The volcanic deposits of Mount Vesuvius slowly turned into fertile soil, and any visible masonry from Pompeii was taken for reuse as building materials elsewhere. The site disappeared under olive groves and vineyards, but it lived on in folk memory, and the location was still called "La Cività," or "the city."
Systematic excavations began at Herculaneum in 1738, spurred on by chance finds, and at Pompeii a decade later. News of the discovery of the ancient cities spread throughout Europe. A visit to Naples and the open-air excavations at Pompeii became the southernmost stop on the Grand Tour, an extended journey through Europe undertaken by intellectually curious tourists. They were also attracted by bursts of activity from Vesuvius, which erupted several times in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, though on a small scale. Jewelry carved from lava was a popular souvenir, as were paintings of the eruptions and romantic views of the ruins. Illustrated publications documenting the finds spawned a rage for antique styles, and reproductions of antiquities became a major industry that continued throughout the nineteenth century.
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Alma-Tadema’s painting exemplifies the vogue for antiquities that peaked in the nineteenth century. The artist and his family are portrayed as ancient Romans being shown works of art for purchase. Sir Lawrence sits at left and gestures toward his wife, Laura, who stands next to their daughters. Laura’s sister and brother are seated at far left.
Jewelry made of lava (or a limestone substitute) was a favorite souvenir of tourists in Naples. This bracelet depicts the Olympian gods of the planets in the order of the seven days of the week. From left to right are Diana, the moon, for Monday; Mars for Tuesday, Mercury for Wednesday, Jupiter for Thursday, Venus for Friday, Saturn for Saturday, and Apollo for Sunday.