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Lost library, villa emerges after 2,000 years

Getty recreated villa in California

The partially excavated Villa of the Papyri, which was initially explored by the Bourbons through a series of tunnels in 1752.
The partially excavated Villa of the Papyri, which was initially explored by the Bourbons through a series of tunnels in 1752.

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start quoteIt is without rival among Roman villas.end quote
-- Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, British School at Rome

ROME, Italy (Reuters) -- The long-buried Villa of the Papyri, one of Italy's richest Roman villas famed for its library of ancient scrolls, opened to the public this weekend almost 2,000 years after it was submerged in volcanic mud.

Although only a small fraction of the once sumptuous villa at Herculaneum which belonged to the father-in-law of Julius Caesar has been excavated, small groups of visitors will be allowed to tour the site on weekends.

Entombed with Pompeii

Mount Vesuvius buried the villa under 100 feet (30 meters) of volcanic mud in 79 AD -- the same time it entombed Pompeii.

"It is without rival among Roman villas," said Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, director of the British School at Rome and head of an international committee overseeing works at Herculaneum.

"It's also the excitement of seeing a new excavation, to get the impression of it emerging from the rock," he said.

The splendor of the villa has spawned imitators. In the 1970s, Paul Getty had the villa recreated in Malibu, California.

Called treasure chest

Hot mud that enveloped Herculaneum helped to preserve the buildings over 2,000 years.
Hot mud that enveloped Herculaneum helped to preserve the buildings over 2,000 years.

Diggers making exploratory tunnels stumbled across the villa in the 18th century and subsequent excavations unearthed a treasure chest of art and ancient scrolls. In 1991, archaeologists dug out a wide crater to get a better look.

"One of the biggest novelties uncovered is that the villa isn't just on one level, there are two entire levels below to explore," Wallace-Hadrill said.

While officials debate whether to continue excavations on the villa -- which lies beneath the modern day city of Ercolano -- they have taken the unusual step of opening what has already been dug up to visitors.

"We owe it to all the scholars of the world who have repeatedly signed appeals so that antiquity's only library be opened up," Pier Giovanni Guzzo, the head of archaeological works at Pompeii and Herculaneum, said in a recent interview.

Statues on display

FACT BOX

The sprawling villa once occupied 30,000 sq feet (2,790 sq meters) overlooking the Bay of Naples. It was adorned by hundreds of bronze and marble statues and stocked with a vast private library of texts written on papyrus scrolls - from which it derives its name.

Hundreds of the scrolls have been carefully opened and many others could be read in the near future thanks to digital and scanning technology. Most of the statues are on display in nearby Naples.

The scrolls, which looked like sticks of charcoal when they were first discovered, have mostly turned out to be works of Greek epicurean philosophy from the first century BC.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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