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Villa Pisanella

Description of the Villa

The Villa Pisanella was discovered in 1868 by Modestino Pulzella with the uncovering of several mosaic floors. However, excavations were soon halted and it wasn't until 1895 that work recommenced. On completion of the excavations, the villa was reburied. The Via Settetermini currently cuts across the north west corner of the site.
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The living rooms, the stable, and the rooms used for the making of wine and oil were all under one roof. The size of the building is not as great as might have been assumed from the variety of purposes which it served; the enclosed area, exclusive of the threshing floor, measuring about 40 by 25 metres. The plan is regular, the principal entrance (a) being near the middle of the south west side as shown in the plan opposite.

The entrance was wide enough for carts and wagons, which were kept in the court (b). Along three sides of the court ran a colonnade, over which at the front were upper rooms.
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While excavating the torcularium in 1895 archaeologists came across a large quantity of gold coins, a few pieces of jewellery and an exceptional collection of silverware afterwards presented to the Louvre by Count Edmond de Rothschild.

The collection includes the hand mirror (pictured top left) showing Leda and the Swan in silver with repoussé decoration, a fine silver wine vase (pictured right) and an amusing wine
cup (pictured lower right) which displays some dark humour, as skeletons labelled with the names of noted philosophers act out scenes from life. The inscription reads 'Enjoy life while you have it, for tomorrow is uncertain'.

Towards the rear of the property were three cubicula (c). Next to the cubicula was a room (p) which had an access to the cellar under the wine press in the torcularium on the other side of the wall while in the corridor (q) was a hand mill. At the end of the main passageway was a double room containing a small oil press (r) and an olive crusher (s). The olive crusher (pictured below) was designed to separate the pulp of the olives from the stones, which were thought to impair the flavour of the oil. It consisted of a deep circular basin of lava, so hollowed out as to leave a central pinion on which was fitted a revolving wooden crosspiece carrying two wheels of lava, each having the shape of a half lens. The wheels were carefully balanced so that they would not press against the sides of the basin and crush the stones of the olives.
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The central room of any Roman farmhouse was the kitchen (d). The hearth, on which the remains of a fire were found, stood in the middle of the room while in the wall at the rear was a temple style lararium.

A large door in the right wall of the kitchen opened onto the stables (h). Near it was a stairway leading to the upper rooms. In the opposite corner was a lead reservoir standing on a masonry foundation which received water from a reservoir in the court and supplied the bath suite (e, f and g) which was heated by means of a small furnace room off the west side of the kitchen.

Over the furnace stood a round lead tank, the lower part of which was encased in masonry. The pipes connecting it with the reservoir in the kitchen and with the baths were found in place (pictured left). The middle pipe supplied the tank with cold water; the flow could be regulated by means of a stopcock. The lower pipe started from the reservoir, but before reaching the tank was divided, the left arm leading into the tank, the other into the bath basin. As there were stopcocks in the main pipe and in the arm to the tank, by adjusting these the bath basin could be supplied with either hot or cold water through a single pipe. The upper pipe was divided in the same way, one arm leading to the labrum.

The bath suite itself was accessed off the north side of the kitchen and comprised an apodyterium (e), a tepidarium (f) and a caldarium (g) complete with bath basin at one and a labrum in a semi-circular recess at the other. Both the tepidarium and caldarium had hollow floors and walls. Before the site was reburied the caldarium was dismantled and transported to the Naples Museum where it was reconstructed under the direction of Amedeo Maiuri in 1932.

On the same side of the court as the kitchen was a tool room (i) containing the remains of a variety of tools including several sickles found hanging on the walls. Next were two cubicula (c); a passage between them led to a bakery (k) with a single mill and oven. In the north west corner, preceded by an ante-room, was a triclinium (j) in which the remains of three couches were found.

Over the colonnade on the front side of the court was a cubiculum with a large room adjoining, perhaps the room of the overseer which, according to Varro, should be near the entrance.

The long room (l) on the north east side of the court was the torcularium where grapes were pressed to produce wine. At each end was a large press with a raised floor. The grape juice produced from the presses ran into round vats sunk in the ground. The grape juice was then transferred to the wine store (m) (the wine store at the Villa Regina is pictured left) to ferment. According to Pliny's 'Natural History' in Campania the best wine underwent fermentation in the open air, exposed to sun, wind and rain. This appears to be confirmed as the round fermentation vats (dolia) lay in a large court whose walls were pierced with openings in order to give readier access to the prevailing winds. The surface of the court was higher than that of the rest of the building; instead of excavating in order to set the large dolia (pictured left) in the ground, the owner filled in with earth around them.
The dolia in the court seem not to have been used exclusively for wine. In one was found the remains of wheat, in another millet. Other dolia stood in the passageway outside.
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In the long room (n) remains of bean straw and parts of a wagon were found. South of it was the threshing floor (o), the surface of which was raised above ground level. The water that fell on the threshing floor was conducted to a small open cistern on its western side. On the upper floor, which was largely collapsed at the time of excavation, was a modest but comfortable series of apartments.



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