The Ground Floor
Round the walls of the atrium (a second picture of which
is shown below, this time looking back towards the entrance) were found
statues, busts and statuettes, the two most beautiful being the
Dancing Faun (pictured opposite) and the Faun playing Pipes.
The impluvium too was decorated with statuary with eleven bronze
statuettes of sileni (an example of which is pictured lower right shown
pouring water from a pitcher), fauns, cupids and wild animals.
sides of the atrium are four or five rooms communicating by
corridor; several of which had fine mosaics floors (room (f) is pictured below), and in one on the left hand
side three frescoes were found featuring garlands and
masks, goats and geese.
The north side of the atrium opens onto the peristyle
(g). At this point the open excavation stops at present and we are left
with the tantalising sight of the old Bourbon tunnels disappearing into
the darkness (pictured right). The peristyle was colonnaded on all four
sides with the portico
supported by thirty six fluted
columns of stuccoed brickwork. In the centre was a marble pool. The
peristyle was adorned with bronze busts and statues. Just inside the peristyle was a bust of 'Ptolemy Apion' (pictured left below) and many
statuettes. At the corners stood four bronze heads; the
Doriphorus (pictured right below), the Amazon and two portraits of philosophers.
Against the north wall was a marble statue
of the Veiled Woman, and down the centre, in a double row, were eight
bronze busts. The floor was of mosaic. In this room on April 8,
1753, were found a few papyri lying about, two wooden cases, nearly
destroyed, and also some wax tablets.
When found, the papyri were blackened cylinders (pictured below) more akin to 'lumps of coal' and at first they were a mystery to the excavators. On
examining some broken fragments, however, it was discovered that the
cylinders were indeed scrolls containing Greek text written on scorched
The rooms south of the
tablinum had some good mosaics, and the bronze busts of Hernarchus,
the magnificent head sometimes referred to as Plato and sometimes
Dionysus (pictured right) and a herm of Hercules (pictured lower right).
Weber's plan fails us for the rooms east of the peristyle. We know, however,
they contained among other things a furnace for the villa's private baths. The room (j) near the
centre of the rooms on the east side was a library. The cupboards of inlaid wood down the middle
of this room contained 337 Greek volumes, and in another case were found 18 Latin
papyri, rolled into scrolls and tied up together.
East of the atrium part of a small garden (k) was discovered. Both the
west and north sides of the garden were excavated revealing a portico
with seven columns on the west side and three to the north. A large
number of dolia were found in the fragments in this quarter; they were
evidently supplied with water by a long pipe (m). Similar pipes are found in other parts of the villa;
some, from their position, must have carried water from the large garden pool to the
house. A substantial covered aquaduct was also
discovered that supplied water to the villa's baths.
The garden (l) to the west of the villa which was
(measuring 92.7m by 31.2m), was colonnaded on all four sides. The
portico that surrounded it was supported
on the outside by a wall and on the inside by columns of stuccoed
brickwork, ten and twenty five on the shorter and longer sides
respectively. Running down the centre of the garden was a pool (o) 65.7m
|The major axis of the Villa of the Papyri runs parallel to the
sea as shown in the artistic reconstruction below. In front of the entrance to the villa is a grand portico (a). Only
eight columns of the
portico have been excavated, but judging from the plan of the house
there must have been four additional columns to the east of the
The portico (pictured opposite) is paved with a
black and white mosaic floor bound by a simple broad black border. The
paving is remarkably well preserved as are the marble thresholds to the
rooms that open off the portico. The ground floor of the villa sustained
considerable damage as a result of the eruption and many of the rooms
are in a semi ruinous condition. The surviving walls of the frontage
lining the portico retain some fresco decoration as can be seen in the
The fauces (b) which opens off the portico (in the centred of the
photograph opposite) is unusually wide. It has a black and white mosaic
floor with a black border, although its condition is rather poor. Again,
like the frontage some fresco decoration has survived along the lower
parts of the side walls.
fauces opens directly onto a Tuscan style atrium (c) with a central
impluvium (pictured opposite). The atrium is paved with a
coarse mosaic floor in black with multi-coloured insets. Fragments of
fresco decoration survive on the lower parts of the walls.
Opening off the atrium are two alae (d and e), of which the western ala
(d) is pictured left. Both alae have black and white mosaic floors and
retain fragments of their original decoration (pictured below).
Opening off the west side of the peristyle is the tablinum (h) which measured 19.9m by
8m. It must have been a very charming room, looking out, by its three doors
on one side to the garden and on the other onto the peristyle, open the
whole width save of two columns, between which stood the marble statue
of the Archaistic Pallas (h) (pictured below).
There were four or five rooms
immediately north of the tablinum, and a few more partially excavated,
at right angles to them opening off the north side of the peristyle. In one of these
rooms (i) were found the busts of four Epicurean philosophers. It
was here also that over 250 papyri were found.
portico and garden were decorated by a large number of busts and other
statuary including the 'Drunken Faun' pictured left. (See Catalogue of
Sculptures for a full list of items found)
In the rooms at the end of the
peristyle were found statuettes, lamps etc and further
south a fountain. The part lying west of the peristyle has never
been explored but it appears to be a continuation of the garden. The
exedra at the end of the path was paved with African marble and giallo
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Photography by Brian Donovan, The University of Auckland - Centre for Academic Development.
Copyright © 2001-2009, Herculaneum Conservation Project.
The description of the villa is based on the book 'Buried Herculaneum' by Ethyl Ross Barker published in 1908.