The ruins of Pompeii | Photo: vuralyavas, via Pixabay
Ercolano and Pompei. How People Lived in Ancient Rome
Among the locations easily reached from the Amalfi Coast, the Parco Archeologico of Pompei is probably the place of greatest interest to visitors in the area of Vesuvius. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, it is one of Italy’s most envied treasures in the world for its historic value with its well-preserved ruins dating back to ancient Rome.
Today, the archeological site is still being excavated. Only part of the ruins have been uncovered from when they were buried on 24 August of 79 B.C. when, suddenly, the eruption of Vesuvius overwhelmed Pompei and nearby Ercolano, Boscoreale, Oplonti and Stabia with ash and lava. Today, these cities tell of the life and traditions of the Romans that lived on the edge of the volcano and along the coast over 2000 years ago.
Herculaneum | Foto: Graham-H, via Pixabay
The eruption of Vesuvius didn’t affect all the areas in the same way: the most important cities to visit to best understand how people lived in ancient times, are the ruins of Pompei and Ercolano. Ancient Pompei was a satellite city of Rome. Its customs, art, furniture, architecture and interiors are more visible at the sites around Vesuvius than in the Capital itself. In fact, before the discovery of Pompei and Ercolano, the details of Roman houses were only to be found in the writings of certain authors, such as Vitruvius.
What is the difference between the two main archeological sites? Pompei was buried in ash and lava, while Ercolano was “protected” by approximately 20 metres of mud that allowed for a more complete conservation of the city.
What to See in Pompei
To properly visit Pompei takes several days. Not to be missed, is the Villa dei Misteri with its “mysterious” frescoes over the colour red (known as Pompeian Red, in fact), then there’s the Casa del Fauno Danzante (House of the Faun), one of the largest domus ever discovered, then on to Via dell’Abbondanza, the main street of the town where one can find, among other things, the Lupanare: a two-floored structure with erotic frescoes which informed clients of the activities performed in this house of ill-repute. Finally, one must see the pompeian plaster moulds: statues formed with plaster poured into the cavities left by the bodies of the carbonised citizens of Pompei themselves after the eruption. Recently, the Domus and its Botteghe were open to the public, as well as the House of the Triclinio and the House of the Floral Lararium.
The most important road of the ancient Pompei, Via dell’Abbondanza, Parco Archeologico di Pompei | Photo: falco, via Pixabay
What to See in Ercolano
Unlike Pompei, Herculaneum is small and it only takes a few hours to visit. Not to be missed is the Casa dell’Atrio a Mosaico which, as its name suggest, has an atrium floor completely composed of mosaic tiling. There is also the Casa of Neptune and Amphitrite with its spectacular polychrome mosaic and the wonderful Villa dei Papiri where 1800 papyrus documents were found along with sculptures in bronze and marble. Finally, there are the Terme del Foro (Thermal Baths) divided into two sections, male and female and, recently opened, the Casa dei Cervi where statues of deer being attacked by a pack of dogs were found.
The marvellous polychrome mosaic of Neptune and Afitrite in Villa dei Papiri, excavations at Herculaneum | Photo: Graham-H, via Pixabay
One of the common aspects of the two ancient cities was the vendemmia or grape harvest, the most lucrative activity in the area of Vesuvius thanks to its remarkable grapes, sought after the world over, even today. For a complete experience, it is possible to organise guided excursions through the hotel in the archeological areas with a lovely stop for refreshments at the Cantina del Vesuvio with tastings of local wines and a visit to the producer’s vineyards. Maurizio Russo in fact, son of Giovanni, founder in 1948 of the little winery that Maurizio transformed later in the Cantina, explains to us how the visits are carried out and the reasons behind the company only using direct and online sales.
“Whoever comes to visit us, has the chance to discover, up close, the story of our company, the cultivation systems and the grapes themselves. We offer a visit to the vineyards, stopping on our wonderful terrace which has an incredible view of the sea around Capri and the Gulf of Naples. Since we’re at 200 metres above sea-level, we have the possibility to offer a view that goes all the way to the ruins of Pompei. Then we offer a tasting of our wines with antipasti of local products like salami, bruschetta with tomatoes, cheeses, capocollo and then, we usually offer a primo piatto, spaghetti with Piennolo tomatoes from Vesuvius DOP. The pasta we use is produced locally by Pastificio F.lli Setaro of Torre Annunziata. Finally, for desert we offer a typical Neapolitan pastry with our prized grappa Lacryma Christi”.
In the vineyards of Cantina del Vesuvio
At the end of the tasting, it is possible to visit the canteens, where the machines used for bottling and placing the wine in casks can be seen. It is a small-scale producer, dedicated to quality over quantity. This is the reason why Cantina del Vesuvio decided on using only direct and online sales for their wines.
“The wine we produce, in fact, is biological, therefore, it contains no sulphites,” continues Giovanni Russo. “We have 12 hectares of vineyards, and the harvest occurs between September and October, depending on the crop. We make white, red and rosé Lacryma Christi, as well as a small quantity of extra virgin olive oil of Vesuvius and the vinegar of Lacryma Christi”.
Maurizio Russo, the Founder of Cantina del Vesuvio
Whoever wishes may also take a Cooking Class (by reservation), a brief cooking lesson of 3-4 hours, where visitors can enjoy themselves, cooking the dishes they will eat later on as they taste local wines.