Textbook conservation, road mayhem and for whom the bell tolls

In contrast to Pompeii, we found Herculaneum – also buried when Mt Vesuvius erupted – beautifully cared for, well conserved. and with excellently presented information.

Herculaneum was cared for, well conserved. and with excellently presented information.

Apparently it wasn’t always the case – pre 2001 the town was in a dire state after years of mismanagement. Then the Packard Humanities Institute began the Herculaneum Conservation Project, a private-public partnership which over time provided not just funding but also resources and skilled experts. Now the project has joined with the British School in Rome to actively teach students how to maintain the site.

A textbook case of successful archeological conservation.

This external assistance really shows and today it is regarded as a textbook case of successful archeological conservation.

It was fascinating to watch conservation work in progress
….and see the results

As you enter the site you look down over the ancient town which today sits at around four metres below sea level. While this causes all sorts of conservation headaches and the need for complex drainage systems, on the positive side it presents a very dramatic view as you arrive.

A view of Herculaneum before you enter this wonderful archeological site

Gazing over the site we had an excellent view of the neat grid pattern of the streets. Our eyes were also drawn to the foreground where there is a small body of brackish water edged by around six cavern-like rooms carved out of the rock.

Looking at the six arched caverns in the foreground near where the beach once was
As we walked towards the caverns we saw what looked like a heap of bones

A walkway takes you down to that level and as we walked alongside what was once a beach we saw what looked like a heap of bones. As we got closer, we saw that they were indeed just that. In fact there were skeletons – the first of which were discovered only in 1981 and then hundreds more discovered in the 1990s.

The walkway that takes you down into the ancient town
Just some of the skeletons only discovered in the 1980s and ‘90s

Until then, archeologists thought nearly all of the inhabitants had managed to escape but this surprising discovery led to a change of view. Sadly the men, women and children were killed by the intense heat (500 degrees C) of the first surge while waiting to be rescued by boats.

There were copious memorable buildings, frescos and mosaics at Herculaneum. We spent many hours wandering through the ancient streets full of amazement that the town and some of its inhabitants had remained buried for so long under 20 metres of ash and Yet emerged with such grace and beauty. .

Impressive columns
One of the bathhouses
A fabulous mosaic floor
A beautiful fresco preserved under glass
The interior of a home in Herculaneum
Loved the graceful proportions of this pair of horses

Unlike Pompeii, the volcanic material that covered Herculaneum carbonised thereby preserving wood in objects such as roofs, beds and doors as well as other organic-based materials such as food.

The mosaics were of exceptional quality

Temple columns
More gorgeous mosaics withe exquisite colours

This one was particularly fine

For us, one of the most intriguing discoveries was that of a boat overturned by the force of the eruption. The volcanic flow buried the boat and solidified – encasing and preserving the timber until it was discovered in 1982. All very fascinating.

In the boat shed
The remains of a boat preserved under the volcanic flow

On the way to Herculaneum we experienced some truly terrifying Italian driving. It is hard to describe but imagine driving where there are no rules of the road and everyone drives like a racing car driver but with total disregard for safety – no giving way at roundabouts, cars overtaking when others have stopped for a very good reason, motorbikes coming straight for you on your side of the road at top speed, parking on roundabouts and other places. It was total mayhem!

Traffic chaos on the way to the Herculaneum site
There appeared to be no road rules!
A motor bike coming towards us at top speed on our side of the road

We were very relieved to get there in one piece!

After Herculaneum our next stop was Monte Cassino famous for the Second World War battle which destroyed much of the town of Cassino and the magnificent monastery perched on top of the “Monte”.

Will we fit through this small gap in our extra wide campervan?
Monte Cassino with the monastery just visible on top of the hill

The monastery, the first of the Benedectine Order, was established in 529 by Saint Benedict and its buildings were rebuilt after the war with the new Basilica being consecrated on 24 October 1964.

The monastery in ruins after allied bombing in WWII
Looking down onto the town of Cassino

Our first night in Cassino was spent in a camp site near the town which was hard to find and quite noisy as there was a railway line right next to where we were parked.

This was the entry into the campsite according to Google maps! Eventually we found an alternative route.
The rubbish was appalling in southern Italy

After looking round the Monastery we decided to stay up on top of the hill as there was a fabulous view and very quiet – or so we thought!

Monastery buildings at Mote Casssino
Rebuilt after destruction of the Monastery by Allied bombing in WWII

The lines of the building were very graceful

Just before 5 am we were woken up with a start by the sound of a huge bell booming out from the Monastery- announcing the start of the early morning service. More bells joined in and they clanged and they donged and they bonged and they rang for what seemed like a lifetime (it was actually about 15 minutes but still.)

The Basilica was sumptuous
There was a lot of gold paint in evidence

…and quite a few cherubs
The chapel dedicated to St Benedict

What a relief when it stopped as the ringing was so loud it reverberated round the van. We were literally shaking in our bed. But no, it wasn’t over! The bells started again – this time there were more of them and they went on for another fifteen minutes.

Finally after about an hour of incessant ringing, the bells fell silent and we were at last able to get back to sleep again.

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

2 thoughts on “Textbook conservation, road mayhem and for whom the bell tolls”

  1. Heculaneum looks beautiful – your photos certainly make me want to go there! Can’t believe how well-preserved the frescoes and mosaics are. Italy at its best!


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