Most people are familiar with the destruction of Pompeii, which occurred in AD 79. After all, it’s now one of the biggest tourist attractions in Italy and draws thousands of tourists each year. However, a significantly smaller number of people are aware that the day Mount Vesuvius erupted, it also destroyed another Roman city called Herculaneum.
On the day of the eruption, Pompeii was downwind from the volcano and was thus quickly buried under a covering of ash. Herculaneum, on the other hand, was upwind and was destroyed more than 12 hours later when it was hit by a blast of scorching ash, rock, and volcanic gas. The blast was of such high temperature that it instantly carbonized everything in the city, leaving Herculaneum extremely well-preserved (more so than Pompeii, in fact).
While the city of Herculaneum was never quite lost or forgotten, it nevertheless wasn’t until the 18th century that it was “rediscovered”—completely by accident. In 1709, a farmer was digging a well and found some elaborate marble stonework. It was later realized that he had actually discovered the remains of the magnificent Roman theater of Herculaneum, which had been lying undisturbed beneath his fields for over a 1,000 years.
After the initial accidental discovery, a series of “robber” shafts and tunnels were dug to strip the site of any valuable items. Not long after, however, Herculaneum was explored on a more scientific basis for King Charles of Bourbon. In the 20th century, archaeological excavations recommenced on a far more modern and scientific basis, which resulted in the discovery of more interesting Roman artifacts.