The History of Vesuvian Archaeological Excavations
The beginning of excavations at Pompeii
When and how was Pompeii discovered? Excavations began in 1748, during the reign of Charles of Bourbon, with the meaning of giving prestige on the royal house. Archaeological research was generally understood as a mere instrument of collecting for rich nobles. Unfortunately, this obviously led to a negative social result: the treasures were only for rich people. King Charles, as enlightened ruler, thought to systematize the excavations and discoveries unearthed: the Herculaneum Academy served precisely to exhibit and scientifically illustrate the discoveries, while he decided to proceed to compact areas of the city. In 1763 the first open air excavation began: the tour route was really uncomfortable, because between one excavation area and another there were huge mounds of soil. The visitor licence was issued by the king: visitors were prevented from sketching, to keep the discoveries unreleased. But by 1799 the history of Naples and the entire kingdom took on a new face…
The history of Pompeii goes through the many dominations that took place over our city. In January 1799 the French troops, led by General Championnet, put Ferdinand IV on the run and proclaimed the so-called “Neapolitan Republic“. Championnet proved to be a cultured and aware man, managing to quickly continue the excavations of Pompeii: today one of the houses to visit bears his name! The great surge, for the speed of the excavation campaign, took place from 1806: Gioacchino Murat, King of Naples during the French decade, and his wife Carolina Bonaparte gave the greatest contribution ever to the excavation works on Pompeii. Unfortunately, once again the political events from the Restoration of 1815 led to a new slowness in the excavation campaign: only with the United Italy in 1861 the activities resumed with new guidelines. The radical change was also due to the happy choice to entrust the direction of the excavations to Giuseppe Fiorelli, who took up the task with a systematic rigor and a clarity of totally new intentions.
The beginning of the 20th century saw a rapid shift in the direction of the excavations of Pompeii. In 1911, Vittorio Spinazzola was in this role. His method proved to be innovative: according to him, previous archaeological investigations had often damaged some buildings, depriving them of the upper floor when existing. He proposed to work from the top down: in this way, he first managed to leave intact the nature of some buildings, but above all to highlight the lively commercial nature of ancient Pompeii, reaching to free up Via dell’Abbondanza. His successor, Amedeo Maiuri, got this legacy. He was Director from 1924 to his death, in 1963, the richest period ever: from previous insights, Maiuri worked his whole life to highlight the great humanity of Pompeii, as an active urban nucleus and at times very close to ours modern cities. He completed the great post-war restoration works and freed the walls from the land accumulated over the centuries, finally defining the true circuit of the city.
The story of the excavation works carried out in the ancient city of Pompeii means to give first of all the right importance to scientific research. Respect for the fragility of the past guaranteed by the right method has left us with a great legacy: the deep knowledge of history, in which we are lucky enough to walk. Pompeii still continues to give us wonderful surprises: the “Great Pompeii Project” was born in 2011, and aimed to strengthen the effectiveness of actions and conservation works in the archaeological area of Pompeii through the development of a extraordinary and urgent programme of conservation, prevention, maintenance and restoration works. Our immense heritage represents our past, present and future: its care and respect are the engines that push us to always update ourselves, to study to solve our doubts and to keep doing our job in the most intense and professional way we know!