“The Narrative of Discovery-the dramas of
dilletantes, kings, engineers, institutions and
academics who scrabbled to unearth a captured
glimpse of an ancient Roman landscape.”
Pedar W Foss
• “Together the cities of Vesuvius form the longest
continuously excavated archaeological zone in the
world- an honour they can never lose and a
burden they can never shift.”
• “Rediscovery has been a continuous process. The
sites have become a de facto laboratory for
excavation and recording methods, publication
standards, conservation and analyses of the
entire range of artefacts and ecofacts and cultural
resource management.”
• “The newly found ancient cities were both
treasures and stages; full of objets d’art which
adorned royal palaces and eventually public
Background History of Italy
Dominated by city-states for much
of the medieval and Renaissance
period, the Italian peninsula also
experienced several foreign
dominations. Parts of Italy were
annexed to the Spanish, the
Austrian and Napoleon's empire,
while the Vatican maintained
control over the central part of it,
before the Italian Peninsula was
eventually liberated and unified
amidst much struggle in the 19th
and 20th centuries.
The sites of Pompeii and
Herculaneum were within the
Kingdom of Sicily ruled by the
House of Bourbon.
History of Excavation
• Pompeii is a city whose length of excavation is as long
as the city’s existence
• Domenico Fontana helps to lay out a canal from the
Sarno River to Torre Annunziata to provide water to a
gunpowder factory there. The tunnel cuts through the
old part of the city ( civita, ancient town, Alshdat),
revealing many ancient buildings, but the discovery
does not reveal the identity of the place and does not
encourage further investigation.
• An Austrian General in the service of Charles
V1 ( Duc D’Elbeuf) acting on the tip of a local
marble worker, excavates in a well shaft at
Resina, in order to acquire sculpture for his
villa. He discovers a wealth of portraits and
busts coming from the now known Theatre of
Charles V11 of Bourbon decides to build a summer palace near Resina. He enlists
Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre, a spanish born military engineer to survey the site
and meanwhile investigate the local and nearby areas for antiquities. Local
knowledge of ancient remains encourages the digging of 20m shafts, threatened
constantly by lethal vapours and collapse. The most substantial discovery is now
known as the Villa of Papyri.
Two months later the work is handed over to a Swiss officer named Karl Weber, an
engineer who also has a background in languages and architecture. His
background essentially qualified him as the first archaeologist; ability to supervise
large numbers of men moving large quantities of earth, careful reports of notable
finds and the safe conveyance to the palace. Weber was also able to make highly
accurate architectural plans of the finds and interpret their meaning.
In 1755 King Charles establishes a Royal Academy to oversee publications of the
excavations and work continues intermittently at Herculaneum till 1780
Excavation begins at Pompeii under the mistaken belief that it is the ancient city of Stabiae and
because the layers of ash and lapilli are easier to excavate that Herculaneum
Alcubierre writes;
“ This morning the workmen have come across a dead man amongst the ash and the earth,
discovered with 18 bronze coins and one silver coin.”
This is the first victim discovered
Work continues sporadically with the use of local workman, chained convicts and forced labor
captured from Barbary ships.
Paderni, curator of the Royal museum, selects the best paintings discovered for the museum and
destroys the rest.
The excavated buildings are refilled when they have been stripped.
Proof of the towns identity comes in 1863 with the discovery of an inscription
Within a month the practice of refilling is stopped and the town begins to be exposed to the air
• Johann Joachim Winckelmann makes the
first of 4 visits over 10 years in his capacity
as correspondent for the court of Augustus
111 at Dresden. Often called the Father of
Archaeology because of his learning and
writing he is hindered in his site inspection
snd in 2 detailed letters complains about
mismanagenent and secrecy of excavation.
Winckelmann makes Pompeii and
Herculaneum the most popular topic of
conversation across Europe
• Francesco la Vega takes over on site direction after Alcubierres death until
1804 when his brother Pietro succeeds him
• Francesco leaves excavated buildings unearthed but makes efforts to
preaerve anything in situ not removed to the museum.. He also pursues
Webers idea of the importance of context, documentation and
preservation. He was the first to keep an excavation diary. However
exposure to the elements and increasing memento hungry visitors takes a
serious toll.
• Excavation alternates between the Triangular Forum and the temple of
Isis, the Odeon, the Gladiator Barracks, and the northwest corner near the
gate of Ercolano
• Arditi and Bonucci begin a renewed excavation aided by the funding for a
workforce of more than 1500 provided by Caroline, sister of Napoleon
Bonaparte and Queen of NAPLES. Under the french the entire circuit of
walls is revealed. Workman clear portions of the Forum Area and the
• Clearance is rapid but haults soon after Waterloo when Bourbon Kings
regain control
• Pompeii becomes part of the Grand European tour and an inspiration for
art to revive the past
• Work also recommences at Herculaneum in 1828.
• Open air excavation is undertaken for the first time, uncovering streets,
houses, shops and baths intermittently until 1875
Pompeii and the Grand Tour
“It was a quaint and curious pastime, wandering through this old silent city of
the dead—lounging through utterly deserted streets where thousands and
thousands of human beings once bought and sold, and walked and rode, and
made the place resound with the noise and confusion of traffic and pleasure.
They were not lazy. They hurried in those days. We had evidence of that.”
Mark Twain 1875

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