Friday, 23 September 2011

Seaside villas at Stabiae

Today is a half day, something we need after four days of intensive activity. This morning we are visiting a couple of seaside villas and this afternoon is free for us to do whatever we want.

After Sulla put down a rebellion in this area in 89BC, a number of wealthy Romans built large luxury villas on the flat hilltop overlooking the sea. There were at least 6 within a distance of 1.5km and three have been excavated.

 Balcony left

The sea used to lap at the bottom of the cliff upon which the villas were built and the Romans had tunnels dug from their villa down to the foreshore. With some imagination applied to the above picture, you can imagine what a view might have looked like out across the sea.

Balcony centre

This is what it looks like now! the sea being some distance away.

Click on the villa name to go to the Googlesites pages about the villas.

Villa San Marco

Plan of San Marco

This is a large villa under restoration with an extremely keen and loquacious site superintendent “Signor Bruno”.

Wall showing rebuild

Often you can see the extent of the rebuild because a tile line is placed on top of the original wall.

Actually finding the site could be difficult

Entrance to museum 1

because you have to walk through what looks like someone's back garden.

The villa has the remains of some fine frescoes but nothing which really takes your breath away. What the villa does offer us however, is a chance to practise “reading a site”. Essentially this means determining how the building worked, why things are where they are, how they were built and imagining how it might have been when occupied. There are relatively few visitors here so we have a good chance to clamber over it.

Image of Villa San Marco

Back in the AD70’s the villa was thought to have looked like this. It is one of the largest Roman villas ever discovered in Italy, measuring more than 11,000 m2. It has gardens, an atrium, a colonnaded courtyard containing a pool, a triclinium (dining room) and it had a great views of the bay of Naples. It also had the standard design for a private thermal bath.

Villa San Marco under restoration

This photograph is of the Peristyle (courtyard numbered 66  surrounded by a colonnade numbered 1&2) and is taken roughly where the 1 is on the plan above. The Peristyle is large – and by large we mean very large. It continue for about 130m, underneath the site office, then under an orchard until one gets to the far end

Far end of peristyle

which is under excavation.

Far end of peristyle 2 

The pillars around the Peristyle

Pillar at end of peristyle

are of the usual brick internal construction with a rendered stucco surface but the surface is a spiral flute, quite a time consuming task to make (wealth!)

In the centre of the house (15) there is a large “infinity pool”.

Infinity pool 2

At the top end of this pool is a Nymphaeum (a grotto with a natural water supply dedicated to the nymphs) which contains

Stucco picture

some quite delicate stucco carvings. The pool looks out towards the sea via an

Infinity pool 1

uninterrupted view.

Patio at end of pool

across a patio.

There is a nice portico surrounding the pool


Portico 2

and along the walls of the portico are a

Portico Walls

Fresco in attrium

few frescoes. Most of the really nice ones


were removed to Naples but in a side room used by the family to relax are a few really

Fresco in room off colonnade

Fresco in room off colonnade-1Fresco in room off colonnade-2

dainty ones which have survived. I say survived because often (back in the 17 to 1800s) if they decided that a fresco was not nice enough to be removed, it was defaced.

Portico Walls

The atrium is immediately off the main entrance (in Roman times) to the villa.

Entrance Attrium

It has a central impluvium which is a water tank in the floor of an atrium which has above it, an opening in the middle of its roof  called the compluvium.

Fresco in attrium-1

There are a few surviving frescoes as decoration.

The bath area has its own atrium and here

Fourth style bath attrium

the caldarium has the standard hollow floor

Hot Baths

to allow the circulation of warm air to heat the water. In the centre of the floor was a large boiler which has been removed, exposing the hypocaust below. The boiler was one of several items taken by Sir William Hamilton that were lost in 1798 when the ship 'Colossus' carrying them foundered off the Scilly Isles.

Cold plunge pool-1  

The Frigidarium is more like a cold bath and all frescoes have disappeared.

All in all, this in an interesting villa and a good one to explore.

Villa Arriana

This villa was possibly as large as that as San Marco but large parts of it have collapsed down the cliff and so its exact


dimensions will never be determined.

It is similar in design to San Marco but its remaining original frescoes are in better order. Where a really good fresco has been removed and taken to a museum, it has been replaced with a very good picture copy of the original in the same position. This is a good idea because whenever we see an original out in the open, we can see it is deteriorating because of the weather.

This is the Peristyle (f on the map above).

Arriana Peristyle

It was in this villa that the four frescoes

Flora as Primavera Medea

Flora as Primavera


Leda and the Swans Diana the Hunter

Leda and the Swan

Diana the Hunter

which are now in the Naples Museum were discovered.

Fourth Style

Many of the rooms are nicely decorated. Here is a fourth style fresco and (below) a detail from another fourth style

Delicate fourth style details

There are lots of repeat pattern freezes in the villa and we never came to a conclusion as to if they were all hand


painted or if a stencil was used

I have included this fresco because I think it is one of the best examples I have seen so far of a complete room

Complete Room

They are attempting to restore the ceiling but a large chunk has fallen down (bottom left of picture above)

It is a 4th style room with a large mythological fresco on each wall. Here you can see Dionysus who has just arrived at

Dionysis and Ariadne

Naxos, glimpsing Ariadne asleep.It takes little imagination to continue the design around the walls, fill in the

Complete Room 2

gaps, add a bit of furniture etc.

Black Fresco

Frescoes seem to be based around certain colours. Black (as in the Third Style above) came from the carbon created by burning brushwood or pine chips. Ochre provided yellow. Red came from either from cinnabar, red ocher, or from heating white lead. Blue was made from mixing sand and copper, and then baking the mixture. The deepest shade of purple was by far the most precious colour, as it was usually obtained from sea whelks.

A good explanation of the style of painting and colour creation can be found here.

The site also contains lots of spoilt frescoes

Spoilt fresco

where they were hacked with a plaster

Spoilt fresco closeup

chisel after the decision was taken not to remove them to a museum.

Although we have the choice of going back to Pompeii for an additional afternoon; or visiting the Archaeological Museum of Ancient History in Nola (a journey involving four trains); or anything else we choose; the strain of getting up at 6.30 am to go out onto the road at 8.30 am and getting back to the hotel after 6 pm is beginning to take its toll. So an afternoon siesta is in order – after all, this is supposed to be a holiday!

No comments:

Post a Comment