Cities of Vesuvius



- Syllabus Content -


Early discoveries and brief history of the excavations
See pp. 12-16 of your text book.

Pompeii

Rediscovery and 18th Century Excavations
Charles III King of Naples 1734-1759
Charles III King of Naples 1734-1759


  • 1594 A workman discovers two Latin inscriptions when digging a canal. Discovery recorded by the architect Domenico Fontana.
  • 1689 Ruined buildings and a Latin inscription were found by workmen building an aqueduct. The site was named Civitas - Latin for ‘City’.



  • 1748 Charles III instructs Rocco Gioacchino de Alcubierre to begin excavations. Believed the site was Stabiae. Some artefacts and the first skeleton were found. Excavation followed no pattern and was conducted merely where it was believed something interesting might be found. The Amphitheatre and the Herculaneum Gate necropolis were uncovered.



  • 1762 Johann Winckelmann criticised Alcubierre’s methods.
    Johann Winckelmann
    Johann Winckelmann
  • 1763 An inscription was found identifying the site as Pompeii. Street of the Tombs, Temple of Isis and a theatre unearthed. Moveable objects taken from site.
  • 1778 First plan of Pompeii drawn by Francesco La Vega. Excavations continued throughout the rest of the century.

Special wagons bear artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum to the newly-refurbished Naples Museum 1787
Special wagons bear artefacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum to the newly-refurbished Naples Museum 1787

19th Century Excavations

  • From 1808-1815 French King of Naples sponsored excavation of Pompeii under Francois Mazois with 1500 men.
  • After 1815 After defeat of Napoleon excavation continued but on a lesser scale. Forum uncovered, and many houses (House of the Faun 1829; House of the Painted Capitals 1832).
  • Excavation of the site was haphazard. Buildings judged of no interest were abandoned, some even reburied. Both sites were looted - statues, columns, vases, coins, etc. were stolen, paintings were cut from walls, mosaics were lifted from floors. The location of most objects was not recorded - their context was lost.

Giuseppe Fiorelli
Giuseppe Fiorelli

  • In 1860 Guiseppe Fiorelli became director of excavations. Began a systematic approach. Excavated from the top rather than the side. Realised that cavities in the ash were from decomposed organic matter - used plaster to recreate human, animals, furniture, food and other matter.
  • Introduced numbering system. Divided the town into nine regions, each with up to 22 blocks (insulae). Each house was given a number. Therefore building V.13.26 was building number 26 in the 13th block of the 5th region.
  • In 1882 August Mau, German archaeologist, studied the artworks in Pompeii and divided them into four distinct styles.

20th Century Excavations

  • Aspects of human life were emphasised. Several houses reconstructed: House of the Silver Wedding; House of the Vettii.
  • From 1910-1923 Vittorio Spinazzola cleared Via dell’Abbondanza and excavated important buildings in the street, e.g., House of the Cryptoporticus. Many facades reconstructed. Made photographic record of his excavations.
    Vittorio Spinazzola hosts a dinner in the summer dining room of the House of the Moralist
    Vittorio Spinazzola hosts a dinner in the summer dining room of the House of the Moralist
  • From 1923-1961 Amadeo Maiuri was director of excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum. He was the first to dig below the AD79 level to uncover the earlier history of Pompeii.
  • Work stopped during World War II. Pompeii was bombed by the Allies in 1943.
  • In 1944 Vesuvius erupted.
  • In 1977 Fausto Zevi became director of Excavations and stopped any new excavations. The focus was to be conservation of what had already been excavated.
  • In November 1980 an earthquake caused damage.

Herculaneum

Rediscovery and 18th Century Excavations

  • 1711 Workmen of Prince d’Elbeuf discover an ancient theatre under an old well. It was thought to be a temple at first. A series of tunnels were dug and artefacts were taken.
  • 1738 King Charles appoints Rocco Gioacchino de Alcubierre to dig. He uses very destructive methods. Vertical tunnels were dug down to recover artefacts. No records were kept.
  • 1750 Karl Weber was appointed to assist Alcubierre. He developed a more systematic method, excavating slowly and keeping logbooks, drawing plans and recording all finds. Villa of the Papyri was discovered.
  • 1760s Francesco la Vega drew a town plan.
  • 1765 Excavation of Herculaneum was very difficult because of the depth (20 metres) and hardness of the volcanic deposits and the site’s location under the modern town of Resina. Excavations were suspended in 1765 to focus on Pompeii, which was more accessible.

19th Century Excavations

  • Excavations recommenced in 1828 when Francis I became King. The system of using tunnels was abandoned in favour of open digging.
  • The site came under the control of Fiorelli in 1865.
  • In 1877 excavations ceased again, because residents of Resina opposed their land being taken from them.

20th Century Excavations
Amadeo Maiuri
Amadeo Maiuri


  • Excavations recommenced in 1927 under Amadeo Maiuri.
  • Work ceased during World War II and did not commence again until 1958.
  • In 1982, dozens of skeletons were discovered in the boat sheds on the former Herculaneum beachfront.