Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Pius IX's visit to Pompeii in 1849

I have recently been reading about Pius IX’s visit to Pompeii in 1849, while he was enjoying the king’s hospitality at Portici. He visited Pompeii on 22nd October and Herculaneum on 25th October (the small excavated part of Herculaneum was strewn with flowers!). There are contemporary accounts of Pius’ visits, and we know that he came to Pompeii with a huge entourage and that his visit was carefully orchestrated. His day appears to have gone something like this:

Entrance to the site through the Via dei Sepolchi and the Herculaneum Gate - House of the Faun – On-going excavations on Via Fortuna (at the second crossroads after the House of the Faun) - House of the Suonatrice (House of Marcus Lucretius on the Via Stabiana) – On-going excavations, possibly in the house next to the House of the Suonatrice (later named the House of Pius IX, of course!) – LUNCH in the Stabian Baths – Forum – Via dell’ Abbondanza – Triangular Forum – Theatre – Temple of Asclepius – Odeon – Theatre Portico – Temple of Isis – Then across unexcavated land to the Amphitheatre where he was met by crowds of the faithful. For parts of the visit Pius IX was carried by cart.

All well and good, although there is actually some discussion about which houses/shops he saw being excavated, which is relevant because at the end of the visit he was given all the uncovered artefacts from these excavations for the Papal Collection of Pagan Artefacts. Actually the uncovered artefacts were not particularly valuable, but their donation was a gesture to a Pope who was extremely interested in excavation (and sponsored work at Ostia and Rome). There is also a good chance that the excavations were staged - and in fact Fiorelli reports that excavations in the house/shops were begun in anticipation of the Pope's visit.

One of the things that strikes me the most, however, is what a good example this is of 'changes' being made to the excavations for the benefit of a famous visitor. In ‘Pompeii Awakened’ (2007), Judith Harris claims that stone stepping stones along his route were removed – AND NEVER REPLACED – so that the papal cart could pass by! She doesn’t give the source of her information, however, but I can remember noticing missing stones in the past, so she may well be right that it can all be blamed on Pius IX's visit.

Just as a matter of curiosity, can any of you working on streets can tell me the locations of the missing stepping stones?! I'm interested to see if we can fix the route that Pius IX took through the excavations ...

There is apparently a painting of Pius IX watching the excavations at Pompeii in the Vatican collection, but I have yet to find it.


Nicolas Monteix said...

Some stones are missing on the north side of Forum Baths,ie on the way from Herculaneum Gate and the House of the Faun. Did the Pope finish on foot?

Jo Berry said...

He actually did large tracts by foot, but presumably the cart was following on behind in case he got tired! The entire area of the triangular forum, temple of isis and theatres was done on foot in the afternoon - they couldn't have taken the cart through all that. But there are refs to it during the morning visits.

Eric Poehler said...

I've created a quick page on to supply a few maps relating to this issue. Here is the text of that page (below) and the link to it:

"Below are two images of removed street features - almost exclusively stepping-stones - that can be idenified by gaps in the paving stones. These are hyperlinked to even larger versions of the images. The first image is a map showing the locations of missing street features in all of Pompeii. Each object is highlighted by an 8m wide buffer to enhance its visibility at this scale. The second image is a detail map showing the area of via delle Terme, which had 8 of 12 stepping-stones removed. A quick glance at Jo's map of the excavations by period in Unpeeling Pompeii, shows some potential consonance (at least at the resolution I can "eye-ball")between these missing stepping-stones and the limits of the excavations at the time of the Pope's 1849 visit. Some tigher control over the data is desired before causation could be argued from such correlation."


Jo Berry said...

Eric - that is a fabulous map, thank you! You're right about tighter control of the data, and I'm not sure we can achieve that. I have to wonder whether all those missing stones can possibly relate to Pius IX - because the gaps occur in parts of the city that he may not have visited. I wonder if a bit of research will discover that stones were removed for other famous visitors or other reasons too ... What I also want to know is whether there is a route from the Herculaneum Gate to the theatre quarter that is completely clear of stepping steps (I guess that what I am asking is can you put existing stepping stones on your plan too??). If we could plot a definite route, then perhaps we might be justified in arguing that the stones along that route were removed on that occasion?

Eric Poehler said...

Jo et al.,

I've added a map of where all the SS are located in the city for comparison with the maps of their removal. The new map can be found by scrolling down on the same page linked above.


Jo Berry said...

Thanks again, Eric. It looks to me like they couldn't have moved all of the stepping stones along Pius IX's route. Perhaps some of them were replaced after all ... Anyway, it doesn't look like we can solve the question of the route this way. Shame!

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