The Excavation of Pompeii

The Excavation of Pompeii


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Excavations of Pompeii in the 18th Century

In 1738, Charles VII gained control of southern Italy and established an autonomous mona rchy. 1 He encouraged artistic and cultural pursuits, and the fledgling field of archeology greatly benefited from this. Charles VII built a villa in Portici, and decided to continue the excavation work in the area begun by his predecessor, the Prince d’Elbeuf. 2 Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre, a military engineered, was charged with these excavations Alcubierre used miners, soldiers and prisoners to dig next to the ancient walls. 3 Initial excavations were dangerous, with the cramped tunnels, poor air circulation and the constant fear that a tunnel would collapse. Later tunnels would be backfilled after the removal of valuable objects and wall paintings. 4 In 1748, Alcubierre concentrated his efforts in an area near Torre Annunziata , which locals called “La Cività”. 5 Excavations from 1748 to 1750, underneath the area now known as the Amphitheatre, were initially discouraging. 6 In 1755, excavations resumed, and the “Praedia” or estate of Julia Felix was the first building in Pompeii to be completely explored. 7 Excavations during this period were not only sloppy, but often led to the destruction of objects and paintings not deemed worthy enough for Charles VII’s museum at Portici. 8 While Charles attempted to keep the excavations a secret, the news traveled quickly. In an attempt to control what he saw as his possessions, Charles VII banned the export of antiquities in 1755, and visitors had to be first invited to see the excavations. 9 While the drawing and writing about what they saw had been forbidden, this only forced highly inacurate works on Pompeii to be printed and purchased underground, and the inaccuracies in these drawings and writings manifested themselves in later works as well. 10 In 1763, an inscription identifying “La Cività” as Pompeii had two important outcomes: (1) back-filling of the excavations was banned from this point on, and (2) the ruins were left exposed. 11 In the 1760s and 1770s, there was a growing interest in preservation of Pompeii it is even recorded that efforts were made to repair some of the ruins, as well as objects being to Pompeii. 12 Following the political turmoil at the end of the 18th century, excavation work actually increased, even with the king’s departure from the area in both 1799 and 1806. 13

1. Berry, Joanne. The complete Pompeii . London : Thames & Hudson, 2007, 6-51.

2. Berry, The complete Pompeii , 6-51.

3. Amery, Colin, and Brian Curran. The Lost World of Pompeii . London: Frances Lincoln, 2011, 36-37.

4. Lessing, Erich, and Antonio Varone. Pompeii . Italy: Editions Pierre Terrail, Paris, 1996,1-65.


Excavation

Although the excavation of Pompeii began in earnest in eighteenth century, it is estimated that only two-thirds of Pompeii has presently been uncovered 4 . In contrast to the methods that were previously used to excavate Pompeii, which focussed on what treasures were buried and what could be extracted, modern excavation has focussed on disturbing the city as little as possible and the larger use of modern technology 4 .

In the past, excavations mainly consisted on digging up large areas of Pompeii, and then working to uncover the city layer by layer. While these attempts have proved useful in unearthing Pompeii, they also expose the city to a host of conservation concerns. The eruption that covered the city left Pompeii perfectly preserved, but once excavated, the sites are exposed to sunlight and moisture. With large open excavations, it is difficult to treat buildings and other structures so that they resist potential damage.

As a result, large-scale open-air excavations stopped in the mid 1990’s. But archeologists are bringing new technology into the field to revolutionize they way they conduct digs.

An archeologist in Pompeii pictured with the modern tools of the trade, complete with an iPad 10

One of the largest revolutions for archeologists has come with the iPad. New handheld technologies, like the iPad, allow archeologists to record, disseminate, and revise information more quickly than with their analog counterparts. In 2010, an archeological research group centred at the University of Cincinnati went completely digital. Their archeologists use iPads to c omplete all forms related to a dig, as well as to create all their technical drawings, and to document all their findings 5 .

Some other advancements in archeology have also included digital technology. One of the large scale digital projects is called Oplontis, undertaken from 2008 to 2011. Using a mix archival and digital photos, The Oplontis Project has created a three dimensional reconstruction of one of the villas surrounding Pompeii 6 .

In a similar vein, Google Maps now has a street view of Pompeii (which can be found here). You can “walk” through the city with a click of button. While this tour doesn’t currently encompass all of Pompeii, it is conceivable that in the near future, the entirety of uncovered Pompeii will be just a quick search away.

Of course the strength of all of the influx of digital technology is the speed and availability of information. Years earlier, it would have been impossible to take a tour of Pompeii from the comfort of your couch. However, some of these technologies have also heightened concerns about the deterioration of Pompeii.

Next we will look at what is being done to conserve and preserve the city.


The Excavation History of via dell’Abbondanza - 1950 to present

The Italian monarchy was brought to an end by a plebiscite vote in May of 1946 and was soon replaced by a democratic republic. Although funding became a problem at Pompeii in the post-war era, the fast-paced exploration of the buried city continued under the direction of Amedeo Maiuri. In the south, most of Regio I, and all of Regio II were cleared. During the early 1950’s the excavations along via dell’Abbondanza were started again, which finally connected the total length of the street from the forum to the Sarno Gate.

To Maiuri’s credit, large portions of the city had been unearthed and studied during his thirty-eight year tenure. He was, however, criticized by some of his colleagues for poor excavation and restoration techniques as well as inconsistent recording methods and incomplete publications. Certainly the buildings that were excavated and restored with the techniques utilized by Spinazzola have remained in better condition than those excavated by Maiuri.

After Maiuri’s retirement in 1961, the focus of the site management altered. The success of two hundred years of Pompeian exploration resulted in numerous unintended consequences. The large numbers of excavated buildings that have been constantly exposed to the elements require significant maintenance, conservation and restoration. Large-scale excavations were therefore suspended in favor of smaller and more focused archaeological explorations. On via dell’Abbondanza only two properties have been excavated, the House of Julius Polybius (in Insula IX, 13) between 1964 and 1977 and the House of the Chaste Lovers (in Insula IX, 12) which was started in 1987 and is not yet complete.

A magnitude 6.89 earthquake struck the Irpinia region, about 40 kilometers east of Naples, on November 23, 1980. Damage was widespread around the Bay of Naples. Numerous structures in Pompeii, including some on via dell’Abbondanza, required emergency shoring, repairs and reconstruction.

World attention was focused on Pompeii in 1997 when it was granted status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In 1998, law 08.10.1997 n. 352, art. 9 that had been passed by the Italian parliament came into effect. It transformed the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei into an autonomous entity with control over its own administration and finances. This allowed all of the entrance fees paid by visitors to be used in Pompeii for badly needed maintenance and restoration. The European Union has also provided funding for conservation projects. Despite all of these resources, the exposure to the weather, seismic events and millions of visitors puts constant strain on this ancient city, including one of its most interesting and best-known streets, via dell’Abbondanza.

The Directors of the Pompeii excavations during this period were[1]:

  • 1961 to 1976 - Alfonso de Franciscis, Superintendent of Archeology for the Provinces of Naples and Caserta
  • 1977 to 1981 - Fausto Zevi, Superintendent of Archeology for the Provinces of Naples and Caserta
  • 1981 to 1984 - Giuseppina Cerulli Irelli, Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii
  • 1984 to 1995- Baldassare Conticello, Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii
  • 1995 to 2009 - Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii and Special Superintendent of Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii
  • 2009 to 2010 - Mariarosaria Salvatore, Special Superintendent of Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii (Interim)
  • 2010 - Giuseppe Proietti, Special Superintendent of Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii (Interim)
  • 2010 - Jeannette Papadopoulos, Special Superintendent of Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii (Interim)
  • 2010 - Teresa Cinquantaquattro, Special Superintendent of Archaeological Heritage of Naples and Pompeii
  • 2014 - Massimo Osanna, Special Superintendent for the Archaeological Heritage of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae

The following documents have been located that indicate the chronology of the excavation of via dell’Abbondanza during this period:

1954 - Map of the excavations in Pompeii

By: Amedeo Maiuri (1886-1963), translated by V. Priestley

Source: Printed book - Pompeii: The New Excavations, the “villa dei misteri”, the Antiquarium

Publication Date: 1965 (twelfth reprint), map dated 1954

Location: Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston

Copyright: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, Rome. This image may NOT be copied or reproduced in any manner.

This map shows Regio I, and Regio II, with the revised insula numbers that are currently in use. All of the insulae in Regio I adjacent to via dell’Abbondanza have been excavated. Almost all of Regio II has been cleared. The excavation of the street itself has proceeded to within 50 meters of the Sarno Gate.

Via dell’Abbondanza is shown with the name strada dell’Abbondanza.

1965 - Plan of the excavations in Pompeii

By: Matteo Della Corte (1875-1962)

Source: Printed book – Case ed Abitanti di Pompei

Publication Date: 1965 (3 rd edition)

Location: Palmer Library, Connecticut College

Copyright: The book that contains this map was published in 1965 by "Fausto Fiorentino – Editore, Napoli". Signor Fiorentino has since passed away and his publishing rights now belong to his family. Permission to display this map has been kindly granted by Signor Diego Fiorentino with the concurrence of his family. This image may NOT be copied or reproduced.

This map shows that all of the insulae in Regio I have been excavated, except for those areas that are still currently buried. All of Regio II has been cleared. The last section of the 900 meter-long via dell’Abbondanza has been excavated, connecting the forum to the Sarno Gate at the city wall.

Via dell’Abbondanza is shown with the name strada dell’Abbondanza.

1981 - Photographs of earthquake damage along via dell’Abbondanza

By: Unknown

Source: Photographic prints

Publication Date: Not published

Location: Archives of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei

Copyright: Permission to display these photographs has been granted by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali – Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. These images may NOT be copied or reproduced in any manner.

These photographs of structures on via dell’Abbondanza were taken in early 1981 after the November 23, 1980 Irpinia earthquake.

1. February 1981 – Insula IX, 1 at the intersection of via dell’Abbondanza and via Stabiana

2. February 1981 – Insula I, 8 (left side of street).

3. February 1981 – Insula III, 2 (right side of street) and Insula I, 12 (on left).

1984 - Digital plan of via dell’Abbondanza

By: Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei, edited by Arthur Stephens

Source: 1:1000 digital map of Pompeii published by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei

Publication Date: 1984

Location: Scientific Secretariat of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei

Copyright: Permission to display the image of this original document has been granted by the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali – Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei. This image may NOT be copied or reproduced in any manner.

This plan of via dell’Abbondanza and adjacent insulae was extracted from the 1:1000 map of Pompeii published in digital form by the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei in 1984. The project was sponsored by the World Monuments Fund and was financed by American Express. Studio di Architettura, Rome, managed the digitization. The base cartography was the 1:1000 RICA (Research in Campanian Archaeology) Map of Pompeii produced from aerial photographs, which was published by the University of Texas at Austin in 1984.

The excavation of the street itself was completed in the early 1950’s. The map shows that the exploration of the House of Julius Polybius in Insula IX, 13 had been completed. The House of the Chaste Lovers in Insula IX, 12 was the last major structure to be excavated on via dell’Abbondanza. This project was not started until 1987 and is therefore not reflected on this plan.


Preserving Pompeii's past

These remarkable discoveries were not unearthed as part of a dig, but in the course of emergency maintenance of the site. From 2012 until last December, Pompeii was in the archaeological equivalent of an intensive care unit known as the Great Pompeii Project. Funded by the European Union at a cost of $114.8 million, the project was a response to UNESCO’s call for urgent action to keep Pompeii off its World Heritage in Danger List.

Since the 1960s, the site had been ravaged by neglect, poor drainage, earthquakes, mass tourism, theft, and vandalism. By 2010, after heavy rains triggered the collapse of the emblematic Schola Armaturarum, used by gladiators to train before fights, Pompeii was falling apart. Just 10 of the city’s buildings were open to the public compared with 64 in 1956, and over 70 percent of the site was closed to visitors.

The preservation efforts have been a success so far. Nearly 40 structures are now open to the public, including the Schola Armaturarum, in addition to those that have never been closed, such as the forum and surrounding buildings, theaters, and amphitheater. According to Massimo Osanna, director of the Archeological Park of Pompeii, the Great Pompeii Project “secured the entire archaeological area, restored and reopened entire areas, buildings, and streets denied to the public for too long. Pompeii is now in incomparably better condition than in the past.”


‘Open Cast’ Excavation

With the death of Weber in 1780, the excavations began to lose their impetuous. They were soon abandoned altogether when the discovery of nearby Pompeii eclipsed Herculaneum.

However, in 1828, the excavation of Herculaneum resumed. This time, it was motivated by genuine archaeological curiosity rather than greed. The dangerous practice of tunnelling was abandoned. Instead, the tufa rock which encased the town was removed horizontally, exposing the buildings of Herculaneum for the first time in nearly 2000 years.

Excavators began by uncovering the third of the town’s vertical streets, known as Cardo III. At the same time, they began to discover the buildings lining the road. The House of Argos, which had an intact second floor and the House of the Skeleton were amongst the first private dwellings discovered. In 1869, Giuseppe Fiorelli took over as director of excavations. He continued further north up Cardo III, uncovering the central baths, the oldest baths in the town before the excavations ground to a halt again with Fiorelli’s departure in 1875.

But the site was now at risk in another way. With the supportive tufa removed, many of the fragile buildings began to collapse. The problem of how to conserve Herculaneum had begun.

Detail from the Fountain in the House of Neptune and Anphitrite. Picture Credit: Natasha Sheldon (2007) All rights reserved.

ARCHAEOLOGIST

METHODS OF EXCAVATION

RESULTS & DISCOVERIES

Karl Weber
1750-1764
Swiss

Decided to uncover site systematically.
Made sketches and drew plans and elevations of the ruins.
Kept detailed inventories of finds and located them on a site plan.
Inventories and reports were sent to King and were guarded.
Believed in the importance of publication.
Tried to stop the practice of reburying excavated ruins to let visitors experience excavated remains.

Discovered a tavern
Villa of the Papyri- accidentally
Tomb of the Istacidi
Bronze statues found in the Villa of the Papyri
Found 1,800 carbonized papyrus scrolls which many were destroyed in the 18th century when they tried to open them.

Francesco la Vega
Started in 1764. In 1765 director of excavations in Pompeii (though he still reported to Alcubierre.
In 1780 he was put in full charge of excavations in
Pompeii

Structured and systematic: he excavated each building completely making detailed notes on all notable interiors and carried out a complete search for artefacts in the buildings he excavated.
Kept a detailed diary of the excavations
Detailed designs of buildings and employed a notable draftsman to copy the wall paintings of the temple of Isis
Detailed maps of excavations.
Had a general plan of Herculaneum drawn up.
After excavating he became concerned with conservation – all excess soil and rock excavated was removed off site, provision was made for structural repairs and maintenance of the buildings

In Pompeii:
The temple of Isis
The Odeon
Gladiator barracks
Villa of Diomedes
In Herculaneum: House of the Surgeon and House of Sallust.
The discovery of the temple of
Isis in 1764 (December) meant that Pompeii now received worldwide attention, and as a consequence conservation was now critical.
REF: The Lost World of Pompeii, by Colin Amery and Brian Curran Jr, published by Frances Lincoln Ltd 2002.

Giuseppe Fiorelli
1860-1875
Italian

&ldquoIt is hard to exaggerate his impact on the history of Pompeii…Fiorelli remains the individual who had the greatest impact upon the way in which Pompeii has been both excavated and perceived&rdquo Cooley

Michele Ruggiero
1875-93

Guilio De Petra
1893-1901

Ettore Pais
1901-05

Antonio Sogliano
1905-10

Excavation primarily focussed in northern most quarters – Central Baths, House of the Centenary, House of the Vettii uncovered

Investigated areas outside the city walls

Excavated the remains of the Vesuvian Gate and the water tower

Devoted himself to conservation

Directors at Pompeii – all Italian

August Mau
1873-1909
German
Studied art and architecture
Worked under the direction of Fiorelli, 1860&rsquos
His own work was influenced by Fiorelli&rsquos systematic work
Spent his summers excavating and his winters analysing
Stayed for 25 years

Mau sorted paintings into four styles. This was very important because not only did it teach about the aesthetics of Pompeii and decoration within houses, but it helped to date houses and is still being used today.
1st Style: &lsquoIncrustation Style&rsquo 150-90BC
Imitates coloured marble blocks by moulding plaster and painting it to resemble the same traits as marble. Influenced by blocks of marble used in temples. Very simple.
Examples are seen in the House of the Faun.

2nd Style: &lsquoArchitectural Style&rsquo 90-25BC
Roman influence. Is an elaboration of the first style minus the moulded plaster work and plus an emphasis on architectural reality. Columns, doors and ledges were all painted as realistically as possibly and were in proper perspective. Receding views were created through the use of columns which depicted scenes with a mix of reality and illusion (like windows.)
Examples can be found in the Villa of Mysteries.

3rd Style: &lsquoOrnate Style&rsquo 25BC-AD40
Developed from the third style in the late Augustan period. Perspective is lost and the wall paintings become flat and the architectural detail becomes unrealistic. Mythological scenes are depicted and surrounded by flat columns and ornate panels, creating the sense of a &lsquoshrine&rsquo.
Examples are in the House of Marcus Lucretius Fronto.

4th Style: &lsquoIntricate Style&rsquo AD40 onwards
A combination of the second and third styles. Architectural details are somewhere in the middle, being neither as solid in the second style or as un-realistic as in the third style. Scenes are framed by panels to create &lsquowindows&rsquo and ornamental motifs and figures are more popular and can be found floating freely or perched upon columns and panels.
Famous examples include those in the House of the Vetti.

20th CENTURY


The rediscovery of Pompeii and the other cities of Vesuvius

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 C.E. destroyed and largely buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and other sites in southern Italy under ash and rock. The rediscovery of these sites in the modern era is as fascinating as the cities themselves and provides a window onto the history of both art history and archaeology.

Pompeii today

Today the site of Pompeii is open to tourists from all over the world. Major projects in survey, excavation, and preservation are supervised by Italian and American universities as well as ones from Britain, Sweden, and Japan. Currently, the major concern at Pompeii is conservation—officials must deal with the intersection of increased tourism, the deterioration of buildings to a sometimes dangerous state, and shrinking funding for archaeological and art historical monuments. The 250-year-long story of the unearthing of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the other sites destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 C.E. has always been one of shifting priorities and methodologies, yet always in recognition of the special status of this archaeological zone.

Hidden for centuries?

The popular understanding of the immediate aftermath of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is that Pompeii, Herculaneum, and sites like Oplontis and Stabiae, lay buried under ash and volcanic material—completely sealed off from human intervention, undisturbed and hidden for centuries. Archaeological and geological evidence, however, indicates that there were rescue operations soon after the eruption (see, for example, the tunnels dug through the House of the Menander) and that some parts of these cities remained visible for some time (the forum colonnade at Pompeii was not completely covered). Throughout the Middle Ages, Pompeii was entirely deserted, yet locals referred to the area as La Cività (“the settlement”), perhaps informed by folk memory of the city’s existence.

Sebastian Pether, The Eruption of Vesuvius, 1825, oil on wood panel (The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art). Vesuvius erupted again in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Though Pether travelled to Italy to paint the volcano, here he depicted the one eyewitness account of the eruption in 79 C.E. by Pliny the Younger.

Excavations begin

While Renaissance scholars must have been aware of Pompeii and its destruction through various ancient written sources, the first “archaeologist” in the area was apparently unimpressed with his discoveries. From 1594-1600, the architect Domenico Fontana worked on new constructions in the area and accidentally excavated a number of wall paintings, inscriptions, and architectural blocks while digging a canal. No one undertook follow-up explorations for nearly a century and a half, despite the general interest in antiquity and rudimentary archaeology at the time.

This bronze was probably the most celebrated sculpture discovered at Herculaneum and Pompeii in the eighteenth century. It was excavated in 1759 at the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum and kept in the royal palace at Portici. Seated Mercury (also known as Hermes at Rest), Roman copy of an ancient Greek bronze, 105 cm (Museo Nazionale, Naples, photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen, CC BY 2.5)

The eighteenth century saw the first large-scale excavations in this region, motivated by the desire to collect works of ancient art as much as by a scientific curiosity about the past. Further incidental discoveries in the early decades of the 1700s prompted Charles VII, King of Spain, Naples, and Sicily , to commission a survey of the area of Herculaneum.

Official excavation began in October 1738, under the supervision of Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre, a military engineer who tunneled through the practically petrified volcanic material to find remains of Herculaneum more than 20 meters under the surface. This dangerous work (tunnel collapse and toxic gases were a constant threat), yielded wall paintings, life-size sculpture in both bronze and marble, and papyrus scrolls from the Villa of the Papyri. Many of these recovered works went to decorate the palace of the king. Archaeology was still in its infancy as a practical field of study at this time, and was often more about “treasure-hunting” than careful research or documentation.

A Swiss engineer, Karl Jakob Weber, took over the excavation of Herculaneum from de Alcubierre in 1750 and brought more cautious methods to the site. Weber’s practices of recording the findspots of important objects in three dimensions and making detailed plans of architectural remains laid the foundations for the indispensable procedures of modern archaeology. De Alcubierre shifted his focus to Pompeii, which had just been (re)discovered in 1748. Among the early excavations there were the amphitheater and an inscription confirming the town’s name: REI PUBLICAE POMPEIANORUM. With finds from Herculaneum and Pompeii increasing exponentially, King Charles inaugurated a Royal Academy in Naples in 1755, dedicated to mapping the sites and publishing significant discoveries.

The new fields of archaeology and art history and the building of a royal collection

Anton Raphael Mengs, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, c. 1777, oil on canvas, 63.5 x 49.2 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The field of art history was emerging concurrently with these early excavations and naturally sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum were of great interest to the man who coined the term “history of art”—the German scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann. His reports on the finds from this area fanned the flames of European fervor for classical antiquity (ancient Greece and Rome), and Grand Tour travelers from Britain and elsewhere beat a path to Pompeii and Herculaneum in the late 18th century.

Although Winckelmann was most concerned with categorizing Greek and Roman sculpture, he was also keenly interested in the new field of archaeology: he knew enough of this science to criticize the secrecy and aggressive methods of de Alcubierre, an action that got Winckelmann effectively banned from Pompeii.

It was actually King Charles’s desire (and that of his successor Ferdinand) for beautiful artifacts that closed much of the excavations off to outside scholars, with most of the important finds going directly into the private royal collection. The king also enacted laws forbidding the export of antiquities from the Kingdom of Naples. Even the publication of the monumental Le antichità di Ercolano esposte (The antiquities of Herculaneum displayed, 1757-92) was tightly controlled and the illustrated volumes were only selectively presented to other European monarchs by the king himself.

Preservation and access

With the arrival of Francesco la Vega as director of excavations in Pompeii in 1780, the conservation of buildings and artifacts became a priority. Francesco, and his brother Pietro after him, removed valuable artifacts to the new Naples Museum, where they joined other pieces from the royal collection. Francesco la Vega also embraced Weber’s concerns for recording three-dimensional contexts, and it was under his leadership that the Triangular Forum, the Temple of Isis, and the theater district were uncovered. However, like many archaeologists at Pompeii, la Vega struggled with a significant conflict: a desire to preserve the rare ancient wall paintings in situ while maintaining the site as a singular opportunity for visiting an ancient Roman city whose walls and roofs still stood. Paintings and buildings were left open to both treasure-hungry visitors and the elements, resulting in both natural and man-made deterioration at Pompeii.

Temple of Isis, Pompeii (photo: Amphipolis, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Perhaps no archaeologist had such a significant influence on the exploration of Pompeii as Giuseppe Fiorelli. He was superintendent of Pompeii for twelve years (1863-1875) during a supremely patriotic moment after the unification of Italy in 1860 when the country’s archaeological heritage was a tremendous source of pride. Fiorelli did not meet his goal of uncovering the entire city—only about one third of the Pompeii was excavated—but he accomplished other important tasks and brought new techniques to the site.

Opening the site to visitors and the first entrance fee

Fiorelli systematically organized the site by dividing it into nine regions and providing a system of “addresses” for insulae (city blocks) and doorways. In a dramatic shift from the restrictive 18th-century approach to tourism in Pompeii, Fiorelli opened the site up to visitors from all over the world—and he also introduced the first entrance fee. His exhaustive reports on the excavations kept scholars apprised of developments on the site.

Fiorelli is best known for his use of plaster casting techniques which permitted a kind of preservation of otherwise ephemeral archaeological finds like wood and human remains. By pouring plaster into voids in the ash left by decomposed organic material, Fiorelli’s casts gave form to things like wooden doors, window frames, furniture, and of course the victims of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The casts of human remains—including adults and children, not to mention a pet dog—remind visitors to this day that the great gift of Pompeii’s archaeology came at tremendous cost (as many as 2,000 people lost their lives).

Plaster cast of a body, Forum storage, Pompeii (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Archaeological investigation continues—as an international project

In the late 19th century, exploration of Pompeii and Herculaneum became a more international project. The British diplomat Sir William Hamilton had already published studies of volcanic activity and painted pottery from the region in the late 18th century. German scholars of the 1800s studied inscriptions (Theodor Mommsen), outlined the city plan (Heinrich Nissen), and created typologies of wall painting (Wolfgang Helbig). August Mau’s thorough categorization of the Four Styles of Pompeian frescoes, published in 1882, remains the basis for wall painting studies today. The late 19th century also saw the excavation and restoration of two of Pompeii’s most spectacular houses—the House of the Vettii and the House of the Silver Wedding.

House of the Vettii, Pompeii, Italy, Imperial Roman, c. second century B.C.E., rebuilt 62-79 C.E., cut stone and fresco (photo: Peter Stewart, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Pompeii in the 20th century: interruptions to archaeological work and bombing

The 20th century continued to be a very productive time at Pompeii for Italian archaeologists, even though work was interrupted by world events. Vittorio Spinazzola (director, 1911-1923) opened a massive excavation campaign along the Via dell’Abbondanza . His work not only uncovered important residences like the House of Octavius Quartio, but also contributed to our understanding of upper floors of Pompeian buildings. Spinazzola’s work was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I and he was forced to step down from his position by Italy’s Fascist government. Amedeo Maiuri was the director of excavations from 1923-1962 and oversaw the discovery of the Villa of Mysteries and the House of the Menander.

Although work was stopped again at Pompeii during the Second World War, Maiuri succeeded in broadening the excavations to the extent seen today: about two-thirds to three-quarters of the city’s final phase has been uncovered. Maiuri was also concerned with pre-Roman Pompeii, opening excavations below the most recent layer he also undertook extensive restoration and conservation work.

A terrible moment for Pompeii occurred in 1943 when the Allies dropped more than 150 bombs on the site, believing Germans were hiding soldiers and munitions among the ruins. At least one bomb fell on the on-site museum, destroying some of the more interesting artifacts discovered by that time.

Nevertheless, thanks to the efforts of the many archaeologists and researchers who have worked to uncover the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum over the last three centuries, today we can again walk the streets of these fascinating ancient Roman towns.


The Podcast.

I recorded a podcast on Pompeii. In it I talk about the history of Pompeii up till the eruption and then through the sequence of events, expanding on some of the points mentioned here.

You can listen to it below, or find the Ancient History Houndcast wherever you get your podcasts from.

[1] See “Impact of the AD 79 explosive eruption on Pompeii, II. Causes of death of the inhabitants inferred by stratiographic analysis and areal distribution of the human casualties” pg 178

[2] For more information see Lethal Thermal Impact at Periphery of Pyroclastic Surges.

Further reading and sources cited.

Impact of the AD 79 explosive eruption on Pompeii, II. Causes of death of the inhabitants inferred by stratigraphic analysis and areal distribution of the human casualties. Giuseppe Luongo, Annamaria Perrotta, Claudio Scarpati Ernesto De Carolis , Giovanni Patricelli , Annamaria Ciarallo

The eruption of Vesuvius of 79 AD and its impact on human environment in Pompeii, by Lisetta Giacomelli, Annamaria Perrotta, Roberto Scandone, Claudio Scarpati

Lethal Thermal Impact at Periphery of Pyroclastic Surges: Evidences at Pompeii, Guiseppe Mastrolorenzo, Pierpaolo Petrone, Lucia Papparlado, Fabio M. Guarino.


Pompeii

The city of Pompeii is a partially buried Roman town-city near modern Naples in the Italian region of Campania, in the territory of the comune of Pompei. The name &ldquoPompeii&rdquo in Latin is a second declension plural (Pompeii, -orum). According to Theodor Kraus, &ldquoThe root of the word Pompeii would appear to be the Oscan word for the number five, pompe, which suggests that either the community consisted of five hamlets or, perhaps, it was settled by a family group (gens Pompeia).&rdquo Along with Herculaneum, its sister city, Pompeii was destroyed and completely buried during a long catastrophic eruption of the volcano Mount Vesuvius spanning two days in 79 AD. The eruption buried Pompeii and it's residents who could not get out, under 4 to 6 meters of ash and pumice. People and animals were mummified and frozen in time. Giuseppe Fiorelli took charge of the excavations in 1860. Fiorelli realized these were spaces left by the human bodies, and so devised the technique of injecting plaster into them to perfectly recreate the forms of Vesuvius's victims. What resulted were highly accurate and eerie forms of the doomed Pompeiani who failed to escape. In their last moment of life, the expression of terror is often quite clearly visible . Pompeii was lost for over 1,500 years, before its accidental rediscovery in 1599. Since then, its excavation has provided an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city at the height of the Roman Empire.

Erotic art in Pompeii and Herculaneum was discovered in the ancient cities around the bay of Naples (particularly of Pompeii and Herculaneum) after extensive excavations began in the 18th century. The city was found to be full of erotic art and frescoes, symbols, and inscriptions regarded by its excavators as pornographic. Even many recovered household items had a sexual theme. The ubiquity of such imagery and items indicates that the sexual mores of the ancient Roman culture of the time were much more liberal than most present-day cultures, although much of what might seem to us to be erotic imagery (e.g. oversized phalluses) could arguably be fertility-imagery. This clash of cultures led to an unknown number of discoveries being hidden away again. For example, a wall fresco which depicted Priapus, the ancient god of sex and fertility, with his extremely enlarged penis, was covered with plaster (and, as Schefold explains (p. 134), even the older reproduction below was locked away "out of prudishness" and only opened on request) and only rediscovered in 1998 due to rainfall.

In 1819, when King Francis I of Naples visited the Pompeii exhibition at the National Museum with his wife and daughter, he was so embarrassed by the erotic artwork that he decided to have it locked away in a secret cabinet, accessible only to "people of mature age and respected morals". Re-opened, closed, re-opened again and then closed again for nearly 100 years, it was briefly made accessible again at the end of the 1960s (the time of the sexual revolution) and was finally re-opened for viewing in 2000. Minors are still only allowed entry to the once secret cabinet in the presence of a guardian or with written permission.

A cautionary note:

As with ALL artifacts that pass through White hands. They are ALWAYS modified to some extent, to promote the White mans false history. This is the original condition of Pompeii's Frescos.

So of course, like Minion, Etruscan, and Egyptian paintings. Whites repainted them to reflect what they wanted, that is, to bolster their false history. With these Pompeii frescos, though they repainted them to look like Black-skinned White people, the fact that they left them at least still Black colored, was very lucky.

North wall of exedra on north-east side of peristyle - Close-up

But to insure that it is understood that the repainted frescos are NOT a true indicator, we have included the actual plaster casts of the Pompeiians faces - where possible. As can be plainly seen, they were Black people!

The only way to see what the Pompeiians originally depicted, is to find the few Tile Murals. Tile murals, like faience in Egyptian art, is very difficult to modify without breaking, so Whites usually leave them alone. Thus they are an accurate indicator of what the ancients actually created.


The rediscovery of Pompeii and the other cities of Vesuvius

The eruption of Mount Vesuvius [/ simple_tooltip] in 79 CE destroyed and largely buried the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum and other sites in southern Italy under ash and rock. The rediscovery of these sites in the modern era is as fascinating as the cities themselves and provides a window onto the history of both art history and archeology.

Pompeii today

Today the site of Pompeii is open to tourists from all over the world. Major projects in survey, excavation, and preservation are supervised by Italian and American universities as well as ones from Britain, Sweden, and Japan. Currently, the major concern at Pompeii is conservation—officials must deal with the intersection of increased tourism, the deterioration of buildings to a sometimes dangerous state, and shrinking funding for archaeological and art historical monuments. The 250-year-long story of the unearthing of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the other sites destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 C.E. has always been one of shifting priorities and methodologies, yet always in recognition of the special status of this archaeological zone.

Hidden for centuries?

The popular understanding of the immediate aftermath of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius is that Pompeii, Herculaneum, and sites like Oplontis and Stabiae, lay buried under ash and volcanic material—completely sealed off from human intervention, undisturbed and hidden for centuries. Archaeological and geological evidence, however, indicates that there were rescue operations soon after the eruption (see, for example, the tunnels dug through the House of the Menander) and that some parts of these cities remained visible for some time (the forum colonnade at Pompeii was not completely covered). Throughout the Middle Ages, Pompeii was entirely deserted, yet locals referred to the area as La Cività (“the settlement”), perhaps informed by folk memory of the city’s existence.

Sebastian Pether, The Eruption of Vesuvius, 1825, oil on wood panel (The Nelson Atkins Museum of Art). Vesuvius erupted again in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Though Pether travelled to Italy to paint the volcano, here he depicted the one eyewitness account of the eruption in 79 C.E. by Pliny the Younger.

Excavations begin

While Renaissance scholars must have been aware of Pompeii and its destruction through various ancient written sources, the first “archaeologist” in the area was apparently unimpressed with his discoveries. From 1594-1600, the architect Domenico Fontana worked on new constructions in the area and accidentally excavated a number of wall paintings, inscriptions, and architectural blocks while digging a canal. No one undertook follow-up explorations for nearly a century and a half, despite the general interest in antiquity and rudimentary archaeology at the time.

This bronze was probably the most celebrated sculpture discovered at Herculaneum and Pompeii in the eighteenth century. It was excavated in 1759 at the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum and kept in the royal palace at Portici. Seated Mercury (also known as Hermes at Rest), Roman copy of an ancient Greek bronze, 105 cm (Museo Nazionale, Naples, photo: Marie-Lan Nguyen, CC BY 2.5)

The eighteenth century saw the first large-scale excavations in this region, motivated by the desire to collect works of ancient art as much as by a scientific curiosity about the past. Further incidental discoveries in the early decades of the 1700s prompted Charles VII, King of Spain, Naples, and Sicily , to commission a survey of the area of Herculaneum.

Official excavation began in October 1738, under the supervision of Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre, a military engineer who tunneled through the practically petrified volcanic material with dynamite to find remains of Herculaneum more than 20 meters under the surface. This dangerous work (tunnel collapse and toxic gases were a constant threat), yielded wall paintings, life-size sculpture in both bronze and marble, and papyrus scrolls from the Villa of the Papyri. Many of these recovered works went to decorate the palace of the king. Archaeology was still in its infancy as a practical field of study at this time, and was often more about “treasure-hunting” than careful research or documentation.

A Swiss engineer, Karl Jakob Weber, took over the excavation of Herculaneum from de Alcubierre in 1750 and brought more cautious methods to the site. Weber’s practices of recording the findspots of important objects in three dimensions and making detailed plans of architectural remains laid the foundations for the indispensable procedures of modern archaeology. De Alcubierre shifted his focus to Pompeii, which had just been (re)discovered in 1748. Among the early excavations there were the amphitheater and an inscription confirming the town’s name: REI PUBLICAE POMPEIANORUM. With finds from Herculaneum and Pompeii increasing exponentially, King Charles inaugurated a Royal Academy in Naples in 1755, dedicated to mapping the sites and publishing significant discoveries.

The new fields of archaeology and art history and the building of a royal collection

Anton Raphael Mengs, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, c. 1777, oil on canvas, 63.5 x 49.2 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The field of art history was emerging concurrently with these early excavations and naturally sites like Pompeii and Herculaneum were of great interest to the man who coined the term “history of art”—the German scholar Johann Joachim Winckelmann. His reports on the finds from this area fanned the flames of European fervor for classical antiquity (ancient Greece and Rome), and Grand Tour travelers from Britain and elsewhere beat a path to Pompeii and Herculaneum in the late 18th century.

Although Winckelmann was most concerned with categorizing Greek and Roman sculpture, he was also keenly interested in the new field of archaeology: he knew enough of this science to criticize the secrecy and aggressive methods of de Alcubierre, an action that got Winckelmann effectively banned from Pompeii.

It was actually King Charles’s desire (and that of his successor Ferdinand) for beautiful artifacts that closed much of the excavations off to outside scholars, with most of the important finds going directly into the private royal collection. The king also enacted laws forbidding the export of antiquities from the Kingdom of Naples. Even the publication of the monumental Le antichità di Ercolano esposte (The antiquities of Herculaneum displayed, 1757-92) was tightly controlled and the illustrated volumes were only selectively presented to other European monarchs by the king himself.

Preservation and access

With the arrival of Francesco la Vega as director of excavations in Pompeii in 1780, the conservation of buildings and artifacts became a priority. Francesco, and his brother Pietro after him, removed valuable artifacts to the new Naples Museum, where they joined other pieces from the royal collection. Francesco la Vega also embraced Weber’s concerns for recording three-dimensional contexts, and it was under his leadership that the Triangular Forum, the Temple of Isis, and the theater district were uncovered. However, like many archaeologists at Pompeii, la Vega struggled with a significant conflict: a desire to preserve the rare ancient wall paintings in situ while maintaining the site as a singular opportunity for visiting an ancient Roman city whose walls and roofs still stood. Paintings and buildings were left open to both treasure-hungry visitors and the elements, resulting in both natural and man-made deterioration at Pompeii.

Temple of Isis, Pompeii (photo: Amphipolis, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Perhaps no archaeologist had such a significant influence on the exploration of Pompeii as Giuseppe Fiorelli. He was superintendent of Pompeii for twelve years (1863-1875) during a supremely patriotic moment after the unification of Italy in 1860 when the country’s archaeological heritage was a tremendous source of pride. Fiorelli did not meet his goal of uncovering the entire city—only about one third of the Pompeii was excavated—but he accomplished other important tasks and brought new techniques to the site.

Opening the site to visitors and the first entrance fee

Fiorelli systematically organized the site by dividing it into nine regions and providing a system of “addresses” for insulae (city blocks) and doorways. In a dramatic shift from the restrictive 18th-century approach to tourism in Pompeii, Fiorelli opened the site up to visitors from all over the world—and he also introduced the first entrance fee. His exhaustive reports on the excavations kept scholars apprised of developments on the site.

Fiorelli is best known for his use of plaster casting techniques which permitted a kind of preservation of otherwise ephemeral archaeological finds like wood and human remains. By pouring plaster into voids in the ash left by decomposed organic material, Fiorelli’s casts gave form to things like wooden doors, window frames, furniture, and of course the victims of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. The casts of human remains—including adults and children, not to mention a pet dog—remind visitors to this day that the great gift of Pompeii’s archaeology came at tremendous cost (as many as 2,000 people lost their lives).

Plaster cast of a body, Forum storage, Pompeii (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Archaeological investigation continues—as an international project

In the late 19th century, exploration of Pompeii and Herculaneum became a more international project. The British diplomat Sir William Hamilton had already published studies of volcanic activity and painted pottery from the region in the late 18th century. German scholars of the 1800s studied inscriptions (Theodor Mommsen), outlined the city plan (Heinrich Nissen), and created typologies of wall painting (Wolfgang Helbig). August Mau’s thorough categorization of the Four Styles of Pompeian frescoes, published in 1882, remains the basis for wall painting studies today. The late 19th century also saw the excavation and restoration of two of Pompeii’s most spectacular houses—the House of the Vettii and the House of the Silver Wedding.

House of the Vettii, Pompeii, Italy, Imperial Roman, c. second century BCE, rebuilt 62-79 CE, cut stone and fresco (photo: Peter Stewart , CC BY-NC 2.0)

Pompeii in the 20th century: interruptions to archaeological work and bombing

The 20th century continued to be a very productive time at Pompeii for Italian archaeologists, even though work was interrupted by world events. Vittorio Spinazzola (director, 1911-1923) opened a massive excavation campaign along the Via dell ‘ Abbondanza [/ simple_tooltip]. His work not only uncovered important residences like the House of Octavius ​​Quartio, but also contributed to our understanding of upper floors of Pompeian buildings. Spinazzola’s work was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I and he was forced to step down from his position by Italy’s Fascist government. Amedeo Maiuri was the director of excavations from 1923-1962 and oversaw the discovery of the Villa of Mysteries and the House of the Menander.

Although work was stopped again at Pompeii during the Second World War, Maiuri succeeded in broadening the excavations to the extent seen today: about two-thirds to three-quarters of the city’s final phase has been uncovered. Maiuri was also concerned with pre-Roman Pompeii, opening excavations below the most recent layer he also undertook extensive restoration and conservation work.

A terrible moment for Pompeii occurred in 1943 when the Allies dropped more than 150 bombs on the site, believing Germans were hiding soldiers and munitions among the ruins. At least one bomb fell on the on-site museum, destroying some of the more interesting artifacts discovered by that time.

Nevertheless, thanks to the efforts of the many archaeologists and researchers who have worked to uncover the remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum over the last three centuries, today we can again walk the streets of these fascinating ancient Roman towns.


Watch the video: Εντυπωσιακό αρχαιολογικό εύρημα στην Πομπηία: Στο φως σχεδόν άθικτο ρωμαϊκό άρμα


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