History of the Excavation
Carlo di Borbone began excavations in 1748, as a way of increasing the fame and prestige of his nascent Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
Digging proceeded sporadically, here and there at random; it was several years before the site was identified as Pompeii, and even then there was no systematic town plan. The first features to be exposed were part of the necropolis outside Porta Ercolano, the temple of Isis and part of the theatres quarter.
During the French occupation of Naples, 1806-1815, there was much more activity on the site, but with the restoration of the Bourbons excavations gradually slowed down again. Work was concentrated on the area of the amphitheatre and the Forum, as well as around Porta Ercolano and the theatres. The discovery of the House of the Faun containing the large mosaic depicting Alexander the Great in battle caught the imagination of people all over Europe ollowing the Unification of Italy in 1861, the appointment of Giuseppe Fiorelli as director marked a turning-point in the excavations. From now on the site was explored systematically, linking up the various features that had been exposed, detailed records were kept, and the wall paintings were left in situ, rather than being detached and taken to the museum in Naples.
Fiorelli pioneered the practice of taking plaster casts, which gave dramatic substance to the victims of the eruption. From the early years of the 20th century the explorations spread eastwards along the ancient town’s principal streets, and more attention was paid to the remains of the upper floors of buildings.
In the years 1924 to 1961 the excavations were supervised by Amedeo Maiuri. This period of intense activity saw the discovery of prestigious buildings such as the Villa of the Mysteries, the complete recognition of the ancient town’s perimeter, the excavation of most of Regio I and II and the necropolis of Porta Nocera, and the start of a methodical exploration of the strata lying below the level of 79 AD, to throw light on Pompeii’s past.
Over recent years excavation work has been scaled down, in order to concentrate the limited resources available (by no means sufficient even for this objective) on restoring and maintaining the buildings which have already been exposed.