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.
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.
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.
This is a large villa under restoration with an extremely keen and loquacious site superintendent “Signor Bruno”.
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
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.
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.
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
which is under excavation.
The pillars around the 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”.
At the top end of this pool is a Nymphaeum (a grotto with a natural water supply dedicated to the nymphs) which contains
some quite delicate stucco carvings. The pool looks out towards the sea via an
across a patio.
There is a nice portico surrounding the pool
and along the walls of the portico are a
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
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.
The atrium is immediately off the main entrance (in Roman times) to the villa.
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.
There are a few surviving frescoes as decoration.
The bath area has its own atrium and here
the caldarium has the standard hollow floor
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.
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.
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).
It was in this villa that the four frescoes
Flora as Primavera
Leda and the Swan
Diana the Hunter
which are now in the Naples Museum were discovered.
Many of the rooms are nicely decorated. Here is a fourth style fresco and (below) a detail from another fourth style
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
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
Naxos, glimpsing Ariadne asleep.It takes little imagination to continue the design around the walls, fill in the
gaps, add a bit of furniture etc.
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
where they were hacked with a plaster
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!