HERCULANEUM
I am much indebted to the Herculaneum Conservation Project team for their help and encouragement for my visit to Herculaneum. The director, Professor Wallace-Hadrill, arranged for contact to be made with the members of the team working at Herculaneum and one of them, Sophie Canteneur, met us at the site, allowed us to use the facilities of their offices and showed us the team’s current project, the House of the Telephus Relief. Unfortunately she was not able to gain permission to visit any of the areas closed to the public. Once again, as in Pompeii, there was more than we had time to see in the day’s visit.


According to Angela Savalli, the intern at the Restoration Project who had been working on polychrome marble, there is cipollino in nearly all the opus sectile floors in Herculaneum. This includes the houses of the Relievo del Telefo (Telephus Relief), of the Atrio a Mosaico (Mosaic Atrium), of the Alcova (Alcove), of the Cervi (of the Stags), of the Mobilio Carbonizzato (Carbonized Furniture), Nettuno I Amphititre (Neptune and Anfititre), Augustali (Augustales) and the Thermae Suburbanae (Suburban Baths).44 Several of these were closed to the public but it was possible to visit a representative selection.

The city of Herculaneum, after periods of Oscan and Samnite domination fell to the Romans in 89 BC. Like Pompeii it was damaged by the earthquake of 63 AD and overwhelmed by the Vesuvius eruption in AD 79, being buried in a layer of volcanic matter. It is only a third of the size of Pompeii and was a residential area where the wealthy Romans built their houses, houses which followed a slightly different pattern from those of Pompeii, with a peristyle ‘with windows overlooking the central garden and a central courtyard’.45

Herculaneum is situated 10 kilometres from Naples and is easily reached on the circumvesuviano railway in about 20 minutes. To reach the site you walk downhill from the station of Ercolano Scavi towards the sea. The city was buried by the fine dust, from the pyroclastyic surges of the volcano and therefore the modern town is built at the level of the top of the ancient city and in many cases on top of it. Where ancient Herculaneum has been excavated there are high walls between the old and the new town. (Plates 2.67 & 2.68). Formerly the ancient city had a sea view and the coast was much nearer to the town than at present.


The entrance is across the bridge which leads into the Cardo III Inferiore. There are 4-5 small fragments of cipollino in the bar between Nos. 39 and 38 (Plates 2.69 & 2.70). Outside the Casa del Salone Nero (House of the Black Saloon) on the Cardo IV Inferiore there are small fragments on the floor (Plate 2.71). The College of the Augustales has fragments of cipollino on the opus sectile floor and excellent frescoes on the walls (Plate 2.72). The walls are constructed of bricks which must have been faced formerly with stone or marble. The ‘thermopolium’ (or bar) at the junction of Cardo IV Superiore and the Decumanus Maximus has considerable amounts of cipollino in the counters (Plate 2.73). The Grande Taberna, at the NE corner of the Insula 4, is the best preserved shop in the town according to Professor Wallace - Hadrill (Plate 274).

The Casa del Rilievo de Telefo (the House of the Telephus Relief) is the area which is being restored and conserved by Professor Wallace-Hadrill’s team, the Herculaneum Restoration Project, visited with Sophie Canteneur. The sign outside the project’s offices reads, ‘The house of the Telephus Relief was almost entirely excavated by Amadeo Maiuri between 1934 and 1936. The excavated part of this large domus extends over an area of more than 1800m2, and is made up of more than 60 rooms. It owes its name to the marble relief found on 16 January 1935 in room 17, which depicts the myth of Telephus (the son of Hercules). He was wounded and then later healed by Achilles on the way to the Trojan wars. The house contains some extraordinary marble floors and important frescoes, particularly in the southern wing while the building rises to a height of three floors. The House of the Telephus Relief, along with the House of the Gem and the House of MPP Granianus, is part of an ongoing case study project.’


The Marble Room (Plate 2.75) on the top level has walls faced with marble and much of it is cipollino. Lazzarini in his chapter on cipollino marble writes that ‘crustae walls of cipollino are still in place at Herculaneum in the Casa del Rilievo de Telefo where panels of good quality may be found, some of them still in place and unbroken, alternating chromatically’.46 Wallace-Hadrill describes it, ‘On the top two levels of the house the rooms are decorated with opus sectile marble floors and the lower part of the walls are clad in coloured marble. The room at the top level has especially lavish cladding, columns with delicate spiral 184 fluting dividing carefully selected panels of large plaques of varied marble, the yellow-orange of Numidian marble from Chemtou, the white and red ‘pavonzetto’ of Phrygia, with its peacock display of purples and the green cipollino marble (with its onion cross section) from Greek Karystos.’
There are four rectangular panels of cipollino measuring .88 m. /3 Rf in height and .57 m. /2 Rf in width (
Plates 2.76, 2.77 & 2.78). There are also lower narrow panels measuring 1.71 m. /5.77 Rf wide and .28 m. /.95 Rf in height (Plate 2.79), and one strip measuring 2.80 m. /9.45 Rf in width and .26 m./.87 Rf high. The flooring is opus sectile with cipollino (Plate 2.80).
The rectangular panels at first appeared to be whole pieces of rather unusual colouring for cipollino. Upon closer examination of our photographs it became clear that they are in fact made up of pieces of cipollino put together with spaces in between filled with cement, which helped to give the strange colouring to the panels. The fact that there has been disassembly and reassembly of the marble in the House of the Telephus Relief has been confirmed by the author of the paper on polychrome marble at Herculaneum, Angela Savalli.

The Casa dei Cervi (House of the Stags) which is next to the Telefo (Plate 2.81), has considerable marble (including cipollino) in the flooring, some of it mosaic inset with bigger pieces of marble (Plate 2.82), some in opus sectile (Plates 2.83 & 2.84).


In the Thermae Suburbanae (the Suburban Baths) there is a basin of cipollino (the labrum) which unfortunately it was not possible to see to see as these baths were not open to the public. (Professor Wallace-Hadrill has kindly given permission to reproduce his image of the basin) (Plate 2.85). When asked where the public buildings were, Sophie Canteneur said that the theatre which is on the edge of the site is never open to the public because it exudes poisonous fumes. There are remains of a forum and probably much more of the ancient city under the modern town.

Professor Wallace-Hadrill’s answer to the question of the lack of public buildings is that ‘they are partially buried – the theatre, the Basilica and its larger neighbour, the ‘so-called basilica’, and even the Palaestra disappear under the rock face. Then there are the public buildings down by the sea front; the Suburban Baths (these are indeed impressive) and the two temples on the terrace of the Area Sacra, so easy to over look because they have never been reconstructed. It requires an effort to see the public life of the town at all’.47

44 Email from A. Savalli to Professor Wallace Hadrill, copied to the author. A. Savalli is the author of the report, Savalli, A. (2011) L’opus sectile nel sito archeologico di Ercolano con particulare riferimentro al ‘Salone dei Marmari’ nella ‘Casa del Rilievo de Telefo’. This report was produced for the Herculaneum Conservation Project, a Packard Humanities Institute initiative in partnership with the Sopritendenza Speciale per I Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei and the British School at Rome – www.herculaneum.org.
45 Blanchard, Paul, p.198.

46 Lazzarini, L. 2007, p.184fluting

47 Wallace-Hadrill, p. 151.

Maps and Plates

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Plate 2.67 High walls of ‘tuff’ left after the eruption of Vesuvius, Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.68 End of the bridge to the entrance of the site and Cardo III Inferiore with modern town in the background, Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.69 Bar at 38-39 Cardo III Inferiore, Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.70 Close up of cipollino fragments in the bar at 38-39 Cardo III Inferiore, Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.71 Cipollino fragments in the opus sectile flooring outside the Casa del Salone Nero, (House of the Black Saloon) Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.72 Cipollino fragments in the opus sectile flooring of the College of Augustales, Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.73 Cipollino fragments in the bar at the junction of Cardo IV Superiore and the Decumanus Maximus, Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.74 Cipollino fragments in the Grande Taberna, ‘best preserved shop in the town’, at the NE corner of Insula 4, Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.75 Marble Room (with roof) at the Casa del Rilievo del Telefo (House of the Telephus Relief), Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.76, 2.77 & 2.78 Cipollino panels in the Marble Room of the Casa del Relievo del Telefo (House of the Telephus Relief) Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.76, 2.77 & 2.78 Cipollino panels in the Marble Room of the Casa del Relievo del Telefo (House of the Telephus Relief) Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.76, 2.77 & 2.78 Cipollino panels in the Marble Room of the Casa del Relievo del Telefo (House of the Telephus Relief) Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.79 Lower, narrower panels of cipollino in the Marble Room of the Casa del Relievo del Telefo (House of the Telephus Relief), Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.80 Fragments of cipollino in the opus sectile flooring in the Marble Room of the Casa del Relievo del Telefo (House of the Telephus Relief ), Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.81 Garden of the Casa dei Cervi (House of the Stags), Herculaneum.

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Plates 2.82, 2.83 & 2.84 Fragments of cipollino in the flooring of the Casa dei Cervi (House of the Stags), Herculaneum.

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Plates 2.82, 2.83 & 2.84 Fragments of cipollino in the flooring of the Casa dei Cervi (House of the Stags), Herculaneum.

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Plates 2.82, 2.83 & 2.84 Fragments of cipollino in the flooring of the Casa dei Cervi (House of the Stags), Herculaneum.

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Plate 2.85 Cipollino basin (labrum) in the Suburban Baths, Herculaneum. (Courtesy of Professor Wallace- Hadrill, Director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project).