It is a mistake to think that the first excavations to be carried out at the foot of Vesuvius, at the instigation of the Bourbon rulers, went totally against the principles of sound archaeology. Stories of entire buildings rifled for the "treasures" they contained and then covered in again, or even destroyed to prevent anyone else getting their hands on the wall paintings that were not thought worth carrying off, are unsubstantiated.
Scavi borbonici
In the first half of the 18th century, archaeological research was far from being a science; it was generally considered a mere tool for building up collections of antiquities, a pastime for wealthy gentry who could afford the expense to provide a talking-point in their soirées. As far as excavating techniques were concerned, the day-to-day problems of how the finds were to be conserved and exploited ensured the progress of archaeology as a scientific discipline and the recognition of the significance of antique remains by society at large.
Carlo di Borbone himself, an enlightened monarch, understood the importance of setting on a new footing a project that had been embarked on purely for dynastic self-glorification. The pursuit of research was no longer left to the gentleman dilettante but made the business of the state itself, employing its military taskforce, the Engineers (Genio).
In 1759 he set up the Accademia Ercolanese specifically to produce scientific accounts of the monuments that were coming to light. In the first years sites were explored haphazardly, digging wherever someone had chanced on a find, particularly in the complex of Julia Felix, the Villa of Cicero and buildings in Regio VIII, subsequently filled in again. storia degli scaviThen in the 1760s and 70s it was decided to concentrate on blocks of buildings which were to be left visible. The site around Porta Ercolano was investigated further: outside the walls various funerary monuments along Via dei Sepolcri and the Villa of Diomede were exposed, and inside, the House of the Surgeon and part of the insula occidentalis.
At the same time work was started on excavating the public buildings in the area of the Theatres, the Triangular Forum and the Temple of Isis.
In January 1799 the French troops under General Championnet conquered Naples and proclaimed the Parthenopean Republic. In 1806 Ferdinando IV was deposed and Joseph Bonaparte became King. He gave new impetus to the excavation work, greatly increasing the number of workmen and drafting in soldiers: over the next few years no less than 688 civilians and 1500 sappers were employed. Joaquin Murat succeeded Bonaparte in 1808 on the latter's accession to the throne of Spain, and his wife Caroline, Napoleon's sister, was an ardent champion of the excavation of Pompeii.
She put a lot of her own money into the project, and insisted on completing an overall impression of the town. She had the full extent of the built-up area surveyed, for the first time, and expropriated all property which overlay the circuit of the town walls. She also gave new vigour to the communication of progress in the excavations, corresponding with important people all over Europe and seeing to the publication of guidebooks complete with maps. It was through her munificence that Charles François Mazois was able to work at Pompeii between 1809 and 1813, compiling "Les ruines de Pompéi", a veritable summa of the work carried out here under the Bourbons.
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