Ancient History & Civilisation

Historical overview of excavations in Campania1

It should be noted that there are slight discrepancies in the dates reported by various scholars.

Knowledge of the whereabouts of the Campanian towns and villas was lost some time after the eruption of AD 79. The town of Resina was later built above the site of Herculaneum. The name Civita was given to the region around Pompeii as a reflection of a dimly recollected ancient town in this area.

c. 1592 Construction of a conduit to supply water to Torre Annunziata involved tunnelling through the hill of Civita. Marble fragments and coins dating to the time of Nero were revealed in this excavation.

1637 Luc Holstenius suggested that Pompeii lay beneath Civita.

1689 Excavations undertaken in search of water uncovered a stone with an inscription that included the name of Pompeii on it. There followed considerable discussion but no consensus as to whether this meant that Pompeii was situated under Civita.

1709 A smallholder discovered part of the theatre at Herculaneum while sinking a shaft for a well. A report of the marbles associated with this structure reached the Prince d’Elbeuf, who was a cavalry officer in the Austrian imperial army, which controlled Naples. He bought the land and commenced excavation. This was essentially a mining operation to obtain artefacts, mostly sculptures, for the Austrian nobility in Naples. A number of these pieces found their way to their palaces in Vienna. The Pope issued a complaint about the removal of antiquities from Italy.

1738 Charles III of Spain, King of the Two Sicilies, appointed a surveying engineer, Joaquin de Alcubierre, director of the excavations. The main objective of this exercise was to provide precious artefacts for the Spanish nobility. Alcubierre sank a series of shafts in Herculaneum which were refilled as soon as excavation was completed so as not to destabilize the modern Resina residences. On occasion, gunpowder was employed to speed up the process. Alcubierre was involved in the excavations until his death in 1780. La Vega was promoted to the position of director of excavations in Pompeii in 1765.

1748 Royal permission was granted for Civita to be excavated. The site was later positively identified as Pompeii (see below).

1750–64 Karl Weber was initially employed as Alcubierre’s aide. He suggested that it would be beneficial to introduce systematic excavation of specific sections of Pompeii in place of the rather haphazard digging that had preceded his work. He put his idea into practice with the excavation of an area in the vicinity of the Herculanean Gate. His performance was so impressive that Alcubierre became jealous and attempted to sabotage his work.

1758, 1762 Winckelmann, the German scholar who established the principles of art-historical scholarship for the study of antiquities, was denied access to the archaeological excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. He was later granted permission to view the sites.

1763 Discovery of an inscription, which unequivocally proved that the ancient site of Pompeii was buried under Civita.

1764 Francesco la Vega, Weber’s successor, discovered the Temple of Isis. La Vega established the first overall plan of the excavations in 1778. Even though this work was fairly rigorous, the primary aim was still to plunder precious objects from the site. In addition, excavation of a building only proceeded until its function was determined. Once a building had yielded both its treasures and its purpose, it was left. La Vega was also famous for organizing the re-excavation of finds for noble visitors.

1764–1800 William Hamilton, from 1767 English Ambassador to Naples, regularly observed the excavations at Pompeii.

1770 Caroline, the wife of Ferdinand I, King of the Two Sicilies, unlike her husband, showed considerable interest in the excavations and often visited Pompeii.

1787 Goethe visited the excavations at Pompeii.

1808–14 Murat and Caroline, the sister of Napoleon I, ascended the throne of Naples. They were interested in archaeology and personally financed some of the excavations. The documentation of this work was made under the supervision of Francois Mazois, a French architect.

1815–25 Antonio Bonucci appointed director of the excavations after the Bourbons reclaimed the throne in 1815, though he had also been a director in 1814 in the Napoleonic period.

1825 Francis I, brother of Ferdinand I, became King of the Two Sicilies.

1830 Ferdinand II succeeds Francis I. During his reign, the House of the Faun (Casa del Fauno) (VI, xii, 2) was uncovered in Pompeii and the ‘Alexander Mosaic’ was discovered.

1830 William Gell was appointed the resident corresponding member for the Society of Dilettanti in Naples.

1834 Edward Bulwer-Lytton published The Last Days of Pompeii.

1860 Garibaldi entered Naples, ending Spanish Bourbon rule. He gave the directorship of the excavations to Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers, in gratitude for his support of his campaign. Dumas, as a foreigner, was not popular with the local population and was soon replaced.

1860–75 Italy was united under the leadership of Victor-Emmanuel II and Cavour. Giuseppe Fiorelli was appointed, first as inspector in1860, and then as director of the excavations in 1863. Although people associated with the site had previously attempted or suggested a more systematic approach to excavation, Fiorelli was the first person to actually implement a rigorous method of excavation and recording in Pompeii.

1875–93 Michele Ruggiero replaced Fiorelli as director in Pompeii. He was an architect by training and he continued the excavations, using the techniques established by Fiorelli.

1893–1901 Giulio de Petra, an epigrapher, assumed the directorship of the excavations. The House of the Vettii was unearthed from 1894–95.

1901–5 The historian, Ettore Pais, was responsible for the excavation of Pompeii. During this period (1902–5), the House of the Gilded Cupids was excavated.

1905–10 Antonio Sogliano’s directorship of the site was marked by an increasing interest in the development of on-site conservation techniques.

1910–23 Vittorio Spinazzola continued and further developed the systematic traditions of Fiorelli. He concentrated his efforts on exposing the so-called Via dell’Abbondanza. Spinazzola’s excavations differed from those of his predecessors in that he unearthed the site from the top down, rather than exposing structures from the side. This meant that the stratigraphic sequence of the eruption could be better understood. It also increased the chances of exposing and preserving the upper levels of buildings. He was more interested in revealing the town plan than in excavating individual houses and for this reason chose to only expose the fronts of buildings as he followed the line of the street. This approach had its problems, not the least of which was the need to protect the facades he uncovered from the weight of the ash and lapilli that remained behind them.

1924–61 Amedo Maiuri’s directorship was marked by extensive systematic excavation and a policy of leaving objects in situ to give visitors an impression of how the site looked at the time of its destruction. He also undertook some excavations, for example in the region of the Temple of Apollo, to establish stratigraphic sequences. In addition, he studied the standing masonry structures in an attempt to determine the history of occupation at Pompeii. After a break in excavation during World War II, Maiuri resumed excavations at an unprecedented scale and pace. This meant that uncovering the site took priority over documentation and restoration.

1961–76 Alfonso de Franciscis was superintendent of archaeology for the provinces of Naples and Caserta.

1977–81 Fausto Zevi’s period as superintendent of archaeology for the provinces of Naples and Caserta was notable as he chose to cease excavation of Pompeii in favour of restoration and photographic documentation of what had already been revealed.

1981–84 Giuseppina Cerulli Irelli was superintendent of Pompeii.

1984–95 Baldassare Conticello was superintendent of Pompeii.

1995–present The current superintendent of Pompeii is Pietro Giovanni Guzzo. Maiuri’s successors have essentially taken a rigorous approach to excavation and management of sites in Campania. Emphasis has been placed on recording and consolidating structures that have already been exposed, rather than on large-scale excavation. A programme of weed clearing, restoration and re-roofing of houses was initiated in Pompeii in the mid-1980s. Where possible, traditional materials were used for the restorations as opposed to the unsympathetic and ultimately destructive use of reinforced concrete and steel in the 1950s. Photogrammetry was employed to accurately map the site. Management of Herculaneum lagged behind. A multidisciplinary and multinational conservation project for Herculaneum was devised and implemented in the first five years of the twentyfirst century to address the deterioration of the site. In 1985 a project was commenced in conjunction with IBM Italia and Fiat Engineering to create a database of all the excavated artefacts and archival material associated with Pompeii. The photographic records made of painting with Pompeii. The photographic records made of painting volume publication, Pompei pitture e mosaici, which was published between 1990 and 2003. From the 1970s, international co-operative projects were undertaken to record, analyze and interpret individual houses, groups of houses and entire blocks or insulae. These projects have resulted in significant publications. Until the latter part of the twentieth century, site management was largely focused on theAD 79 levels. A number of projects, including Italian and international teams, have had the opportunity to dig below theAD 79 level at selected sites. In conjunction with this work, there has been a significant increase of interest in a multidisciplinary approach to the archaeology of the sites destroyed by the AD 79 eruption of Mt Vesuvius.

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