Ecolano, ancient Herculaneum beach reopens to the public, the first within an archaeological park

Reopens to the public from today at the Herculaneum Archaeological Park the ancient beach of Herculaneum, It is the first within an archaeological park.

Starting today, June 19, the ancient beach of Herculaneum, the first within an archaeological park, reopens. Visitors can then walk freely on the beach and experience the atmosphere of the ancient city overlooking the sea. The opening ceremony, which took place this morning at the Herculaneum Archaeological Park, was attended by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano, who was accompanied on the visit by the park’s director, Francesco Sirano.

The rearrangement of the ancient beach is the result of a long multi-year and multidisciplinary journey of research, archaeological excavations, restoration, and engineering and architectural interventions. Ancient Herculaneum, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, is revived with the final arrangement, in the wake of a design donated by the Packard Humanities Institute as part of a public-private partnership called the Herculaneum Conservation Project with the goal of restoring an image as close as possible to what it looked like before the eruption.

The new layout of the area, funded under the CIS Vesuvius Pompeii Naples and coordinated by the Greater Pompeii Unit, promises to enrich the experience of visiting the park in the short term. In the medium term, the project envisions the reunification of the main archaeological area with the Villa of the Papyri, outlining a comprehensive cultural action plan for the Park’s future.

In recent decades, the beach area has been subject to corrosion and deterioration due to natural factors related to the conveyance of rainwater and rising water, which had turned the beach into a kind of marsh, with associated flooding hazards and impacts on heritage conservation. To address these issues, a multidisciplinary approach was adopted to restore safety and accessibility to the beach, with the creation of a walkable area and the enhancement of the waterfront of the ancient city, offering a completely renewed perception to the visitor of ancient Herculaneum.

The project

Thanks to this project, natural spring water and water collected from the city’s ancient sewers are now under control and partly reused. This has eliminated the constant flooding that endangered the stability of the excavation fronts and ancient monuments. The beach, until the early 2000s, looked like a marshy area with accumulations of water and weedy vegetation. The ancient Herculaneum shoreline was not accessible to the public, except for a limited strip near the western fornices. With the new intervention, the metal footbridge was removed and a walkable area was created that enhances the waterfront of the ancient city.

This project was preceded by studies and research, including a pilot project conducted between 2008 and 2010 in collaboration with the Herculaneum Conservation Project. Since 2011, an archaeological study of the centuries-old history of the ancient beach of Herculaneum and the buildings facing it has been conducted, and since 2021, limited archaeological excavation and cleaning has been carried out, revealing traces of ancient sand still adhering to the masonry. Thanks in part to the study of archival documents, we now know that at the time of the eruption of 79 AD the entire ancient shoreline was covered by a layer of sand of varying thickness. On this basis, an arrangement was studied consisting of the creation of a surface on which to walk in basalt grit placed in such a way (stabilized with a honeycomb reinforcement) as to be driveable and accessible even by disabled people, and small vehicles for maintenance.

The hydraulic network for water collection and drainage was put in place directly on the tuffaceous bank, which was then covered with a protective layer of washed gravel in a drainage function. In order to recreate the beach level of AD 79 (removed during excavations in the late 1900s), the actual fill layer consists of material of varying size, decreasing from the bottom to the top, of which the last layer constitutes the bedding plane of the honeycomb reinforcement filled with basalt grit. The stratigraphy for the covering of the ancient tuffaceous bank is highly permeable and allows for the runoff of rainwater that insists directly on the beach and that of dispersed spring water and its conveyance to the existing collection tanks; in addition, the thicknesses of the various layers that make up the fill are calibrated to be able to reach the ancient levels of trampling of the area. The choice of using basalt grit as the surface finish, thus a local and gray-colored material, is intended to evoke the appearance of the ancient shoreline at the time of the eruption, that is, covered with dark sand. In addition, this solution offers advantages from a functional point of view, including obtaining the same degree of permeability to water over the entire surface of the beach, without any detriment to the underlying fill and drainage layers; ease of maintenance work, which consists of periodically covering the cells of the honeycomb reinforcement, in a manual manner and with the help of common construction equipment (shovels, rakes, etc.), recovering the same grit that has undergone movement as a result of the passage of people and vehicles, or the action of rainwater.

Finally, the lighting system enriches the perception of the beach enclave and enhances the waterfront of the ancient city during visits and evening events.

The intervention is part of the broader activity of planned maintenance and restoration that has the main purpose of safeguarding the archaeological area of Herculaneum in a sustainable form, in the long term. And to make the heritage usable to the public. In particular, with this project six of the most important domus of ancient Herculaneum will be reopened for use after many decades of closure: Apollo Citaredo; Atrio a Mosaico; Casa a Graticcio; Colonnato Tuscanico; Mobilio Carbonizzato; Sacello di Legno. The individual interventions are united by an interdisciplinary approach and the goal of bringing both the structures and the decorated surfaces to such a level of preservation that these domus can also be included within the routine maintenance system that the Park carries out, which is the methodology successfully used by the Institute


“This site has been enormously redeveloped and is becoming a jewel,” Minister Sangiuliano said. “We are within the archaeological area among the most important in the world with Pompeii, Oplontis and Herculaneum, and we are also working a lot in terms of resources. In the budget law we have allocated new resources for the excavations. In addition, we have foreseen that a museum center is to be created in the Spolettificio di Torre Annunziata, and we think that all this can also represent a great opportunity for socio-economic development for our territories. The Herculaneum Archaeological Park is a great historical memory, and the value of history, as Benedetto Croce said, is always a contemporary fact. History is a kind of toolbox where we find the tools with which to interpret the present and ’Vichianly’ prefigure the future.”

“As part of the CIS Vesuvius Pompeii Naples, in my capacity as Director for supporting the implementation of MiC programs, as well as legal representative of the Great Pompeii Unit, I play the role of the Ministry of Culture’s Single Contact Person,” said Carabinieri Brigadier General Giovanni Capasso, Director General of the Great Pompeii Unit. “The aforementioned Unit follows the implementation, physical, procedural, economic and financial monitoring of the CIS VEPONA interventions, proposed by the PMU, ensuring the grantee its support at every stage of the administrative and implementation process of the intervention. The VEPONA CIS represents the instrument identified by the legislature for the implementation of the Strategic Plan for the development of the areas included in the UNESCO Site Management Plan 829 ’Archaeological Areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata’, updated and approved by the Management Committee in 2022, in which, one of the priority interventions was identified in the ’Improvement of the Herculaneum Archaeological Park and its relationship with the territory’ in view of the importance that the revitalization of this site could have for the entire economy of the area and for the enhancement of its tourist attractiveness. In this scenario, the actions envisaged in the Strategic Plan of the Greater Pompeii Unit should be framed, including the intervention called Works for the enhancement of the ancient beach of the Herculaneum Excavations and the rejoining to the visit of the Villa of the Papyri in the New Excavations, for an amount of € 3,437,480.01, from the FSC 2014-2020 (ex Del. CIPE n.10/2018), merged into the Development and Cohesion Plan of the Ministry of Culture (Del. CIPESS n.7/2021 ss. mm. ii.). For the implementation of this intervention, an Agreement was signed between the Greater Pompeii Unit and the Herculaneum Archaeological Park in June 2021. Today, after three years of intensive work aimed at the enhancement of the ancient beach of the Herculaneum excavations, by draining and filling the area formerly occupied by the sandy shore, visitors are given free access over the entire area and an understanding of the dynamics that led to the burial of the city. The continuation of the work, constantly monitored by the Greater Pompeii Unit, will soon allow the beach to be reunited with the area of the new excavations where the Villa of the Papyri is located.”

“The ancient beach is an extraordinary and unique place in the world. In order to preserve it for the future, we have reduced the risk of continuous flooding and the dangers to the stability of the excavation fronts and the sea front of the ancient city by revising it today as the ancient Romans did. We restore the 79 A.D. landscape and let everyone walk the beach again. If we turn our heads where the sea once was, we become modern explorers of the immense blanket of volcanic flows that covered the city in a matter of hours, and we cannot escape sharing almost the sense of total annihilation of our human condition in the face of the evidence of the cataclysm of 79 AD. We are on the site where archaeological research has uncovered evidence that more than 300 desperate people tried unsuccessfully to be rescued thanks to a full-fledged civil defense operation directed by the admiral and distinguished Roman scholar Pliny the Elder,” explained Herculaneum Archaeological Park director Francesco Sirano. “This project now allows us to combine extreme historical archaeological interest with topographical and urbanistic interest since it is now possible to appreciate over an area of more than 3,000 square meters, up close, and I would say almost as protagonists, the only sea front of a Roman city almost entirely preserved. Research that began in the 1980s unearthed a unique anthropological sample represented by more than 300 victims of the eruption, most of whom took refuge inside some of the warehouses associated with the landing. After some interventions in the 1990s, thanks to the public-private partnership with the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI), the area has been included within a strategy aimed at excavation, research, conservation and fruition according to innovative approaches based on the multidisciplinarity of the planned interventions and with extraordinary results such as the discovery of the polychrome wooden ceiling of the main hall of the house of the Relief of Telefo. In the spring of 2021 work resumed in this very important sector of the archaeological area, with a complex and ambitious project aimed at redesigning and enhancing the ancient Herculaneum shoreline, returning it to enhanced fruition and a more immediate understanding of the settlement and burial dynamics of the site. Interesting data have emerged from the early work, with the discovery of thousands of wooden artifacts, mostly belonging to the roofs of the buildings that were torn off and thrown onto the beach by the violence of the pyroclastic flows of 79 A.D. in addition to many fragments of tiles and roof tiles and some fragments of marble and marble columns.”

Photo credit: Emanuele Antonio Minerva - Ministry of Culture

Ecolano, ancient Herculaneum beach reopens to the public, the first within an archaeological park
Ecolano, ancient Herculaneum beach reopens to the public, the first within an archaeological park

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