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Villa of the Papyri: the only intact library in the ancient world

Via Villa dei Papiri Ercolanesi 1, Excavations of Herculaneum, 80056, Herculaneum
Duration

30minutes

Languages

English, Italian

Participants

Unlimited

Type

Archaeological Area

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Suitable for children

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Suitable for couples

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Pets allowed

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Parking available

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Barrier-free

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Language supports

Important things to know

Services included

  • Exclusive Movery money back guarantee
  • Tourist assistance service included
  • Instant ticket delivery
  • Tickets are accepted on smartphones

Tickets and discounts

  • The cost of the full ticket is €13.00

  • The cost of the reduced ticket is €2.00

Informazione sul tour

  • The facility is open from March 16 to October 14 from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

  • You can book a tour with a private tour guide by calling Movery's service department at 351.5585067

Facilitations

  • Admission is free on the first Sunday of the month

  • The address is at Via Villa dei Papiri, Via Mare, 53, 80056 Herculaneum (NA)

  • The ticket can be purchased on site

  • Animals are allowed

Limitations

  • Weekly closing day on Wednesday. Also closed on December 25 and January 1.

About this activity

The Villa of the Papyri, one of the largest and most sumptuous Roman villas ever explored, stood overlooking the sea, on what was the coastline before the eruption. It was excavated between 1750 and 1764, at the behest of Charles III of Bourbon, with an intricate system of descent and aeration shafts and underground passages.

Why visit Villa of the Papyri

The building owes its name to the library of papyri discovered in 1750. It was an extremely luxurious villa, as evidenced by its exquisite architecture and the huge number of exceptional works of art discovered, including frescoes, bronzes, and marble sculptures that make up the largest collection of Greek and Roman sculptures ever discovered in one place.

Villa of the Papyri in the Roman World

The construction of the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum avvenne tra il 60 ed il 50 a.C. e molti archeologi ritengono che appartenesse a Lucio Calpurnio Pisone Cesonino, suocero di Gaio Giulio Cesare. Rimase danneggiata nel 62 d.C. in seguito ad un violento terremoto e ciò impose lavori di ristrutturazione e di rifacimento delle decorazioni. Come dimostrano i cumuli di calce e colori ritrovati, l’area fu soggetta all’eruzione del 79 d.C. e la villa sommersa da una colata di fango.

Structure of the Villa of the Papyri

The Villa of the Papyri stood overhanging the sea, on what was the coastline before the eruption of 79 A.D. It is over 250 meters long, stands on three levels and has a square-shaped structure, and is itself divided into four squares. The southern ones were used for services, such as living quarters, latrines and papyrus storage, while the northern ones were used for residential and recreational areas.

The basis villae, plastered in white, has not yet been fully unearthed in its height, and it is characterized by large windows. It is also possible to manage to glimpse inside a room that has only been partially explored, the floor of which has not yet been reached, decorated in the vault with vine shoots and small paintings of cupids, sea animals and garlands. Wooden lintels can also be seen, a sign of openings leading to still unexplored rooms.

The entrance, which faced directly onto the sea, is preceded by a portico with columns, similar to that of the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii, and paved with mosaic with black and white tiles. Here one enters from the atrium, which features an impluvium surrounded by eleven statuettes used as fountains and onto which several mosaic-paved rooms open.

The peristyle, 100 m long and 37 m wide, with frescoes in the fourth style, has a garden surrounded by a portico with sixty-four columns and a pool in the center: marble and bronze statues were found in the ambulatory at the time of excavation, some of which were moved from their original position due to restoration work and are now on display at the National Archaeological Museum of Naples, such as the Drunken Satyr, Hermes at Rest, Pan with the Goat, a herm (sculpture on a pillar, depicting a human head and the beginning of a torso) probably depicting Lucius Anneus Seneca and the Runners.

Surrounding the peristyle are other rooms including the library and the tablinum: in the former, 1826 carbonized papyrus scrolls were found (unearthed on October 19, 1752), kept in some crates and wrapped in wooden peels. The first interpretations of the papyri, mostly written in Greek and only a few in Latin, were due to Camillo Paderni and Abbot Antonio Piaggio. Those studied deal almost all with Epicurean philosophy, largely made by Philodemus of Gadara, and a small part, those in Latin, deal with the war between Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII against Augustus, taken from a work called De bello Actiaco, but many others nevertheless have yet to be analyzed. Many papyri were lost during excavation operations, others in the attempt to open them. However, much progress has been made over the centuries, and recent techniques, not mechanical but digital (such as x-rays) bode well for the possibility of reading the charred scrolls.

A long avenue leads to a belvedere with a polychrome marble floor, removed for preservation first at the Palace of Portici, then to the National Museum. The villa was also equipped with a water system to serve the numerous pools, fountains and baths. Among the various finds are heaps of grain, oil lamps and a bronze sundial with silver inlays.

History of the Papyrus Villa after its discovery

Found by chance during the construction of a well, the first investigations carried out through tunnels started in 1750 under the direction of the Spaniard Roque Joaquín de Alcubierre, soon joined by the Swiss engineer Karl Weber: it was the latter who made the only plans of the building, one of which was drawn up in 1751, which showed the belvedere area, and another in 1754, later revised in 1764, where all the rooms explored, the tunnels made, the investigations and the findings were precisely illustrated.

Fu proprio su quest’ultima pianta che Jean Paul Getty costruì a Malibù una riproduzione della villa, a grandezza naturale, utilizzata prima come abitazione privata e poi come museo a lui dedicato. La prima fase di scavi si concluse nel 1761, riportando alla luce non solo affreschi e pavimenti, ma anche un gran numero di statue e i rotoli di papiro. Un’ulteriore breve campagna di indagini si ebbe tra il 1764 ed il 1765 con la partecipazione di Francisco la Vega e Camillo Paderni, custode del Museo di Portici, e dallo scultore e restauratore francese Canart.

In seguito, a causa delle esalazioni tossiche di mofete (emissioni di anidride carbonica che scaturiscono dal terreno), vennero chiusi tutti i pozzi di aerazione ed i cunicoli. Le indagini della Villa dei Papiri ripresero nel 1980 quando venne nuovamente localizzata, seguendo le antiche piante borboniche, mentre le operazioni di scavo a cielo aperto iniziarono nel 1985. Una nuova fase di scavo si ebbe tra il 1996 ed il 1998, mentre dal 2002 fu messa in opera un’azione di bonifica tramite l’utilizzo di pompe idrovore, per tenere costantemente all’asciutto la parte esplorata: gli ambienti visibili oggigiorno si limitano all’atrio, alla basis villae ed alcune stanze di un livello inferiore.

The most important things to know about Villa of the Papyri

At the time, the papyri aroused great curiosity and attention on the part of many scholars, eventually becoming a major attraction and an almost obligatory stop on that famous educational trip called the Grand Tour in which all people from all over Europe who wanted to acculturate themselves participated.

Activity's Location

Via Villa dei Papiri Ercolanesi 1, Excavations of Herculaneum, 80056, Herculaneum

How to get there

Reach Villa of the Papyri by public transportation

From Piazza Garibaldi take the Ferrovie dello Stato train towards Salerno and get off at Portici-Ercolano. From there it is about a 10-minute walk.  

Reach Villa of the Papyri by car

From Piazza Garibaldi take the A3 highway. Continue on A3 for 8 km. Then take Via della Salute and SS 18 Tirrena Inferiore towards Vico Posta in Ercolano and continue for 3 km.    

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