Ch.28: House of Papyrus

Outside the wall belt of the city of Herculaneum, beyond the Sarno River to the west, was the luxurious Villa of the Papyri. Like the entire archaeological area, also was buried by the brutal force of Vesuvius, thereby remaining hidden for a very long time.  Then one day, by mere chance, during the work in a field, a resident of the place, fell in the garden among outstanding invoice statues.

Excavations in this Villa were finally abandoned in 1765, because of the deadly exhalations of mofette (carbonic acid) which necessitated the closure of underground tunnels and ventilation shafts. Charles Weber . Since then, the Villa remained inaccessible, again buried under layers of mud and lava fiery lava left by the eruption of 79 AD and 1631. However, its discovery, with the wonderful harvest artwork and papyrus she was followed is related in a way so close to the history and the fate of Herculaneum excavations it seems worthwhile to spend a brief study that building, referring to the very exact plan of the one who had the merit to explore Charles Weber.

Villa extended over a length of over 250 meters, at least one must have the decumanus, parallel to the line of the coast, west of the city, between "Via Cecere" and Vico Mare ", in the area occupied by the gardens of the Augustinian Fathers. This area was covered in large part, during the eruption of 1631, by the lava down to Granatello promontory.
 Situated, as it were, halfway up the last slope of Vesuvius, with no building blocking his view, she was flanked by a garden surrounded by a portico and dominated an expanse of gardens, vineyards and wood down to the small port for vital communications by sea.

This allowed him to fully embrace the immense panorama opened before her.  The coast road, which delimited the upstream assured him the most convenient and most direct communication with Neapolis and other cities, towns or properties scattered along the Gulf.  Built on the hardened lava of prehistoric bench, sheltered from cold winds by the North still forested slopes of Vesuvius, on the contrary she received the westerly breeze which, according to Strabo, Herculaneum was a very safe city. Away from the inhabited center, without being isolated, it enjoyed great tranquility, while having the ability to monitor events through rapid service couriers and informants.

Built halfway up between the mountain and the sea, it enjoyed, in addition, the hill climate and maritime climate, and especially one of the most magnificent views and more harmonious, well done to satisfy the passion entirely Roman makes for views of the sea and the gulfs.  This was to be an ideal residence for a cultured and refined patrician, magnet alternating the serene contemplation of the beauties of nature with meditation and reflection.  What was the owner of this house?  So far, we have answered this question by assumptions more or less plausible.  A singular circumstance, however, holds the attention: the presence, in the library of the villa, many works of Epicurean Philodemos.  She still makes very probable hypothesis Comparetti, that there had to be some connection between the author and the owner of the villa.

It notes that Cicero, in one of his Orationes cites, as a friend and protector of the Epicurean Philodemos, L. Calpurnius Piso Cesoninus, stepfather of Julius Caesar and bitter enemy of Cicero himself. It was deduced, not without reason, that the suburban Villa of Herculaneum was actually belong to Lucius Calpurnius Piso and his direct descendants, at the time of Augustus and the imperial era, and the library, a mainly philosophical, had to be made up of works collected and selected by his friend, the philosopher Philodemos Gadara. Must be excluded, however, another hypothesis Comparetti, that we should see the owner of the portrait in one of the finest bronze busts of the Villa, called the "Pseudo-Seneca ,,, some having mistaken for Seneca, and which would, ultimately, a poet of the new Greek comedy, perhaps Philemon.

Although it seems gigantic, compared to other villas discovered so far in the Vesuvius area ("Villa of Diomedes ,,," ,,, Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii), the Villa of the Papyri rest faithful, through its comprehensive plan and the distribution of its parts, the basic type of construction and architectural design of suburban villas in the area of Pompeii and Stabiae.  The atrium does not play the role of center of family life, as in italics and Roman house, but fills the more modest function entrance vestibule and hallway release more or less rich and more or less grandiose.  True Housing and reception areas are distributed around the colonnades and terraces to allow to enjoy more direct light, heat of the sun, the view of the countryside and the sea. Finally, the third element characteristic of this type of villa is constituted by the large garden, partially covered, for walks in the shade or in the invigorating warmth of the sun (sun).

These elements stand out clearly on the plan drawn by Weber.  Referring to the plan, as well as newspaper excavations and discoveries, we can make a summary description of the interior, although the abandonment of digs, along the east side, do not allow us to embrace the entire building and that without exploring open areas, it knows nothing of accessory parts such as cultural facilities and the port grounds.  The entrance opened on the side of the sea, with a columned portico.  A wide corridor, which already function hall gives access to the atrium, which we see the pavement of black and white mosaic, and the eleven statues surrounding the catchment basin (Sileni who let the water run for an addition and cupids who discharges water from the mouth of a dolphin).  Other statues and busts were found in niches of the walls of the atrium.

First Quarter peristyle. -  Peristyle square, 10 columns per side, with long, narrow basin of a swimming pool in the middle.  Every angle was decorated by a fountain with the bowl-shaped shell and a bronze Hermes.  Among the Hermes, we note that of the Colorado beetle and the Amazon.  In The ambulacrum North side, a square room (oecus triclinaire?) And dining apse (Laraire?).
 It develops to the east of the peristyle. On one side, it overlooks the sunny side of an inner courtyard, while the other, it is exposed to the north.  It brought to light a bathroom, rather narrow as most bathrooms of the villas of the late Republic and early Augustan era, and another part, too narrow, which was the valuable library of papyri.  They were found in charred rolls, arranged on shelves along the walls or in the middle of the room.  On the sides opened elegant reception rooms and study the inlaid marble pavements.

District large peristyle. - To the west of the first peristyle, a vast and solemn tablinum where sat the archaic statue 'Athena Promachos under propylaeum, led to grandiose peristyle garden.  The peristyle was ample and bright like the Forum and public Palaestra of a city, with its 100 meters long and 37 meters wide. Its swimming pool, in the middle, had the dimensions (66 m long. 7 wide) of a Stagnum or large natationes imperial baths of the city.

Along the ambulacrum the peristyle, in intercolumniations and in some of the open area of the garden and on the edges of the pool, it was discovered a veritable art gallery: statues, busts, hermes and small sculptures in marble and bronze, chosen with an eclectic taste and connoisseur from archaic statues to historical figures and animal groups scattered among the green of the fairways.  It should be noted the Dancers group, sleeping Wildlife, drunk Wildlife, Mercure break, Wrestlers, busts of dynasts Hellenistic, the Hermes of philosophers and poets, Deer facing and a statue ' Aeschines, marble.

Beyond the peristyle towards the west, a long gravel covered driveway leading to the rotunda gazebo, open on all sides, elevated about 4 meters above the level of the surrounding countryside and decorated with a sumptuous circular pavement in marble inlays, which is now in the Pinacoteca Museum of Naples.  An underground aqueduct, also reported by Weber as a hydraulic system of astonishing ingenuity fueled peristyles large ponds, fountains and water lilies of the villa and the bathroom of the residential area.  Definitely, Maybe, when we have exhausted all possibilities of research in the area spared by the constructions of Resina, we can take on a new basis, the excavations of the most valuable and richest villa of the ancient world .

And it will not work in vain, as yet there is hope a lot of completing the excavation of residential area and garden, without neglecting the recovery of objects of furnishings, including a rich house had to be provided and certainly had artistic merit.
 But the suburban Villa of the Papyri, which projects the dazzling glow of his discoveries on the mystery of désenvelissement Herculaneum, is not the only large patrician villa that was built around the city. The Roman patricians and that of the Campania liked to stay in that place on the sunny and very safe slopes or the enchanting shores of the sea. Even the noble families of Herculaneum, in imperial times, were to prefer quiet and elegant suburban mansions to the homes of the small town invaded by the noise and commercialism.  An emperor, Tiberius, had himself set the example by withdrawing into his lonely hermitage perched on the cliffs of Capri.  As can be expected, as in the past, the most promising results and the happiest reward the arduous efforts of those who, attracted by the lure of discovery, will undertake the other suburban villas excavations.