Herculaneum Or Pompeii?

2nd August 2019

During our ‘Amalfi and Sicily’ cruises on Royal Clipper, you will stop in the beautiful gateway to the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento. Whilst the town itself is well worth exploring, boasting a beautiful marina and vibrant shopping street where the air is filled with the smell of lavender and lemons, many people will head off up the coast on an exciting shore excursion.

Should you decide to do this, the options include trips to Pompeii and Herculaneum, two ancient settlements destroyed by a powerful eruption from Mount Vesuvius, which looms in the background wherever you go in this part of the world.

With no time to do both, a decision needs to be made. Which one of these excavated cities should you choose? Both will provide a fantastic day ashore, but here is a little comparison to help you decide.


Pompeii and Vesuvius




Some people reading this may be unaware of Herculaneum but, yes, there is another open-air museum that highlights the destruction caused by Vesuvius, located just down the road from Pompeii. Similar to how it was at its peak, Herculaneum is much more understated than Pompeii and thus fewer people know about it. This usually leads to smaller crowds – something definitely worth thinking about if you don’t want to be swallowed up by large numbers of other visitors.

In contrast, Pompeii is known the world over and its story is one that’s been recounted many times. Part of its appeal is the just that: it’s Pompeii. Can you really come all this way and miss out on such a popular and historic attraction?


Pompeii Forum

Pompeii Forum

In its day, Herculaneum was a much smaller town than Pompeii. There was no large forum and no expansive green spaces like you can see in Pompeii, and the main street was not wide enough for wagons to travel up and down. However, this does make the complex easier to explore, and you won’t feel like you’ve missed anything. Despite its smaller size, Herculaneum is thought to have been wealthier than Pompeii, a theory backed up by the elaborate nature of the bathhouses.

The ruins of Pompeii, on the other hand, are much more spread out, making it harder to see everything in one visit. With just four and a half hours put aside for the excursion, you may only have time to observe the highlights. Having said that, its larger size means there is a broader range of things to see, such as the main forum, the basilica and a secondary amphitheatre.

Preservation, Preservation, Preservation

Herculaneum Street

Herculaneum Street

To understand the different ways in which Pompeii and Herculaneum are preserved, you first need to understand the geography of the area. Ercolano, as it is called in Italian, is much closer to Vesuvius, situated between the ferocious volcano and the sea. Pompeii is located further south and is slightly more inland.

On that fateful day in 79AD, it was Herculaneum that was hit first. A wall of mud tumbled down the side of the mountain and covered the city within minutes. However, whilst it would have suffocated the residents, the mud coated the buildings and later hardened, preserving what was underneath perfectly. The villas and merchant houses are therefore much more intact than those in Pompeii and archaeologists were even able to uncover fabrics and furniture from the shops.

Meanwhile, the effects in Pompeii were slower but far more catastrophic. A sheet of tremendously hot ash rained down from the sky, burning everything that it touched and setting fire to anything made of wood. It seared through the skin of the fleeing people, before burying them for years. Later, the cavities left by their bodies would be filled with plaster to create the casts that you can see in various locations in Pompeii today. In contrast, actual skeletons were discovered close to the shoreline in Herculaneum, as the citizens tried to escape in boats. All this means that, whilst still impressive and fascinating, the ruins at Pompeii aren’t as well-preserved.

Whichever site you choose to explore, you’re sure to enjoy an insightful and thought-provoking day that will give you a much better idea of the history of the area. If you would like to discuss our Western Mediterranean cruises and the ‘Amalfi and Sicily’ itinerary, in particular, you can call the team on 0845 200 6145. You can also get in touch by using our online chat.

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