Pompeii is Found
Identified on 20 August 1763, Pompeii’s value was as a source of antiquities for Charles VII, king of Naples.
Locals called the area ‘La Cività’; a clue, perhaps. It was proposed as the site of Pompeii as early as 1637, but formal digs did not begin until 1748. The site’s value was as a source of antiquities for Charles VII, king of Naples. This wasn’t careful, painstaking excavation; it was mining for art.
Work was directed by courtier Bernardo Tanucci. Beneath him were two military engineers, Roque Joaquín de Alcubierre and Karl Weber, and Camillo Paderni, Charles’ curator. The three men fought bitterly, exulting in each other’s failures. ‘Absolutely nothing has been found this week’, Tanucci wrote to Charles: ‘Alcubierre is triumphant.’ Paderni thought Weber a ‘butcher of antiquity’. Visiting archaeologist Johann Winckelmann was aghast. Paderni was ‘a nitwit and an ignoramus’, and Alcubierre had ‘as much to do with antiquity as the moon with prawns’.
Pompeii wasn’t identified until 20 August 1763, when a travertine stele was unearthed dating to the city’s last decade. Identical inscriptions have since been found in the city recording the work of Titus Suedius Clemens, tasked by Vespasian with reclaiming public land from private use.
Clemens lived on. Not long after the city’s destruction he carved his name on the Colossi of Memnon in Luxor, little thinking it would be Pompeii that made him immortal.