What does the Herculaneum Conservation Project do?

Between 2001 and 2004 a team of specialists was brought together and a series of studies and surveys were undertaken to understand the nature of the problems affecting the site, with particular attention to one urban block, the Insula Orientalis I, identified as a case study. Elsewhere on site a series of conservation interventions undertaken by the Soprintendenza were studied and financed by the project to encourage the exchange of ideas and joint future planning.

The HCP team show visiting professionals the site works in progress.
In 2004 the project gained new impetus thanks to new Italian legislation allowing private entities more direct involvement in heritage.

Excavation of a sewer as part of a site-wide water management approach.

The signing of a sponsorship agreement allowed the British School at Rome, with the support of the Packard Humanities Institute, to undertake directly under its own management and at its own expense conservation work on the archaeological site controlled by the Italian State – this was the first application of the new law. This translated into a major campaign of works in areas of the site at risk which included the consolidation of collapsing structures, stabilization of crumbling plaster surfaces and disintegrating mosaics, eradication of vegetation, reinstatement of functioning water collection and disposal systems, roofing repairs and substitution of failed modern roofing, and pigeon control. Thanks to the contractual flexibility and the optimum usage of human and financial resources available to the external partner, a four-year campaign of works brought the site to a more manageable state and began to define future needs thanks to systematic mapping of the extent and nature of the outstanding problems of decay.

A conservation strategy emerged to safeguard the long-term survival of the site and enhance its value to all its users which has characterized project activity in recent years and can be summarized in four different key areas of action:

  • Reducing the costs of managing and conserving the site by reducing the causes of decay and facilitating site-works thanks to improvements to site infrastructure (rainwater collection and disposal, better site access, low maintenance protective measures, etc.);
  • Ensuring the emergency campaign gradually translated into a rolling programme of site maintenance and re-established the culture of systematic continuous care, the interruption of which had been the main factor that led to the state of neglect that the site found itself in the 1990s;
  • Improving future conservation approaches thanks to the creation of a body of knowledge and good practice in the form of documentation, studies, research, experimentation and trials to improve our knowledge of the site and reach consensus on ‘best fit’ conservation approaches with a legacy of model designs and guidelines to help future practitioners and good information management to ensure that data is used to inform decision-making;
  • Sharing project results and encouraging greater participation of wider interest groups in the future of the site, starting first and foremost with the local community but also involving the international academic community and many others.

In terms of the conservation programme, the project is in a critical phase of pushing forward in these above areas but now the external partners and the Soprintendenza are jointly programming planning and works as part of an exit strategy. This is leading to work in unison on several key initiatives to ensure that, in a short timeframe, a status quo is reached where the public arm of the project can take forward sustainable strategies for routine site management and conservation alone as the conservation project closes. In this framework, the external partners’ contribution is shifting from direct action to a greater emphasis on research and improving approaches and more attention to special projects.