|'College of the Augustals', Herculaneum|
The frescoes are perhaps the most stunning survivals, but even more extraordinary in some ways is the fact that there are wooden survivals, too - doors, window shutters, a wine rack, and parts of a staircase and of ceiling timbers.
The wood is charred and blackened, and the window-shutters show the encrusted mud and ash, and somehow these serve to remind you that this was a vast human tragedy, as well as creating an archeological treasure trove.
A couple of days after visiting Herculaneum, I visited Pompeii, which is the same, only bigger. Parts of the town are closed off, for conservation, or for safety reasons, (there are a lot of walls propped up with scaffolding poles, and there are no maps to tell you which parts will be closed, so you can find yourself going round in circles to try to reach a specific house, only to find yourself foiled at every turn! However, I did manage to get in to see the Terme Suburbane - these are currently undergoing conservation, and are not generally open, but if you pre-book you can still go in (it looked to me as though they let a maximum of 15 people in every 30 minutes, but it doesn't seem to be publicised, so I was able to book a place, even though I didn't try to book until the day before I went)
The Baths (im)famously have explicit pictures - whether to illustrate what was on offer to patrons, or simply to give them ideas, is unknown. Allegedly, the Vatican got quite upset about them...
There are also some wonderful (if very faded) scenes with fishes and other water animals, including a lovely Hippo, and a gloriously sinuous octopus!
Another highlight was seeing the Villa dei Misteri, which has some amazingly complete wall paintings, as well as decorative pillars, mosaic floors, and a number of stray dogs keeping cool by lying on the 2000 year old floors.. (I don't think the dogs are original, though. Perhaps they are decended from the original canem of which one must cave in Pompeii...?)
They are extraordinary places. And it seems somehow fitting that there is rosemary gowing amoung so many of the ruined villas, for rememberance...
and bouganvillia and pomegranites, too, and the occasional olive tree. And little lizards run across the walls, as they must always have done.
Further pictures in my flickr set here