Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum

Villa of the Papyri

Villa of the Papyri is situated at some distance from the rest of the unearthed city of Herculaneum.



Description of Villa of the Papyri

Villa of the PapyriŠœagnificent Villa of the Papyri ran parallel to the ancient shore of the Bay of Naples and was constructed by father- in- law of Julius Caesar, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, who lived in Herculaneum. Even though much of this largest ancient Roman estate ever found (measuring over 250 meters in length) is hidden underground it might be one of the most important buildings in the city. Aside of beautiful statues, and rich decor Villa of Papyri is famous for its collection of papyrus scrolls that was carbonized and preserved for centuries. Only today we can open this time capsules and read their contents.


Lucius Calpurnius Piso was rich literate man who patronized arts and sciences of his country and Herculaneum in particular. He managed to collect one of the largest libraries of his time that he kept in the city. Numerous works of ancient authors might bring us works of ancient authors that were fought to be destroyed. The manor was discovered in 1752. First archeologists under supervision of Karl Weber were basically looters who recovered many statues and valuable artifacts for their king Charles II, the Bourbon king of Naples. They dug several tunnels through destroyed city of Herculaneum and retreated everything they fought was pretty and valuable for the Palace. About 90 magnificent statues were retreated from a villa. Some were later given away as gifts to various heads of states. Small items were left in place or simply discarded. Eventually the digs were completed in 1765 under pressure from local citizens who feared their homes would be swallowed by collapsing underground passages.


Many of the first documents were destroyed by diggers who uncovered Herculaneum. Attempts to read them also failed. Remaining documents crumbled and fell apart. Thanks to priest from the Vatican Library, Antonio Piaggio, texts were saved. He designed mechanical device that slowly unrolled the papyrus making it visible and relatively unbroken. However he managed to read only few original documents of Herculaneum. Only centuries later with modern technologies we can appreciate over 1800 rolls of documents that were previously ignored. Eruption cloud that engulfed the city raised the temperature to 750 degrees Fahrenheit killing all inhabitants, but miraculously preserving works of ancient authors. Scientists managed to discover a huge collection of works of Greek Epicurean philosopher Philodemus, who actually lived here on grounds of villa thanks to generous owner who invited him here.


Unfortunately digging through Herculaneum is no easy task. While Pompeii were covered by layers of ash that are relatively easy to dig through, Herculaneum was covered by hot mud that solidified over centuries. It preserved wooden furniture and papyrus scrolls, but it makes work of archeologists extremely difficult. Additionally much of modern day Herculaneum (or Ercolano) sits right on top of the ancient one. In order to uncover the ancient treasure trove of ancient work one would have to clear many modern buildings including Town Hall that sits on top.


Villa of the Papyri  Villa of the Papyri  Villa of the Papyri

If you want to see what the Villa of Papyri looked like in the past, but don't want to travel to Herculaneum you can go to California. Here architect Paul Getty reconstructed ancient Herculaneum estate in 1970's. His villa follows plans of Karl Weber, the original discoverer of the splendid estate.