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Herculaneum vs Pompeii – Which One to Visit?

Although Herculaneum and Pompeii are only 9 miles (14 km) apart.

Both are often mentioned together because of their shared history of destruction by the Mount Vesuvius eruption in AD 79.

However, both are distinct from one another. 

We’ll guide you to understand the difference between Herculaneum and Pompeii based on certain factors.

Comparing Herculaneum vs Pompeii

Size- A significant difference between Herculaneum and Pompeii is their size. 

Herculaneum covered an area of about 20 hectares and had a population of around 4,000.

Pompeii covered an area of around 66 hectares and may have had a population of 10,000 to 20,000 residents.

Another factor to the size difference is that Herculaneum is estimated to have been excavated only 20%. 

In contrast, Pompeii is nearly 70% excavated, even though a third is still buried under debris.

Wealth- Herculaneum was wealthier than Pompeii.

Herculaneum is illustrated by luxurious private homes featuring lavish use of colored marble cladding, as a prime example.

Consequently, Pompeii boasts a more diverse range of architectural styles.

Effect of eruption:  Another main difference is that both cities were destroyed by the same catastrophe but in distinct ways.

While Pompeii was buried under tons of pyroclastic material, on the other hand, mud and scorching gas destroyed Herculaneum. 

Due to this, the excavation of Herculaneum was much more challenging than Pompeii.

For centuries, archaeologists couldn’t find any human remains in Herculaneum, unlike Pompeii.

It was in 1980 when about 300 skeletons burned by a surge of gas at 550 degrees Celsius expelled by the volcano were discovered.

These people are believed to have taken shelter in a warehouse near the sea, waiting for help that never came.

This is the largest number of skeletons from antiquity that have survived. 

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How was Pompeii Destroyed

How was Pompeii Destroyed
Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

Although Pompeii is 5.5 miles (9km) southeast of Mt. Vesuvius, it was the first to be hit by an eruption.

The eruption happened in 2 phases. 

According to an eyewitness, Pliny the Younger, Pompeii experienced several small earthquakes sixteen years later, in either August or October of 79 AD. 

However, the people there did not find them concerning because such earthquakes were common in Campania.

On that same day, shortly after noon, Mount Vesuvius erupted again.

A massive cloud of volcanic gas, ash, and rocks shot high into the sky, visible for hundreds of miles.

The debris then fell like rain—fine-grained ash fell first, followed by lightweight pumice chunks and other rocks. 

Due to the wind blowing south-easterly, these pumice rocks rained down upon Pompeii, wounding the residents, trapping them inside, and causing some buildings to collapse.

The town was gradually submerged under the debris, causing structures to collapse before pyroclastic surges completed the town’s destruction. 

As a result, Pompeii looks rundown in places, with missing walls and little surviving above the ground floor. 

Many fed, some stayed, and those who stayed were frozen in time, buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash.

How was Herculaneum Destroyed

How was Herculaneum Destroyed
Image: Sphraner from Getty Images (Canva)

Herculaneum is 7 km (4.5 miles) northwest of Mt. Vesuvius, the closest city to the volcano.

But surprisingly, it was not much affected, like Pompeii, by the initial eruption due to the wind following the southward direction towards Pompeii.

Pompeii’s destruction took a long time, while Herculaneum’s was quick and final.

At around 1 pm, the first powerful surge raced toward Herculaneum with intense speed and ferocity. 

Blasting over buildings and streets within a few minutes, it wrapped every corner of the town in fine ash.

Then, a second surge came, ripping off roofs and throwing building parts far from where they stood.

Following the volcanic destruction, a muddy flow filled with debris from its buildings buried the town with 23 to 25 meters of material. 

This flow piled up near the coast, pushing Herculaneum’s shoreline approximately 400 meters into the sea.

The first Volcanic surge was at least 500 degrees Celsius, which would have burned everything to ashes.

Interestingly, the ash that destroyed Herculaneum also protected it by turning food, wood, or leather into charcoal and preserving it.

That’s why furniture, food, and even window and door frames are found in their original form in Herculaneum than in Pompeii.

Herculaneum vs Pompeii: Opening Hours 

Herculaneum’s opening times are 9:30 am to 7:30 pm, with the last entry at 6 pm– 30 minutes before the closing, from 16 March to 14 October.

From 15 October to 15 March, the Herculaneum opens from 8:30 am to 5 pm, with the last admission at 3:30 pm.

It remains closed every Wednesday and on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.

Whereas Pompeii’s hours of operation are from 9 am on weekdays and 8.30 am on weekends.

During the peak months of April to October, Pompeii closes at 7 pm, and the attraction closes early at 5 pm. 

The site takes the last entry 90 minutes before closing time and remains closed on 1 January, 1 May and 25 December.

Which one is better- Herculaneum vs Pompeii?

Nearly every Naples, Sorrento, or Amalfi Coast region visitor will want to visit Pompeii or Herculaneum.

Both towns are snapshots of history, with unique aspects and excel at certain things the other lacks. 

Visiting both sites will give you a better understanding of Roman life, culture, and lifestyle than seeing only one. 

While Pompeii presents a big picture, Herculaneum fills the gap with rich details. 

Location

Herculaneum is closer to Naples, while Pompeii is closer to Sorrento/Positano. 

If you’re driving, both Pompeii and Herculaneum are en route from Naples to the Amalfi coast. 

If you’re taking the train, the stop for Pompeii, called “Villa dei Misteri,” is closer to the ruins than the “Ercolano” stop for Herculaneum, regardless of your starting point or destination.

If you are visiting both sites, we recommend booking a combo tour of Herculaneum and Pompeii.

It will eliminate the stress of arranging transportation and optimize your time, ensuring a seamless and efficient exploration of these ancient sites. 

For single-tour 

Pompeii is a large site with a population of about 11,000 during the eruption. 

It would take more than one day to fully explore the site and see its houses, civic buildings, and other features. 

Even after multiple visits, one may feel like they haven’t seen everything. 

In contrast, Herculaneum is much smaller and can be thoroughly explored in a day, even for a hardcore historian.

For those with a walking disability, Herculaneum is easier to navigate. Although Pompeii does have an accessible path, it is generally more challenging to explore. 

Which is better preserved, Pompeii or Herculaneum?

Herculaneum offers a lot of things that Pompeii lacks – almost entirely intact buildings, delicate items such as wood and even food that survived, and two-story houses. 

Numerous Herculaneum structures still have roofs, protecting the delicate artwork within. 

Even after thousands of years, the intricate details of many art pieces are still visible, and the mosaic remains remarkably intact.

On the other hand, Pompeii looks broken in places, with missing walls and very few buildings above a single story. 

Crowd

During peak season, Pompeii tends to be more crowded due to shore tour groups, so it is easier to explore in the afternoon.

On the other hand, the Herculaneum is quieter, usually less crowded in the morning and a little cooler. 

It’s better to visit both sites before 1 pm during the lean period to get the most out of the daylight.

Herculaneum vs Pompeii – Ticket Price Comparison

These are the cheapest and most popular tickets among tourists.

A standard Herculaneum ticket gives you skip-the-line access to the site.

The admission Herculaneum ticket costs €19 for adults aged 18 and above.

EU citizens aged between 18 and 24 pay a discounted fee of €8, whereas children under 17 pay €3.

You also get an audioguide in 5 languages: Spanish, English, French, German, and Italian for your visit.

Pompeii entrance tickets cost €24 for adults above 18, and for EU Citizens aged 18 to 24, it costs €7.

Children aged up to 17 pay a discounted fee of €3. 

Herculaneum Ticket Prices

herculaneum tickets(1)

Adult Ticket (18 + years): €19
Child ticket (4 to 13 years): €3
EU Citizens (18 to 24 years): €8

Pompeii Ticket Prices

Pompii

Adult Ticket (18 + years): €24
Child ticket (4 to 13 years): €3
EU Citizens (18 to 24 years): €7

Featured Image: Darrylbrooks(Canva), Deeepblue / Getty Images

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