Today we went to two places – Oplontis and Herculaneum. Both sites are very close to stops on the graffiti encrusted local train, so off we went. AHB note: Michael went - I decided to stay in and relax as the area is now officially suffering a heat wave.
OPLANTIS – This is not a town but a VERY large private villa that belonged to the richest patron of the area. Legend has it that the villa belonged to the family of Nero’s second wife, who he kicked to death when she was pregnant with his child. The villa lies amidst the urban squalor of metropolitan Naples, home to gangs, drug dealers, mafia want-a-be’s and other riff raff. It was found in the early 1980s when a developed wanted to add yet another dreary multi-story apartment building to the squalor. In digging the foundations for the building the ruins were found. The government immediately stepped in and took over the site. This site is the most significant find in area in a century or more. We are blessed that it was found when it was, as archeologists were able to apply modern excavation techniques for the first time to a significant find in the area. (For much of the first century after the other sites were found, the activity was closer to looting (or grave robbing) than archeology.
The result is absolutely stunning. Room after room of frescos mostly intact, mosaic floors still in place. The owners were obliviously very wealthy. They had a private swimming people that is at least 200 meters long, 40 wide and about 2 deep. And that is just the part that has been uncovered. (The resources necessary just to bring enough water to the site to keep it full of fresh water boggle the mind.) The site is still surrounded on all 4 sides by the modern city and excavation had to stop when it reached the property lines so we still don’t know the true extent of the estate. WOW!!!
We hopped back on the train and went somewhat closer to Naples to visit Herculaneum. After getting off the train, all 19 of us trooped into a restaurant for lunch. The staff must have been used to that kind of a crowd; they handled the situation with aplomb. We then walked down hill (this will become important later) to the site, which once you enter required more downhill walking to get to the actual buildings. Herc was a small, perhaps upscale, town that was right on the water. It had (and has) a strong slope down to the sea and Vesuvius looms menacingly just a few miles away. The town was built on the slope resulting in multiple levels of buildings. Herc was buried by a wall of mud and thus did not suffer the kind of damage that Pompeii did, which was leveled by multiple pyroclastic (sp?) flows. When the mud hit the city it flowed thru it and around it and into the sea. When the mud stopped the new coast line was at least a mile into the sea from where it had been the day before. (Today the coast line is nearly two miles from the ancient coast line.) This is stunningly demonstrated by the fact that where the coast line used to be is a wall of dried mud at least 100 feet tall, with an additional 30 feet (or so) on top of soil that has accumulated over the last 1900 years.