Database of the Consorzio Neapolis (IBM and FIAT) – 1986

This story is one of the rare stories, where an estimation is given of the costs to rescue the material: 200.000 euro!

Archive Database of the Consorzio Neapolis (IBM and FIAT) – 1986

Purpose Overall exploitation of environmental and artistic resources in the area around Mount Vesuvius

Institution in charge Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei


During the project, which lasted for two years (1987-1989), cost 36 billion Italian lire (financed aspart of the Giacimenti Culturali cultural projects funding) and was carried out by a workgroupwhich consisted of as many as 110 people, the following activities were completed:

  • The existent cartography of the area (that of ancient Pompeii above all) was converted into digital form and aerial photographs were taken
  •  A survey of archaeological emergencies in the area was made
  •  A survey of the archaeological monuments in the whole Pompeii complex was made
  • A survey of the cultural heritage, of old town centres and the environmental heritage of the area was made
  • Frescoes and mosaics found in the Pompeii archaeologic al complex were scientifically catalogued
  •  A number of excavation diaries of Pompeii (dating from the period 1862-1980) were digitised,including records and images with indications of the period to which each document relates and its current location
  • A list was compiled of the period pictures relating to the Pompeii archaeological complex andof diaries kept by travellers in the 17th and 18th centuries

Products developed

  • Base technical map, in 1:5 000 scale, of the area, made from aerial photographs and their relatedrecreation and storing in digital form.
  • A number of thematic maps, in 1:25 000 scale (these also stored in digital form) and close ups in 1:5 000 scale of specific areas of interest for the project.
  • Creation of a photomap, in 1:500 scale, made after ad hoc flights in 1987 over the archaeological complex of Pompeii, as well as an aerial photograph relief and digital storage ofthe same area in 1:500 scale. Both the photomap and the technical map are available in digitalform.
  •  1:1 000 scale map of the ancient city of Pompeii, divided into regiones and insulae, made byreworking Van der Poel’s map – with the help of the physical recognition of around twentyarchaeologists who corrected and completed the map by adding levels above and below that of the ground level and by surveying all the internal structures of archaeological interest (ovens,grinding wheels, guttering systems and so on).
  •  A complete address list of the buildings in Pompeii with information on the names of the houses(including the different names they have had in different historical periods), on their use and thetypes of buildings. This makes it possible to analyse the characteristics of Pompeii from anumber of different aspects: commercial, leisure, distribution of public and religious buildings.
  • Scientific cataloguing of the frescoes and mosaics of the Pompeii archaeological complex using the norms established by the ICCD, and their insertion into a database, giving each a biunivocalreference code which refers to the surface of the wall (or floor) which holds (or used to hold before its removal) the fresco (or mosaic), as well as to the record for the scientific catalogue and to the related documentation of the record itself, thus obtaining a clear indication of therelation between the object and the place where it was found.
  • Creation of a data management programme which allowed – through the use of a specific language simplified for the user, questions and correlations going back to searches both ofrelational and free forms.
  • Adoption, with the cataloguing record, of colour digital images, due to their stability over time with respect to traditional photographic images.
  • Acquisition of both excavation diaries and period images (watercolours, drawings) into the database of discoveries.
  • Representation of the spatial context both through the maps of the archaeological monumentcontainer of finds and through plans of the insula and the regiones of the area, by the creation of a plan of the entire archaeological complex.

For the entire project the capacity of the stored data to be reproduced has been taken account of, in order that the contents may be used in other seats of research and study. The data have therefore been stored on optical disks and magnetic tapes.

Technologies used

The IT system created worked on a mainframe of medium power, which made the simultaneous and concurrent use of different IT systems possible. The operating system made it possible for several users to use the system at the same time and housed a relational database system which managed the single and centralised database of the whole system.

Workstations were connected to the mainframe which carried out some of the elaboration phases synchronous to the central system locally. These workstations permitted the users to insert new data (records, images, digital maps) and also to find information easily.

Relevance of the archive

This was the first project in the cultural heritage sector in which an integrated centre for documentation was created, and also one that was extremely innovative from the technological point of view, in that it was based on a relational database which gathered “catalographic” information (information and images), maps and excavation diaries. The integrated system of use through all information contained in the database was the first example – and is still one of the rare cases – of cultural heritage databases which have made possible an integrated database of all the information relative to a certain site.

What happened to it?

The IT system created during the course of the project was officially handed over to the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei, fully working, in 1989. In the same year, the computer in which all data and applications were stored, located in the Data Processing Centre in Boscoreale, was shut down due to a lack of financial and human resources by the Cultural and Environmental Heritage Ministry. The system was reactivated, not without difficulty, in the period between October 1989 and May 1990, to allow the production of the touring exhibition Rediscovering Pompeii, organised by the Cultural and Environmental Heritage Ministry. In 1999, when the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei decided to look into the possibility of recovering the information gathered by the Progetto Neapolis, they had to take into account the reactivating of the system. Even if this was possible, it would have required an unreasonable financial input. For this reason a project to recover the data has been initiated, provisiona lly agreed to and approved by the AIPA, which has involved some of the people who had contributed the development of the original Progetto Neapolis. The recovery has been possible thanks to the economic resources of the Soprintendenza and was completed in 2000. The Soprintendenza is currently involved in maintenance, update and enlargement of the existing database.

Characteristics of the recovery

The recovery project has dealt mainly with the database which is the most important and valuable outcome of the Progetto Neapolis. As far as concerns the programmes for managing and accessing data, it has not been possible, given the technological changes which have taken place in the ten years since the system was shut off, to recover them. The company in charge of the recovery has given the Soprintendenza three new applications (for the ICCD cataloguing of the RA records and for the management of the excavation diaries) for the database management and a software application to view the information on the database using web techniques. As far as the database is concerned, at the end of the recovery project, the following materials have been produced:

  • 32 385 RA records
  • 21 732 excavation diary records
  • 432 CAT records
  • 337 BAT records
  • 7 093 images relating to the RA records
  • 27 394 images of the excavation diaries
  • 29 images connected to the CAT records in .jpg format
  • 1:1 000 scale archaeological map of the ruins of Pompeii in ArcView format
  • 1:25 000 map of the archaeological emergencies of the area around Mount Vesuvius inArcView format

Added to the material produced, the following have also been given to the Soprintendenza:

  • 1 CD-ROM containing
    • Backup of the maps in ArcView and Autodesk Mapguide format
    • Backup of the SQLServer database
    • Copies, in Word format, of all paper-based documents.
  • 7 CD-ROMs containing copies of all .jpg pictures.
  • Paper-based documentation:
    • “User’s Guide” and “Installation Guide” for the application of navigation into the database.
    • User’s guide and functional specifications of the application “Management of Cultural Heritage”.

A fundamental condition for the recovery of the Progetto Neapolis data has been the availability,within the company in charge of the recovery, of a mainframe system with features very similar to those of the now disused one in Boscoreale, complete with tape drive, which has made it possible to read 140 tapes which made up a large part of the Neapolis archive, as well as to recreate the original working environment.

Cost of the recovery

The cost of the recovery has been estimated by the company in charge of the recovery to be around 200 000 euro.


The positive outcome of the recovery of the memory of the Neapolis project was made possible by:

  •  the economic resources made available by the Soprintendenza
  • the availability of a processing system with similar features to that used in the originalproject
  •  the identification and availability of people who had collaborated with the original projectpreserving its “oral memory”.

The cost of the recovery of the database should be considered as being extremely low in comparison

with the cost of the original investment.

Source: Preservation of digital memories: risks and emergencies
Six case studies. Edited by Alessandra Ruggiero.