The oracle and her gang of virgins

Written by Linton Hutchinson

Imagine if you will, that you wake up (or in this case you don’t wake up) and your entire city has been encased in over 20 meters of snow. But instead of white fluffy snow, you’ve just been suffocated by a deadly cloud of gaseous sulfur, your skin has been seared off your body by heat hot enough to turn water into steam and you are now entombed in volcanic lava for the rest of eternity.

20 meters of lava surrounding the city
20 meters of lava surrounding the city

There you have it.  The description of the remains of a once thriving metropolis in Italy. You’re probably thinking Pompeii with images of bodies incrusted in ash but you’d be wrong.  Beck, knowing her archeology, and Sterling and Wes having already visited Pompeii, made the choice that we explore the best-preserved city in Italy that succumbed to one of the deadliest volcanic eruptions in history – Herculaneum.


If the vacationers in Herculaneum had known that they were enjoyed a holiday under the shadow of  a volcano rather than believing it a gentle mountain where gods and goddesses played, they would perhaps relocated to a safer location. The towns people were use to the ground shaking from time to time but usually chocked it up to Hercules and his buddies playing bocce ball more vigorously than usual. But on this summer day, something seemed different.


Clouds formed, thunder roared,  and an oderfious, pungent smell rolled down from the mountain.  It was a faint odor at first similar to walking behind a herd of sheep or eating spaghetti with too much garlic and quickly filled the town to the chagrin of everybody.


The Oracle declared that Hercules was angry with the town for not giving alms to support the faith and that they were to leave the city.  Being alarmed at these turn of events, they took heed of her warning, filling her coffers and left Herculean en mass. The town was deserted as everybody took to the road.


Just like today, in any disaster situation the Oracle quickly spread the word that the more they gave, the sooner things would return to normal. And gave they did. One day passed and suddenly the ground stopped shaking. Two days passed and the ocean breeze blew the smell of sulfur away.


With more devotees than pickpockets in Rome, the Oracle declared that Hercules had been appeased. The tired and hungry Herculanians, tugged back to their beloved city exhausted but glad to be home.

Preserved mosaics
Preserved mosaics

And in a blink of an eye, it was over. It was over for the citizens, and  for sure, it was the last offering the Oracle and her gang of virgins would ever receive. Mount Vesuvius went from being over three thousand meters to thirteen hundred meters with a bang.  The blast was deafening as lightning flashed and lava spew forth melting the snow capped mountain.  Rivers of mud and liquid stone cascaded down with Herculaneum in its path.


Hot gas and a toxic sulfur cloud suffocated the sleeping inhabitants of the town within minutes. Unlike Pompeii that later that day was covered with falling ash, Herculaneum was solidly encased in liquid rock perfectly preserved, and eventually forgotten in time.

Residents who failed to escape down at the harbor
Residents who failed to escape down at the harbor

The moral of the story? On your next archeological trip to Italy, pass on Pompeii,  give your alms to the Oracle and her gang of virgins and head straight for Herculaneum.  You’ll be glad you did!


Click here for all of our pictures.


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