The Villa of the Papyri
is an enormous private house of ancient Herculaneum owned by Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, and first excavated in 1765 by Karl Weber. Its name derives from the discovery of a library in the house containing 1,800 carbonized papyrus scrolls.
The 800 feet (245 m) long seaside villa sited a few hundred metres from the nearest house in Herculaneum had four levels disposed in a series of terraces on the sloping site and was the most luxurious house in all of Herculaneum and Pompeii
. It was complete with swimming pools, fountains and water features. The Villa of the Papyri also housed a large collection of eighty sculptures of magnificent quality, many of them now conserved in Naples
At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, the valuable library was packed in cases ready to be moved to safety when it was overtaken by the pyroclastic flow; the eruption eventually deposited some 90 feet of volcanic ash over the site, charring the scrolls but preserving them— the only surviving library of Antiquity— as the ash hardened to form tuff.
Lucius Piso was a highly educated man and was a patron for both philosophers and poets. Many of the scrolls contain works by the philosopher Philodemus, a client of Piso. Such an unbalanced content to the section of the library that has come to light suggests that there may be unrecovered scrolls: a second library.
There is still 30,000 square feet (2,800 m²) left to be excavated of this villa suburbana
, the most luxurious in the resort of Herculaneum. And beneath the excavated area, new excavations in the 1990s revealed two previously undiscovered floors to the villa, which was built in a series of terraces overlooking the sea.
The reason that the remainder of the site has not been excavated is that the Italian government is practicing a policy of conservation and not excavation, and is more interested in protecting what has already been uncovered. David W. Packard, who has funded conservation work on the Villa's contents through his Packard Humanities Institute, has said that he is likely to be able to fund excavation of the Villa of the Papyri when the authorities agree to it; but no work will be permitted on the site until the completion of a feasibility report, which has been in preparation for some years. The report is now expected to be released in early 2006.
Modern thermal imaging techniques and non-destructive CT scans coupled with digital enhancement have provided breakthroughs in reading the delicate and darkened scrolls without destroying them in the process.
The original J. Paul Getty Museum at Malibu, California is a free reproduction of the Villa of the Papyri. With the move of the Museum to the Getty Center, the "Getty Villa" as it is now called, was closed for renovations.