Research

Material and imaginary construction of one of the largest villas in the Roman world

Despite being one of the most famous monuments in Pompeii, the Villa of Diomedes has never been the subject of a major archaeological study commensurate with its exceptional characteristics.


Location of Villa Diomedes and other large villas in Pompeii
  • Location of Villa Diomedes and other large villas in Pompeii
  • © Villa Diomedes Project

Firstly, the villa was one of the first buildings excavated in Pompeii (1771-1775). The head of excavations, Francesco La Vega, a military engineer in the service of King Charles of Bourbon, produced highly detailed reports and drawings, all of which constitute a remarkable corpus of documentation.

Secondly, the excellent state of preservation of the Villa of Diomedes and its proximity to the northern entrance of Pompeii, where the coaches of the rare privileged visitors stationed in the late 18th century, made it one of the most emblematic monuments of the Grand Tour in Italy, leading to its abundant portrayal by artists and architects.

Map of Villa Diomedes and neighbourhood
  • Map of Villa Diomedes and neighbourhood
  • © Villa Diomedes Project

Thirdly, the Villa of Diomedes is one of the largest building sites in Pompeii, located outside the urban perimeter, near the Gate of Herculaneum. Set out on four levels, it is spread over more than 3,700 square metres, with a panoramic view of the Gulf of Naples opposite the island of Capri.

Finally, the conservation of its decorations, though now largely eroded, is particularly interesting, as several rooms on the lower level have preserved the original paintings on the vaulted ceilings.

 

To study all aspects of the monument, different methods were combined:

  • Collection and analysis of the historical archives on the villa, with a total of 560 identified documents (lien base image).
  • Inventory of the graffiti left by the Grand Tour travellers using scientific imaging (IR, UV, RTI). More than 1,200 names have been recorded since the late 18th century.
  • Computer science and 3D modelling. The starting point was creating a digital model of the villa in its current state. Historical drawings from 19th-century architects and archaeological surveys produced as part of this project were then projected in the 3D model as a series of interpretative layers. In this way, the 3D model functions as a veritable time machine, which reconstructs the evolution of the villa over time and offers a virtual visit at the time of its discovery.
  • Archaeology of the construction and decoration (study of the standing remains without excavations): stratigraphy of the elevations and characterisation of the construction techniques using specific databases and a geographic information system ( ACOR: https://acor.huma-num.fr/). A total of five building stages were distinguished for the Roman period, from the early second century BC to 79 CE. Damaged by the earthquakes that preceded the eruption of Vesuvius, the villa was in the midst of reconstruction in 79 CE.
  • Structural engineering and characterisation of the vulnerability of the building.
  • Analysis of urban planning and types of ownership in this sector of Pompeii.
  • Geophysical surveys both inside and outside the villa, which revealed a set of underground rooms belonging to the first phase of the building.
  • Mapping and identification of the objects from the villa, with around 60 pieces identified in the collections of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

 

Video presentation of the Villa Diomede Project by Alban-Brice Pimpaud, also to be seen on Vimeo.

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