If you're heading to Pompeii, stop by Ercolano, which is Italian for Herculaneum. Said to have been founded by Hercules himself, this city was also devastated by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. However, both cities were devastated in different ways due to the direction of the wind that day. After the eruption, Herculaneum only had a few inches of ash fall on them, causing some to think it would be better off to wait it out than to try and flee. However, after it was all said and done, 17 meters of ash and gas had buried the city. When archeologists were excavating the city, they barely found any bodies, so they believed the town members had all fled to safety. However, while excavating where the beach used to be, they found the remains from around 300 bodies, so it is believed they tried to flee to the sea, but realized they were trapped, so they tried to wait it out in the boat houses. Unfortunately, the superheated pyroclastic material that hit the city at high speeds was hundreds of degrees and burned all their skin, muscles, etc off their bones rather quickly. So, if they hadn't already died from asphyxiation from the toxic gases, they most definitely died then!
While there is a decent site visible to tourists, 3/4 of the city is still buried underneath the modern city of Ercolano. Ironically, the buildings surrounding the site in the city look about as worn down as the ones in Herculaneum! This is due to two reasons: due to the manner Herculaneum was buried, roof tops, building beams, beds, doors, and even food were preserved; many of the buildings are almost completely intact. The second reason is that the "modern" city is quite run down and in a poor area.
Visiting Herculaneum was neat because it shows more of what Roman life was like since it wasn't half as badly destroyed. You still get the eerie feeling Pompeii gives you, but it helps to visualize more about their life before you see the vastness of Pompeii.
Unlike Herculaneum, several meters of ash and rock fell onto the city after the eruption because the winds that day were heading in the direction of Pompeii, knocking down roofs and causing a lot of destruction. Then, when the high winds of gas and ash came, several of the upper structures were knocked down. The eruption occurred on August 24, 79 AD, just one day after Vulcanalia, the festival of the Roman god of fire (including that from volcanoes); ironic, eh?
Interestingly enough, in the Roman empire, phallic symbols were considered good luck, (something related to procreation and fertility) so they were placed randomly on the outsides of buildings as decoration. Try explaining to your children who are visiting that one... In addition, if your kids can read Latin, there is a bunch of graffiti carved into the walls in Latin, which helped historians learn more about colloquial Latin versus proper Latin that can be viewed in texts from writers.
There was also a brothel in Pompeii with a menu for customers (paintings of different positions). A normal bed in a house was made of wood and metal, but the beds in the brothel are made of rocks like walls so they wouldn't break. Crazy, huh?
Overall, it was an amazing experience to see the once lost city. It makes me wonder where mankind would be today if certain events occurred differently. At this point in history, running water, the arts, etc were all in full swing. Architectural and some "technological" advancements had taken place. At this point in time with the Roman Empire, even women were starting to have more rights within society. Nakedness wasn't a problem, and people were very comfortable with their bodies and seeing others naked. Even gay culture was popular; two men or two women having sex with each other was a form of pleasure, and older men would have sex with younger men to teach them the ropes. So many issues we still are facing today were essentially not a problem then. (Though, that's not to say they didn't have their fair share of issues!) Then, due to a few unforeseeable events, everything was lost and it took centuries for society to get back on track.
While I only got to spend a couple hours on the island because Herculaneum and Pompeii ate up a large portion of my day, it was totally worth it to be able to relax and just enjoy the waves of the sea. On the ferry ride back, I even made some canine friends! I just wish I could have had more time there to go hiking around the island and take a boat tour of the blue grotto.