Ch.25: Excavations in Herculaneum

The memory of Herculaneum was certainly not disappeared from the memory of scholars, as demonstrated by the vague allusion What makes Sannazzaro in Arcadia, in 1504. It is likely, second, that the inhabitants of Resina on the height, digging the ground to establish foundations we build wells, had to collide with buildings in the city buried.  However, the first significant discovery of works of art is due to the Austrian Prince Elboeuf which, by drilling a well in 1709 in the wood Alcantarins Brothers, met the theater stage wall.  From 1709-1716, the Prince pat leisurely commit the first crime at the expense of the most notable and best preserved monument of Herculaneum.  He removed the precious marble coverings and architectural structures of the scene, while a large group of statues were scattered in various museums, including the large and small Herculanaises transported to the Dresden Museum.

It was only on 1 October 1738 that began regular excavations. Since then, the history of Herculaneum excavations can be divided into four periods:
1)_  1738-1765. It was the heroic period and most successful excavation. These, companies order and with the support of Charles of Bourbon, were directed, except for a brief interruption from 1740 to 1745, by the Spanish military engineer Alcubierre assisted, first, by Swiss architect Charles Weber, more active and applied its leader himself, and last year by Francesco La Vega.  The excavation system adopted was that of underground galleries.  He ran into immense difficulties, which were overcome primarily through merit specialized teams of local workers, called "cavamonti". (creuse-montagnes). (hollow-mountains).

Their results were recorded in daily or weekly reports, but whose plans and records were inadequate or imperfect and were partly lost.  We completed the exploration of the theater, was reached, otherwise the Forum, at least one of the public buildings, the Basilica;  several temples and it was discovered, finally, between 1750 and 1765, we explored the Villa of the Papyri, which gave all the fabulous treasure of his sculptures and his papyrus library.  Yet despite the importance of these results, the searches brought a small contribution to knowledge anywhere else in the city.  The galleries were abandoned and filled with earth, the lowering shaft and vent is obstructed and there remained only the outline drawn up by La Vega and of the Villa of Papyri executed with great care by Charles Weber.

2) _ After a hiatus of 63 years, excavations were resumed in 1828 with the laudable intention of doing in the open, according to the system adopted for a long time in Pompeii.  They continued without much enthusiasm until 1835, putting painfully short part of two groups of houses, or insulae, the peristyle of the "House of Argus."

3) _ The excavations were once again under the patronage of Victor Emmanuel II in 1869 and were continued until 1875. But we started out that the beginning of two insulae and the southern facade of Thermes. Work stopped at the bottom of the first houses of Resina, due to opposition from landowners.

4) _ After the failed attempt in 1904 by the English archaeologist Charles Waldstein organize Herculaneum excavations on an international level, research has been taken on the initiative of the Italian Government with the intention of give them the same continuity as the excavations of Pompeii. The new work program settled a dual purpose: first, to discover much of the city by extending the exploration to the most neglected areas in previous excavations in underground tunnels; en second lieu, explorer les zones suburbaines notoirement riches en villas patriciennes. Second, explore the suburban areas notoriously rich patrician villas.

Thanks to the organization given to recent excavations and the results already achieved in the early years, Herculaneum has become one of the most important archaeological centers and greater interest in the study of ancient cities, and a valuable complement to knowledge of Pompeii and finally one of the areas offering the most promise for the recovery of works of art.


The excavations were times where they had been abandoned after being edged by powerful embankment walls, in 1875 (Pl. I).  They attacked, first of all, the eastern front, that is to say the part of the ancient city that spans areas without modern construction. Then they went to the upstream portion, to achieve at least the artery of the decumanus maximus and the center of the city, which necessitated the partial demolition of humble houses one of the most popular areas of Resina.

Early in the eighteenth year of excavations at Herculaneum, three insulae (Insulae III, IV and V) of the southern part of the city had been completely désensevelies you public Spa, which was known as the arena had been uncovered, and two great bodies of isolated buildings of the Eastern District, the largest of which overlooks a vast palestra lined with porticoes.  It had also begun the désensevelissement the suburban part, outside the southern walls and city gates.  In total, a little more than fifteen years, the area désensevelie, including streets and buildings, was three times larger than that put so painfully exposed along the eastern part, in 50 years (from 1825 to 1875), during which alternate enthusiasm and doubt, abandonment and recoveries, to generate as secondary parts of some buildings (Pl. II), but failed to isolate a single whole house.

When you have dug up the construction of the insula orientalis, we can, in the near future, resume excavations insulae VI and VII, in order to return them to their normal alignment, along the decumanus maximus of the city.  We will then explore the suburban area and the necropolis, where other patrician villas in store for us, without question, the most abundant crop of sculptures, art objects and other papyrus collections.


In Pompeii, the excavations require, as we know, great skill and even virtuosity on the part of workers and specialists, and critical mind and a keen artistic sense from the executive staff to arrive, thanks a harmonious set of unearthing works, protection, restoration and reconstruction, to bring to light, simply by working désensevelissement, this admirable and valuable document of life that is the ancient home.
 At Herculaneum, even greater care is needed, because of the special difficulties that must be overcome only désensevelir buildings, before we get to work slower and more difficult recovery, reconstruction, protection of all structural, architectural and decorative elements of a buried city and enclosed in a hardened layer of mud, sometimes as compact a tuff bank.

It is extracted from the hard mass, to clear the tenacious grip of the mudslide, the cracked walls or slaughtered, plasters and stucco masonry detached from poor disaggregated by natural ground moisture, collapsed beams, thin walls in wattle wood and often trellis of reeds and finally all the various objects and household utensils not only in bronze, iron or earthenware, but also in wood, bone and glass, up egg shells that are still in the closed pantry, to tabulae ceratae displaying receipts, contracts and documents "negotia privata" and until the end of the roll of papyrus which preserves Vatramentum traces of writing (Pl. IV).

The main difficulties are not due to the hardness and thickness of the ground, which constitute at least (where have not been carried out excavations in underground tunnels or cuniculi) exceptionally favorable conditions for the conservation of objects and utensils all sorts.  They come from the presence of these innumerable cuniculi opened by Bourbon diggers of the time, everywhere, in every sense, even in the upper floors of the houses for the sole purpose of extracting works of art and various objects of bowels of the basement, with no regard for the structures of the buildings condemned to remain buried forever (Pl. V).

Thus, as a result of drilling the galleries through the streets and walls of homes or public buildings, as well as filling them in as and with the excavation of land, the walls are mostly holes at the base.  Often the patch solidified sludge layer, they appear miraculously suspended-dsssus the ground. Doors, floors and ceilings of the upper floors are perforated, the vaults collapsed, broken-right feet, crushed or completely slaughtered under the weight of the mass that was imposed on them or because of the lack of resistance of the ground on which they were based. . A typical example of this deplorable search system is provided by the collapse caused by cuniculi de la Vega, the vault of the great hall of access to the immense peristyle insula orientalis, which wrongly identified as the "Temple of the Mater Deum ,,.

The presence of cuniculi in the area that we had to attack first, makes, for any building, extremely difficult and complicated searches. It is not always possible here to follow the old traditional principle of stratigraphic excavations or graphics-layers, because, before releasing the upper floors of their land shell, you have to dig to straighten the walls whose base declined and plug huge gaps.  Furthermore, we must recompose the whole painted walls shredded by the reckless action and devastating and indiscriminate fury of cavamonti.  As he often happens that, in a room decorated with rich paintings, the upper part of the walls is maintained on a high-rise, but it lacks the contrary, all the lower part.  Similarly, in some homes, the upper floor is better preserved than the ground floor.

Given the sometimes considerable height to which the Herculaneum buildings are preserved, it becomes easy to account the sum ds work, care, skilled and brilliant processes, due to the secular tradition of the Neapolitan workers that had to implement to achieve, first, to désensevelir one building and then to the Amane-ger permanently to ensure the conservation of the structure and decoration, both of the parties masonry or wood pieces charred and brittle, which barred the grid remains a window or plant tissue which was made the cover of a bed Mais, everything old is scrupulously respected by those in charge of the excavations and restorations, so it is possible, even for someone of little expert in the art of building, of clear distinction between masonry support, resume or cover, added during the current work, and those belonging to the original construction.