A lecture by BSR Assistant Directors: a legacy and trajectory of interdisciplinarity at the BSR

Earlier this month BSR Assistant Directors Peter Campbell, Martina Caruso and Harriet O’Neill gave a lecture in London at the British Academy examining the origins of the British School at Rome and the pathway forward into the BSR’s twelfth decade.

1911.PNGHarriet O’Neill, Assistant Director for the Humanities and Social Sciences: I wanted to use my section to think about why the BSR was conceived as an interdisciplinary institution and how this aspiration worked in practice. In researching this I discovered that the key moment was the move to what had been the British Pavilion at the International Fine Arts Exhibition held in 1911. This is known but what surprised me was the level of BSR involvement in the exhibition itself, particularly the archaeological and ‘historical’ parts of the show which were held elsewhere in Rome.

Martina Caruso, Assistant Director for Art, Architecture and the Creative Industries: For my section of the lecture I presented the latest interdisciplinary work that the artists and scholars undertook together as part of a reflection on Brexit and the wider political climate. The workshop resulted in a series of printed flags for the March Mostra which were hoisted on the rooftop during the opening of the exhibition.


In terms of my personal research I’ve been exploring photography by women archaeologists who were working in the Mediterranean at the turn of the last century, a time when the so-called historical sciences like geology, palaeontology and archaeology were gathering momentum but were still very much a man’s world. Among these women I’ve been examining Agnes and Dora Bulwer’s photographs, which are conserved at the BSR archives, and the way in which they adopted the survey style on archaeological field trips while often deviating from that style to photograph the environment, their travelling companions and the people they met. I’m interested in tracing the lives of these women through the photographs they took, since very little is known about them from other sources.


From the Bulwer collection, courtesy of the BSR Photographic Archives

Peter Campbell, Assistant Director for Archaeology and Archaeological Science: For my section of the lecture, I examined the BSR’s archaeological development from horse-drawn carts to drones. Since 1901 the BSR has been an innovator and early adopter of new methods, from Thomas Ashby’s photography to today’s geophysics. I concluded my time by discussing the future trajectories of the BSR and how our new research strategies will prepare for the next century.

Alumni, Members and friends at the reception following the lecture

Watch the video of the lecture below:

A postdoctoral adventure to Medieval Sardinia

Rome Awardee Hervin Fernández-Aceves has recently been awarded a postdoctoral fellowship as part of the AHRC project Power, society, and (dis)connectivity in medieval Sardinia.  He will be continuing his research into Sardinia’s giudicale aristocracy and its rare corpus of charter materials, the carte volgari and the condaghes. Here he tells us a bit more about the research he has undertaken at the BSR.

After I submitted the final version of my doctoral thesis, I finally had both the time and the clarity to think about fresh research ideas, both beyond my field of expertise and outside of my comfort zone. That was how, after having focused both my masters and PhD-level studies on the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, I had the realisation that I wanted to look elsewhere: medieval Sardinia. I knew from the beginning that swapping the focus of my central research was a risky move, mostly considering the very early stage of my academic career. At the same time, however, I was both shocked and fascinated by just how little we know about Sardinia during the central Middle Ages.

ta_1804 (002)

Ashby, Thomas, [Silanus (Italy), Church of Santa Sabina], 1906, BSR Photographic Archive, TA[PHP]-1804

From the outside, swapping one ‘Italian’ region for another may not seem like such a big deal – how different could Sicily and Sardinia have been in the Middle Ages? Despite studying the medieval Mediterranean for years, in the company of colleagues, experts and professors, from what I could gather no one could actually provide a sound, non-anecdotal explanation of the relevant events and processes that took place in Sardinia for almost two hundred years, from the end of the Byzantine period to the time of the Catalo-Aragonese conquest. For centuries the island was nominally part of the Byzantine Empire, but it became ever more isolated from the regions around it. By the late 1000s, its rulers – also known in the Italian historiography as giudicati – were recognised as independent kings whose earliest surviving charters were written in the Sardinian language using Greek letters. How could it be possible for this ‘lost world’ to be so geographically close to other extensively studied regions, yet still remain so apparently different and disconnected from the medieval realities we think we understand? At least one thing was clear: this important and neglected anomaly in medieval history deserved reconsideration and more study. Indeed, I am not the only one to have had this thought; the publication of two major new volumes of collected essays show that scholarly interest in the island’s history is growing in the English-speaking world.[1]

As an early-career historian, the BSR provides a nurturing platform from which to explore fringe and innovative subjects which are usually  not supported by other institutions. The support it offers goes beyond 24-hour access to a well-stocked library, membership to a highly respected academic body and free Italian classes. For me, the opportunity to continue my research and reflect on the implications of my academic project from many different points of view has been an unparalleled experience.


Ashby, Thomas, [Codrongianos (Italy), Church of Santissima Trinità Di Saccargia, Distant View], 1907, BSR Photographic Archive, TA[PHP]-XIX.100

There is no doubt that the material I can access as a BSR award-holder, both in its own library and in other repositories in the URBiS library network – a fantastic resource that allows members to use other libraries in Rome including those in the École Française and the Hertziana – is incredibly useful, but these are not the only resources I have benefitted from. Whilst these edited sources, journals and historiographical works have formed the building blocks of my project, it is the debate and reflection gained from the casual talks outside the library that have provided the necessary mortar.

The social environment here at the BSR is indeed much warmer and more informal than I originally expected. Being part of a community that includes both academics and artists means I enjoy countless conversations, during lunch or dinner, over a glass of wine or whilst walking around the eternal city. Talking about medieval Sardinia, what I understand of it and why I want to research it with the other award-holders and residents has allowed me to not only refine my research questions but also to dig deeper into the academic relevance of my work. At this early stage in my project, engaging in historiographical discussion is fundamental, but reaching out to people from other backgrounds, including non-historians, has also proved incredibly useful in allowing me to remain critical and clear in my research. After a long day of reading and writing in my own ‘bubble’, having the ability to share my work with artists and archaeologists is truly refreshing.

The BSR is a great place to be productive, but it is much more than that. Here, I’ve found a rare space that promotes original and fresh ideas without too many preconditions, allowing me thus to change altogether my research subject at this very early stage of my career. What started out as an academic gamble for a postdoctoral medievalist, the BSR has transformed into a constructive experience, which has laid vital foundations for a brand new, exciting research project.

In 1983, the BSR published an article by Rosalind Brown on one of the major sources for the social history of medieval Sardinia: The Sardinian Condaghe of S. Michele di Salvenor.[2] For over three decades this was the only academic article in English about these texts – the condaghes –, which are naturally the central object of my research. Is it a coincidence that the BSR has once more become a platform where the boundaries of medieval historiography are being pushed again into the dominions of Sardinia? I would like to think not.

Hervin Fernández-Aceves (Rome Awardee)


[1] A Companion to Sardinian History, 500–1500, ed. by Michelle Hobart (Leiden: Brill, 2017); The Making of Medieval Sardinia, ed. by A. Metcalfe and G. Serreli (Leiden: Brill, forthcoming).

[2] Rosalind Brown, ‘The Sardinian Condaghe of S. Michele Di Salvenor in the Sixteenth Century’, Papers of the British School at Rome, 51 (1983), 248–57 <https://doi.org/10.1017/S0068246200008631&gt;.

Meet the Artists… Anna Brass / March Mostra 2019

As part of our March Mostra Meet the Artists series, we spoke to Anna Brass
(Sainsbury Scholar in Painting and Sculpture) about Brexit, a fourteenth-century Diabolical Englishman, and mortadella…

Can you explain your process of working?

I make films, drawings, paintings and sculptures. The films always emerge from an intensive process of making, so at the moment I’m making a film but I’m working out all of my ideas through sculpture and drawing.

I look at a lot of images, which is what feeds everything I make. There’s so much to see in Rome – all of the mosaics and frescos and buildings, but also things on the street, like drawings on walls, shop signs, potholes. Seeing these things has generated a lot of work -I’ve made a big slice of mortadella, some Byzantine feet, a palazzo carpet…


Can you tell us a bit more about what you’ve been working on?

I’m making a film about a fourteenth-century English mercenary called John Hawkwood, who was born in Essex in 1320. He spent a lot of time as a soldier in France and when he was about 40 he came to Italy, and he spent the rest of his life there working as a condottiere. There’s a fresco painting of him by Paolo Uccello in the cathedral in Florence, which I saw a few years ago. And I read a book about him by Frances Stonor Saunders called Diabolical Englishman, which is a really visual and beautifully written book, and reading it generated so many images in my head.

The film I’m making now isn’t about Hawkwood the man, it’s not about his character or biography at all, I’m not really interested in that. I’m interested in what was happening around him – the swirl of violence and money and religious belief. I think Hawkwood will just be this elusive, shape-shifting figure in the midst of everything.

What are you going to show in March Mostra?

I’m going to show some of the sculptures I’ve made, which relate to the strange spaces in early Renaissance paintings. I’m really keen on predella panels, which are sometimes at the bottom of paintings and show scenes from the life of a saint, often in quite strange architectural spaces or structures. I like the shifting scale between people and buildings and rocks.

Beeto (detail)

Can you tell me about the Brexit project you have been working on?

Yes – Dillwyn [Smith, Abbey Fellow in Painting] and I have been making plans for this Brexit project. We have made flags that we are flying on the BSR flagpoles, and we did a Brexit workshop that was open to people from the BSR and from other institutions. We made lots of salt dough and asked people to make objects in relation to Brexit, trying to give a body to quite abstract concepts. They made things like a full English Brexit, a Maybot, lots of pigs – all of these emblems of Brexit made of salt dough.

And what about the post-it notes that were part of the workshop?

Yeah, these were written soundbites, which aren’t in the mostra but they’re the lynchpin of everything. The whole project revolves around these bizarre soundbites from the news on Radio 4, which we listen to in the studio. It’s not about a single Brexit phrase it’s about the tidal wave of Brexit chatter and how overwhelming it is, and how impenetrable, the manic talking around it and no traction. I don’t think the project is about being for or against Brexit, it’s just a tornado of mania, as felt from quite far away – still being in Europe but being relatively far away from home.


The workshop turned out quite differently to what we had planned because we hadn’t taken into account the language and culture barrier with friends from other academies. I was really struggling to explain what the phrases meant, like the Danny Dyer line ‘in Nice with his trotters up’, and to explain the recurring motifs like pigs and pig-gate, and robots.

Also, just seeing my mortadella sculpture, there is a theme of meat, and pigs, and ham in my work, which I think is being amplified by David Cameron and Brexit.

How does this all relate back to your Hawkwood film?

For me there is this link between contemporary politics and meat. There’s pig-gate and the bacon sandwich, but also climate change, horse meat and the posh burger. Italian meat is quite different to English meat. I’m a vegetarian, but the meat shops in Italy are really beautiful, and the mortadella in particular is beautiful as well as being slightly gross.

There was a popular rebellion in Florence in 1378 called the Ciompi revolt, which was crushed in-part by the guild of butchers. I want to somehow include this in my film, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what the emblems of the guild of butchers might look like and how I might make them.


Anna’s work is currently being exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in March Mostra. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 March 2019..

Interview by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager). Photos courtesy of the artist.

Meet the Artists… Dan Popa / March Mostra 2019

As part of our March Mostra Meet the Artists series, we spoke to Dan Popa
(Québec Resident) about taking a break from film and going back to analogue photography.

You’re a filmmaker but during this residency you are focusing mostly on photography. Is this a prelude to a new film to develop in the future?

The decision came naturally. I brought my photography camera because first of all the equipment is lighter, but I can still use motion picture film. Just from a practical standpoint it’s also a way for me to sketch during my residency. I knew I wasn’t going to make necessarily a body of work, but I knew I wanted to keep sketching.

As I went along and developed the contact sheets, which basically map out your entire roll of film on a piece of paper, sticking them together I really start seeing a narrative or a potential film that could happen from these stills. I’ve worked before where I’ve used still photography in filming so with adding sound and keeping timing in you’re able to make a film just made out of stills. The more I look at it the more I think the outcome will be perhaps a film just because I’ve amassed a lot of things, a lot of really interesting moments, and a lot of moments where I was able to go back and forth to the same locations and re-photograph what I was missing.

Just before coming here I had recently finished a film that had taken me four years to finish, with the last year editing on a computer. I really felt like I wanted to like keep film maybe a little bit off for like two seconds and just start looking again.

What are you showing at the mostra?

What I’m showing at the mostra is something I don’t usually do, but I’d like to use some of this photography perhaps for a film but also as a standalone book because a book does offer a linear narrative, you just take away the sound and take away the amount of time that each image is displayed for – because that’s what film is, it’s saying there’s an in and out point, seven seconds to watch this, two seconds to watch this… so for the mostra I’ve been printing out a couple of pictures and putting them side by side and seeing how they have a correlation and how they could exist both in a film format, but also in a printed book format.

So it almost starts off as an experimental film, there might be some text, there might not be some text, but for now I just wanted to keep it with the visuals, so it starts off with two nuns by the beach, sort of photographing it and then life in the sun… I’ve really been looking a lot at light in Rome, especially the winter light which I’ve been really interested in… this lovely family visiting Pompeii in a virtual reality world, and from there I’m kind of questioning what is their dream…


I’m going to display them laid out on the table…they’re very fragile so I don’t want people to touch them too much because they are maquettes in a sense. Also laying them out like this gives the notion that the work is still on the table, a work in progress, it’s not ready yet for putting up.

Some of them I’ve got printed by master printers here in the neighbourhood, printed directly from 35 mm negatives. They are a second generation printers so they really have a different skill.

What do you prefer as subjects? Here in Rome for example do you prefer photographing people, or architecture and archaeology?

I did come with the idea of doing something more about the architecture aspects but then I always try to think what does the place dictate for me as well. People are very present, even people who are motionless, so yes I am interested a lot in faces but also in textures, the way light falls on Rome, so it’s really day in day out as I started getting these images and then when you start putting them together for me that it starts having a bit of a narrative.

This for example is the warehouse where they keep all the props for Cinecittà, but then I photographed the ones in Pompeii and they looked faker than the fake ones. So there’s always this play a little bit around the real and the staged and how the real can look less real than the fake.

Dan3When I arrived here I started filming the last day of Christmas, so the procession and the parade near the Vatican. I’ll be showing a short film I’ve made from that and right now I’m doing the sound mix and the final touches for it, so I think that’s what I’ll be showing at the mostra.

You came across the book Rome + Klein in the BSR Library, a photobook by William Klein. Are your photobooks a response to that?

Klein came here exactly 60 years ago to work on a Fellini film which was very much delayed so he actually spent three months photographing Rome. He photographed sets, and he also had a couple of fashion gigs that he included as well, so it’s a bit of a journal, a bit of an itinerary. He talks about this intensity of photographing in such a short amount of time and I’ve kind of used him as my spiritual guide, knowing that I too only have three months. So I’m not trying to replicate, I don’t assume to be at the level of William Klein’s work. I’m just trying to see how something could be revisited 60 years later.

Is any of Rome going to come into your Le Corbusier film?

Rome comes into it very little. I went back to some of the places that Le Corbusier visited. Oddly enough his first day in Rome ever was in 1911 and he spent time at the Villa Giulia sketching pictures, and that was as they were building the British School at Rome which is right across from there, so it was cool to find that connection.

And what about the photographs you have been taking of BSR life?

So in parallel I’ve been photographing BSR residents and then some of the visits like when we went to Pompeii, and when we went to the Lateran, and then Alessandra Giovenco, the archivist, allowed me to see some of the BSR archives, and it really is important to keep stuff documented, print a few things, and leave some stuff in the archives, because if I’m able to pick up a photo from say 1911 today, it’s because someone went to the effort of doing that. So at some point I would like to print some of these pictures and put them in a box for the BSR because I think you don’t realise the importance of an archive until it’s too late. And that’s the part of photography that’s really fantastic too, is seeing how it ages with time.


Dan’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in March Mostra, opening Friday 15 March 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 March 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager). Photos courtesy of the artist.


Ward-Perkins permanent exhibition opens at Castelnuovo di Porto for the Giornata Nazionale del Paesaggio

Today, on the occasion of the Giornata Nazionale del Paesaggio, a permanent display of photographs from the BSR Collections will be opened in the Sale della Rocca Colonna – with the room being dedicated to former BSR Director and pioneer of landscape archaeology John Bryan Ward-Perkins – at Castelnuovo di Porto. You can read more in this week’s feature in La Repubblica, or in the press release.

giornata del paesaggio

The exhibition John Bryan Ward-Perkins, SOUTH ETRURIA SURVEY. Un’ indagine fotografica sull’Etruria meridionale negli anni ’50 e ’60 is made up of fifteen photographic prints and is curated by Elisabetta Portoghese and Valerie Scott.

This follows the photographic exhibition Castelnuovo Fotografia in September, an initiative curated by Elisabetta Portoghese, in which a selection of photographs of excavations and archaeological surveys carried out in the area of Castelnuovo di Porto as part of the South Etruria Survey project was exhibited in a three-day event.


Ward-Perkins’ South Etruria Survey (1950s-70s) is one of the most important archaeological surveys conducted in Italy, and is pivotal for our understanding of the archaeological landscape preceding the urban expansion of Rome.

John Bryan Ward-Perkins – the BSR’s director from 1945 to 1974 – is well-known for his role as one of the World War Two Monuments Men in his capacity as Deputy Director of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives (MFA&A) Allied Sub-Commission in Italy from 1944 to early 1946.


It was in his capacity as a Monuments Man that Ward-Perkins was initially approached by John Bradford, a pioneer in landscape archaeology and aerial photography for research and scientific purposes. John Bradford was an English historian from Christ Church College, Oxford, who was recruited as photo interpreter in 1943 by the Mediterranean Allied Photographic Reconnaissance Wing (MAPRW) based in San Severo, a small village in Southern Italy (Puglia).

After inducing the RAF authorities to suspend the destruction of their photographs taken for military and intelligence operations, deemed so important for historians, geographers, archaeologists and researchers, Bradford persuaded Ward-Perkins of their unique value, and Ward-Perkins went on to make significant use of aerial photography when undertaking the South Etruria survey.


For further reading see Christopher Smith’s ‘J.B. Ward-Perkins, the BSR and the Landscape Tradition in Post-War Italian Archaeology’ in PBSR 86 (2018), pp. 271-92.

All images courtesy BSR Photographic Archive (Ward-Perkins Collection, South Etruria Series)


Meet the Artists… Lucy Meyle / March Mostra 2019

Ahead of the March Mostra, for the first in our Meet the Artists series we spoke to Lucy Meyle (BSR Wallace New Zealand Residence Award) about her interest in plants and non-human animals, and how dialogues of fashion, wearability, space and luxury come into her work.

What has been your project in Rome and how much have you deviated from your original ideas?

I came with a project based around the idea of syntax. I wanted to think about small rearrangements within language that might have larger effects on meaning, and how that relates to the configuration or ordering of images/installations/sculptures both conceptually and materially. But I think I always knew that once I arrived in Rome, I was comfortable to essentially throw away the plan, though I think the core of my interest in slight alterations or slight irritants does remain.

I’ve actually been surprised how strongly connected the project has become to fashion and to the connected dialogues around wearability, space, and luxury. Partially this is because there’s a really pragmatic thing about being able to fold sculptures down and take them home. But even this brings up questions to me about rescinded spaces, flexible spaces, or treacherous spaces. I’ve been interested in connecting these kinds of notions to how we think about plants and non-human animals.

Where does your interest in animals stem from?

I grew up with animals around, so it’s been a very ‘ordinary’ feeling thing throughout my whole life. A friend of mine who didn’t have any pets growing up once asked me whether he needed to formally greet my family’s cat when he arrived at our house. It struck me then as such an alien way to consider the animal-human relationship, but now it still sticks in my memory as a perfect moment of re-syntaxation – a re-ordering of the usual way I had thought of doing something so as to make it strange anew. I have been quite interested in care and support and the extension of those actions into sculpture and installation, but more recently plants and non-human animals have come into my work as a way to more directly engage with my sadness and anxiety about ecological issues and climate change.

Lucy Snail Ramp

Snail ramp demonstration video (2018)
Still from video featuring garden snails, duration: 09:48

How would you qualify your philosophical or political position? Do you feel close to post-humanism?

I think it’s really tangled up for me. I’m wary of aligning it with any particular movement of philosophy, particularly something which envisages itself as being ‘beyond’ something, so I feel quite invested in the idea of being entangled with other beings, other things, other kinds of timescapes. What does that mean in terms of an ethical commitment to acting in the now? In terms of political/philosophical theorists I enjoy reading Sara Ahmed, Donna Haraway, Karen Barad, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, and would say that they have deeply affected the way I consider making works, either as a single artist or within a collaboration, or within a community.

Lucy Peanut Table

Shell inlay table and chair set (with peanuts #1-586) (detail) (2018)
Plywood, peanuts, scrap melamine, pencil, H:750 L:2200 W:1150 

What in particular has fed into your work during your residency?

It has been an exercise in layering, I suppose. Seeing things out on the street is very important for me, being outside and noticing certain things. Like the Vespa covers that everybody has where you put your hands inside it when it’s raining. It’s like both a cover for a scooter, and also something to keep the rain off your hands. Often they’re too big or the wrong shape for the particular motor scooter and they’re slipping off or bunching up. And things like people putting plastic bags around their plants to keep them warm over winter on their patios, or the very swagged curtains that are in the windows of hotels and restaurants, or the plush animals people stuff into their car gloveboxes.

Also seeing Pino Pascali sculptures for the first time, researching fashion or fashion-adjacent practitioners Elsa Schiaparelli, Elsa Peretti, and Cinzia Ruggeri, as well as glass artists Ercole Barovier and Fulvio Bianconi.

And then talking with people like Rodney [Cross, Macquarie Gale Rome Scholar] who’s doing work around conceptions and descriptions of animal sounds in ancient texts and having to interpret what that means back into how we think about those animals, how they thought about those animals, and what are the crossovers. So drawing together those things, it becomes a constellation of images, texts, moments, that I then draw together materially.

You are interested in the concept of translation – how has it been for you living in a different country where English isn’t the dominant language?

I was reading this text by Walter Benjamin called The Task of the Translator, and in it he talks about the original as being like a fruit in its skin, and then once you translate something the form becomes big and heavy like a robe, it kind of envelops original meaning. I like this idea of a baggy idea, there being both freedom of movement but also something that can trip you up really easily. And I think that comes into it too, the idea of the really ‘baggy’ word that doesn’t translate well. The obvious word to me is ‘prego’ where I have absolutely no idea what it means… yet somehow I know what it means. It’s this totally amorphous word, that no matter how many times I hear it, or look it up on Google ‘what does prego mean’ I don’t have any solid concept. It is still very squishy. That is the best place, for me. Where even though you’ve managed to touch around the edges of something, you have nothing solid – surprise remains likely.

Lucy Studio 2019

Studio table at the BSR, 2019

Can you tell us about what you are showing in March Mostra?

I’ve made a series of wearable things based on this idea of bagginess, when something spacious can take a turn. For example, you can buy special gloves to put on tights so that you don’t make runs with your fingernails — they’re very loose generally because you’re trying not to pierce anything, but they almost seem like they would be more difficult to do anything with. It seems like you might become clumsier or it would become more difficult to put on the tights wearing these gloves than it would be just to put on the tights. So that’s my starting point, things that perhaps feel nice, feel luxurious, but can slip into a different register. There is also a one-page publication with a series of short texts, which is free to take away.

Lucy’s work will be exhibited alongside the six other resident artists in March Mostra, opening Friday 15 March 18.30-21.00. Opening hours 16.30-19.00 until Saturday 23 March 2019, closed Sundays.

Interview by Natalie Arrowsmith (Communications Manager). Photos courtesy of the artist.



BSR visit to Pompeii and Herculaneum


Archaeology Officer Stephen Kay with award-holders at the House of Venus in the Shell, Pompeii (photo by Caroline Barron)

Now is undoubtedly a special time to visit Pompeii. After several years of continuous conservation work by the Parco Archeologico di Pompei as part of its EU-funded Great Pompeii Project there is a wealth of houses now open to the public, previously hidden away behind closed doors. The recently restored frescos have been given a new lease of life: the famous House of the Orchard with its garden scenes or the hunting scene in the House of the Ceii.

This week the award-holders, staff and residents spent two days exploring these two famous UNESCO sites nestled under Mount Vesuvius. The beauty of going at this time of year is that the sites are less overwhelmed with mass tourism and the cooler temperatures allow for the sites to be explored at a more leisurely pace.


Cast of the blocked street entrance door, House of the Ephebus (photo by Elena Pomar)

Having worked at Porta Nola necropolis for several years, I began our tour at the amphitheatre entrance to the site as it is here that we now find on display the haunting casts of a few of the victims of the eruption of AD 79, some of which were found in the layers of pumice outside Porta Nola. We threaded our way through the amphitheatre and gradually worked our way up Via dell’Abbondanza, enjoying the recently reopened House of Venus in a Shell, House of the Ephebus (with a cast of the blocked street entrance door – pictured here on the left) and the Fullonica of Stephanus.

We took a few minutes to stop outside the Schola Armaturarum as it was the sad collapse of this building in 2010 that instigated this new phase of work (the building has now been restored and has dedicated visits every Thursday). Under the guidance of Professor Massimo Osanna (Honorary Fellow of the BSR) and Generale Giovanni Nistri of the Arma dei Carabinieri, much of the site has been returned to the public. Alongside this, consolidation work to tackle some of the drainage issues in Region V has led to some recent amazing discoveries (see this handy overview map at ècampania), such as frescos of Narcissus, Leda and the Swan and a curious charcoal graffiti that perhaps provides further evidence for a later autumn eruption date (17 October) rather than the established date of 24 August given to us by Pliny the Younger.


Staff, award-holders and residents at the Schola Armaturarum (photo by Elena Pomar)

After passing through the forum to admire the stunning view of Mount Vesuvius towering over the Temple of Jupiter, our tour concluded in front of the (copy) of the famous mosaic of Alexander depicting the Battle of Issus at the House of the Faun. It’s hard to do justice to such an amazing site in five hours, but hopefully the glimpses that we saw will encourage people to return or perhaps even feed into their work whilst at the BSR.


Copy of the Alexander Mosaic at the House of the Faun, Pompeii (photo by Peter Campbell)

Our second day on the Bay of Naples was a short hop from Pompeii over to its sister site, Herculaneum. The BSR has a long history of involvement in this extraordinary site, beginning with the important continuing efforts of the Herculaneum Conservation Project (HCP), led by former BSR Director Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and generously funded by the Packard Humanities Institute.


The SplendOri exhibition at Herculaneum (photo by Elena Pomar)

Similarly to Pompeii, the site has recently become an autonomous park under the direction of another old friend of the BSR, Dr Francesco Sirano. Significant work over the past years has also seen much of the site reopened to the public, a point made by the director in a short introduction given to the BSR visitors on arrival at the site, followed by a tour to the current SplendOri exhibition (a highlight being the reconstruction of a scene in a fresco of a table with glass vessels and silver ornaments, which are displayed alongside).

Thanks to the offices of the Parco Archeologico di Ercolano and the wonderful HCP team, the BSR group was given a special tour of the famous theatre of Herculaneum, the point at which the city was once again discovered in 1738 following the sinking of a well. Led by Dr Domenico Camardo, a leading expert on the city, the group was guided in the darkness around the labyrinth of Bourbon tunnels until emerging at the foot of the shaft where the statues that once adorned the scaenae were hauled away.


Dr Domenico Camardo shows the group around the Bourbon tunnels inside the theatre at Herculaneum (photo by Niccolò Mugnai)

Whilst much of the marble decoration was stripped away in the 17th and 18th centuries to be sold in Naples, the theatre is unique in that much of the coloured stucco inside and the painted exterior are still preserved.


Relief of the face of Marcus Nonius Balbus (photo by Stephen Kay)

But perhaps the most poignant impression of the devastating effects of the eruption and the subsequent burying of Herculaneum in volcanic mud is seen in the eerie relief of the face of Marcus Nonius Balbus. A statue of the wealthy benefactor of the city was in the theatre, and an impression of the statue (since removed) was left in the solidified volcanic mud.

The two Vesuvian cities are at another remarkable moment in their history. The ongoing work of the Great Pompeii Project and the new phase of research and conservation underway at Herculaneum by the Parco Archeologico di Ercolano and HCP means that these cities are once again flourishing, being returned to the public in a way not seen before. I can only encourage you to go and visit and, if you have been before, go again!




Stephen Kay (Archaeology Officer)