Friday, June 26, 2020

Early Excavations of Herculaneum and Pompeii

Last year after attending the "Buried by Vesuvius" exhibit at the Getty Villa and meeting a group from the Herculaneum Society, I joined the organization. This morning in their newsletter, they included this interesting image of Herculaneum's main street, the Decumano in the 1st century CE alongside a modern photograph of the street today:

For years I was under the misconception that Herculaneum was the working port and Pompeii was the resort town but then learned that, in fact, it was just the opposite. Although Herculaneum was discovered first, it was covered by almost 100 feet of volcanic debris so only the "young and nimble" as it was described in an early report I read, were able to descend the deep tunnels to root out the beautiful sculptures and artifacts in demand from the royalty of Europe for their private collections. Pompeii, on the other hand, was only covered by about 11 feet of debris making it much more accessible to excavators in the 18th and 19th centuries than Herculaneum. I've been translating the Pompeianarum Antiquitatum Historia which is the diary of early 19th century excavators working in Pompeii and they complain that flocks of the local sheep wander through the ruins with impunity. After excavators exposed several structures, the tourists started to visit, guided by what were known as cicerones, local tour guides who could even arrange for a wealthier tourist to make their own "discovery."

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