City of Herculaneum. It was back in 1709 when the farmer Ambrogio Nocerino was digging deep into his plot of land to build a well. Going deeper, he discovered some marble remains that came from the ancient theater of the Roman city. The farmer recovered many fragments of marble that were part of the original equipment of the ancient structure. It didn’t take long until the news reached the ears of the Frenchman Emanuel Maurice of Lorraine, prince d’Elboeuf, in command of the Austrian troops in Naples. He immediately bought the excavation area and began the first exploratory investigations, conducted entirely at his own expense, which lasted approximately nine months. Tunnels and passageways were dug to recover some statues (nine in total) which were donated as a gift to the powerful of that time. It was only with the arrival in Naples of King Charles III of Bourbon that the real excavations of the city of Herculaneum officially began. It was the year 1738. With the intervention of the captain of the military genius Rocco Gioacchino d’Alcubierre he began to extend the research to the current excavated area. The explorations were always conducted by officers who employed prisoners and lifers to dig narrow openings under meters and meters of solidified lava. The maximum dimensions were 80/100 cm wide and less than 2 meters high. It was a job comparable to the very tiring excavation in a mine. To reach the depth level where the ancient structures once stood, large winches with hemp ropes were tied on which the excavators lowered. Fragments, tools and marbles were tied to the same ropes to be transported up. All the discoveries were meticulously annotated, cataloged and transported to the royal palace of Portici, after which they were carefully selected to officially become part of the royal collection of Charles, called the “Accademia ercolanense”. Sculptor Joseph Canart made a great contribution to distinguishing between artifacts “worthy” of being collected and those that were periodically discarded. Ten years later (1748) attention was turned to Pompeii and both sites were involved in various Bourbon excavation campaigns, which lasted, on and off, until the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte in Naples. But that’s another story.

first excavations in Herculaneum