quarters.
Polontis’ information office is located at Via Sepolcri 1, tel. +39-081-8621755, www.pompeiisites.org.
A heat blast of 662 degrees Fahrenheit killed the inhabitants of the wealthy city of Herculaneum on the afternoon of August 24 instantly, as the dozens of skeletons found at the beach centuries later testifies. Over the next 18 hours the town was swallowed up by an oozing mass of red-hot lava.
Excavations first began in earnest on the site in 1748. The first major discovery was the luxurious three-story beachfront Villa of the Papyri, which is believed to have belonged to Lucius Calpurnius Piso, father-in-law of Julius Caesar. It was so called because a library of 1,800 carbonized but still-legible papyrus scrolls were found here, making it paradoxically the only intact library to survive from Greco-Roman antiquity. The writings were mainly works by the Epicurean Greek philosopher Philodemus.
Archaeologists are still busy digging in and around the villa in the hope of unearthing more scrolls, ideally lost texts by Aristotle, Euripides or Sophocles. At least 80 magnificent marble and bronze statues were found here too, many of which can be seen at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. The rest of the streets of the city are lined with more beautiful seafront villas, the Forum, a theatre, thermal spas and more.
Herculaneaum, Corso Resina 6, tel. +39-081-7324311, www.pompeiisites.org
Next: Cuma and Paestum