Columns of Pompeii’s ‘House of the Faun’ restored


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Following many turbulent years, the columns of the secondary atrium of the House of the Faun, bombed then subsequently rebuilt after the war, only to be damaged once more by an earthquake and then shored-up, are finally intact again, following the end of complex recent restoration work.

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored
Credit: Pompeii Sites

The House of the Faun, one of the most lavish Pompeian residences which spanned an entire block of almost three thousand square metres, endured the tragic bombing of the Second World War, like many buildings at Pompeii. In September 1943, two bombs fell on the dwelling, one of them landing on the tetrastyle (four-column) atrium which formed the access to the private area of the House, obliterating three of the four stucco-decorated tuff Corinthian columns. Only the north-facing column remained intact.

In 1946, the columns were immediately reconstructed according to the methods employed at the time, using various iron or galvanised sheet supports and cement mortars, which would later be revealed as unsuitable for conservation. Following the 1980 earthquake, the columns were subjected to further conservation interventions, which unfortunately triggered serious fracturing  and fragmentation.

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored
Credit: Pompeii Sites

Prior to the recent restoration work, one of the columns was stabilised and shored up with pipes, metal joints and wooden planks, in order to support and preserve all of the fragmented parts, partially detached or entirely detached, while the others displayed a rather advanced level of degradation.

In order to be all-encompassing, the current intervention was particularly complex. More specifically, it was necessary to disassemble and lower to ground level via a winch the individual components of two of the columns, which were exhibiting particularly serious stability problems and which were in a highly fragmented condition – the shored-up one and the south-facing one – in order to then conduct an ‘on the ground’ restoration of the blocks. All those elements which were deemed no longer fit for purpose, and which would have further compromised the state of conservation (metal elements, cement grouts and restoration mortars that were no longer capable of securing the various parts) were therefore removed, in order to be replaced with new and more stable and durable restoration materials.

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored
Credit: Pompeii Sites

Once they had been consolidated and reconstructed on the ground, the various blocks were put back in their original positions, in line with the previously conducted study.

Lastly, in order to safeguard the original stone, stucco and plaster materials (which had already been worn by the wind and rain), operations involving cleaning, biocidal treatment, grouting, consolidation and protection were carried out on all the columns.

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored
Credit: Pompeii Sites

“This is an important operation, which has been long awaited”, says Massimo Osanna, interim Director General of the Archaeological Park, “and which allows the return to public access and enjoyment of another part of this prestigious dwelling, which itself bears witness to the dramatic chapter in the history of Pompeii that was the bombing, as evidenced by the remains of the devices that have been specifically preserved in the atrium. It has been a complex intervention of consolidation, which has sought a radical solution to the restoration of the columns which had for many years been left in a precarious state of conservation. But it has also been an operation of redevelopment and aesthetic recovery, carried out by harmonising and integrating the restoration materials”.

“In September 1943, two bombs fell on this house, one of them landing directly in this atrium, obliterating three of the four columns which we see. Only the north-facing column remained intact – the second which you see on the left. All of the others were reconstructed in 1946 by anastylosis, using many iron or galvanised sheet supports and cement mortar.” 

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored

Columns of Pompeii's 'House of the Faun' restored
Credit: Pompeii Sites

“Following the 1980 earthquake, these columns underwent further significant conservational interventions, which led to serious fracturing and fragmentation. And up until the beginning of these works, the west column was stabilised and supported with pipes, metal joints and wooden planks, to support and preserve all of the fragmented parts, either partially damaged or entirely split open, held together by this protective support. The intervention was thus primarily aimed at the recovery of this column, which we wanted to leave free, and the reinforcing and consolidation of all of its individual elements, along with the consolidation and restoration of the others, which in any case suffered rather advanced levels of degradation.” 

“The intervention took on this form: the method involved dismantling and moving the two columns and the individual drums, and working on them on the ground in a highly laborious and complex restoration process that consisted of detaching all of the unsuitable elements, which over time could still cause persistent degradation; identifying those metallic elements requiring removal and replacement, removing cement grouting and earlier mortars which were no longer suitable, and then replacing all of them, intervening with new support elements and new mortars, and then once the individual sections had been reconstructed – the individual parts on the ground – putting them back in their original position.” 

“Here on the ground we can see a prime example of the complications which we faced, namely this individual drum – the third from the south column – which as we can see has been dismantled, because a support in the form of a very thick and deep iron bar had been inserted through a core inside it, but its subsequent oxidisation was then the cause of fractures and then the degradation of the entire block. Looking at this drum, we can readily understand how we intervened on previously restored materials. This part was coated by a restorative grout in cement mortar which, as well as being dirty, was fractured, and as a result we removed all of the loose and non-compact parts, also to be able to inspect the interior.” 

“Following the fractures and removing the grouting which was no longer bonded, we then saw that underneath there were two supports – in fact here we see only two but there were more, in iron – and they were therefore removed. As a result new grouting in restored material will be carried out. We are now able to see the columns after completing the restoration work, to my right to my and left, the individual components having been entirely restored and reassembled in situ. Biocide treatment, as well as cleaning and protective interventions have been carried out on all the columns. In addition to consolidation works, an aesthetic recovery and redevelopment intervention has also been carried out, to standardise the restored materials and the additions.”

Source: Pompeii Sites [January 15, 2021]

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