It makes quite the romantic picture, the swarthy gentleman in pith helmet and immaculately pressed desert garb shouting commands to muscular and sweaty natives as they move boulders, wedge massive pickaxes between giant stones and dust little oil lamps with tiny brushes.
At the time, rich and powerful folk had like Charles of Bourbon, King of Naples, liked to have rooms and rooms of the more impressive loot from older times (stuff they hadn’t pickaxed to dust), so they had yet another group of muscular workers revamp ordinary rooms in their royal palaces to display it.
So, if you happen to be one of the three tourists brave enough to make a trip south of Naples in the Campania region, you can be rewarded not only by seeing the ancient site of Herculaneum and its associated artifact museums, but you can now visit the palace and see where Charles kept the good stuff, which was all moved to Naples long ago, but still.
“Obviously you can’t see any of the antiquities from Herculaneum any more, since these were moved to Naples in the 18th century, but nevertheless it is extremely evocative to visit the original rooms of the Herculanense Museum. In particular, one room contains back-lit copies of all the ancient paintings that used to adorn it (apparently all in their original places). Also on display are original 18th century books about the excavated antiquities, including Winkelmann and Cochin, and what look like original plans of buildings like the Villa of the Papyri, and the Villa of Diomedes and the amphitheatre at Pompeii (but I don’t know if they are actually the originals – but they do look old!). There are lots of plans illustrating where some of the most well-known artefacts from Herculaneum were displayed, and panels about the early excavations and some of the characters who directed them, such as Paderni, and about early restorations of statues, and the early attempts at unrolling papyri (including a replica of Piaggio’s machine). You then get to walk through the king’s apartments, which are next door to the museum, and which were redecorated by the Murats.” ~ Visit to the Herculanenses Museum
It’s a short walk to the northwest from the archaeological site, which makes your visit a long day, but I’m excited; it sounds very interesting. Besides, you can visit two towns the way, three if you separate ancient and modern Herculaneum. And there’s a train station nearby called Portici-Ercolano which you can see on the map below. You can get there from Naples quickly; it’s a 4 mile/7km inexpensive trip.
Here’s a link to the official website called MUSA, Musei del Sito Reale (di Portici). There are several museums you can visit in the building and a botanical garden outside.
Staying near the gates of Herculaneum
A highly rated hotel with very easy access to the archaeological excavations is the Hotel Herculaneum.
Map of ancient Herculaneum and Portici
The museum is in the Palace of Portici, just northwest of the excavations of ancient Herculaneum and the modern city of Ercolano. Zoom out a bit and you can see Vesuvius, which you can climb up and look down into. Zoom out further to the south of Visuvius, and you’ll see Pompeii.