This beautiful villa in California was built by John Paul Getty but he never lived in it or even saw it completed. It is a replica of the Villa of the Scrolls at Herculaneum, the neighbouring town to Pompeii which was also overwhelmed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Like the rest of the town, this villa and all its contents is frozen in time because it was covered in volcanic cinders giving no time for escape. Sumptuously furnished, this villa was almost certainly lived in by Lucius Calphurnius Peto Caesoninus the father-in-law of Julius Caesar who was a scholar. The actual villa is ruined and has only been partially excavated. An extensive collection of papyrus scrolls written in longhand, the equivalent of our books has been found. To date 1700 of these carbonized scrolls have been found here; a unique treasure trove preserved by the volcanic eruption and covered in a thick layer of lava. Early attempts to unroll these fragile remains to read them produced limited success in some cases; even when the fragments were flattened out the writing proved almost impossible to read. However modern scanning technology is helping to discover more about this unique treasure trove of literature from the ancient world. Many of the scrolls turn out to be Greek philosophical texts 44 of which were written by the Epicurean philosopher and poet Philodemus. It is hoped that it will be possible to read the rest of the scrolls before too long. Further excavation may yield more scrolls elsewhere in due course.
Above left. The villa as it is now, partially excavated and protected from the weather. Above right. A stage in the scanning process showing the partially crumpled scroll with markers indicating the exact profile.