Herculaneum and Solfatara

Jun 06, 2015


The last day of the trip involved us visiting a number of sites that slowly took us back towards the airport and our eventual return to the UK. First stop was the Roman ruins of Herculaneum. Unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum was covered by a massive landslide of boiling mud that engulfed the town following the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. Also, unlike Pompeii, Herculaneum, named by the Greeks after its supposed founder Hercules, was a holiday destination for the rich and famous rather than a merchants town. The first sight that greeted the students were the skeletons of fisherman caught in their boat houses between the boiling mud and the tsunami. Our guide Marco took us on a highly informative tour that weaved through the incredibly well preserved ruins. We saw both male and female baths houses, the house of a very influential politician, Roman ‘fast food’ shops, a bar replete with the original advertising lettering and price list on the wall outside and even the shop where male inhabitants sold their urine so that it could be used to wash clothes and teeth of Herculaneum residents! As you can imagine, the last one caused some raised eyebrows from the students. Marco did a marvellous job in linking together the culture and history of Herculaneum with the geography of the area and the archeology that uncovered this treasure.

Next stop was the national archeological museum in Naples. Lunch was a quick affair outside the museum as we tried to cram in as much as we could before it was time to leave this exceptional part of the world: sadly that meant pizza again! Inside the museum we were able to see some of the finest artefacts that had been removed from both Herculaneum and Pompeii. This included a number of intricately beautiful mosaics. The students also had the choice to view a collection of artefacts that, until the 1960s, had been considered too scandalous to be shown to anyone other than Kings, politicians and noble men (obviously after the exhibition had been vetted by staff!). A short bus ride then took us to solfatara. This is another volcanic crater that is still active. Vincenzo our guide explained how Dante and Virgil had described the place as the entrance to hell due to its bubbling mud pools, steaming fumarole and heady sulphur smell. He showed us the different crystals that could be found there and that were used to make the colours that we had seen in the wall decorations at both Herculaneum and Pompeii. We also had a chance to see the hot water well, natural sauna and conduct some experiments with the hot sulphur fumaroles.

Vincenzo was another example of the splendid guides that we had experienced all week. He seamlessly linked the geology of the area with its chemistry and history, making it entertaining and informative in equal measure.
Then, sadly, it was back to the airport and the real world of crowded check-ins, soggy sandwiches and queueing.

A half hour delay and we were in the air returning to what we will hope will be a sun drenched heat wave affected Boston just down the road from the warm, glittering crystal clear North Sea. I think that there will be some sad faces on Saturday morning!
Thank you for supporting this trip, I am sure that your daughter will be able to bring this incredible experience to life much better than I have been able to do with her photographs and stories.