Description of the Villa
villa was first discovered in 1590 during the construction of the Sarno
Canal when excavators cut through the southern end of the villa, but
little was done at that time to explore the site further. Between 1839
and 1840 excavations restarted, uncovering part of the peristyle
and garden area, but due to lack of funds work was again suspended. It
wasn't until 1964 that work finally commenced on a full scale excavation
of the villa. Work continued there until the mid 1980s, uncovering
about 60% of the villa.
first pyroclastic surge, the same one that killed the residents of
Herculanem, also engulfed Oplontis. No human remains have been found
here, so it is assumed that the residents had already fled. (In fact,
the villa appears to have been uninhabitated, being devoid of furniture
and with building material stored in several rooms). The pyroclastic
layers found in the villa's swimming pool were particularly useful in
reconstructing the sequence of events that occurred after the initial
eruption; studies were even able to
determine that the pool contained water at the time.
The villa is believed to have belonged to Poppaea Sabina,
the second wife of the Emperor Nero - certainly its size and lavish
decoration indicate that its owner must have been considerably wealthy.
The villa was built in two main phases. The oldest
part of the house centres round the atrium (a) and dates from the 1st
century BC. The house was later extended to the east. This new wing
housed a number of reception and service rooms set in extensive gardens
overlooking a large swimming pool. These improvements were on going at
the time of Vesuvius's eruption.
atrium has no rooms off either its east or west
sides, but leads directly to a second hall (b) which acts as the hub
for the original building. On the north side of this hall is a
viridarium (c) (pictured right), a small enclosed garden, the walls of
are decorated with red and black panels containing garden scenes with
images of plants and birds along the lower frieze. On the north side of
this is a large reception room (d) with little remaining decoration.
door off the south west side of this hall leads past the kitchen (e) on
the right to the triclinium (f) (pictured opposite and below). The
white mosaic floor of this room offsets the vibrant colours of the
second style frescoes which decorate the walls.
Two porticoes link the rooms on the
southern side of the
villa. The porticoes have white mosaic floors with bands of black. The
walls are decorated in the fourth style with red panels above a lower
black frieze. The upper zone is decorated with garlands and
architectural motifs on a white ground. In
the north east corner of the western portico is a richly decorated
cubiculum (l) (pictured right). The walls and ceiling a finely decorated
in the second style with a stuccoed arch over the bed recess.
equally richly decorated room can be found in the north west corner of
the eastern portico. This room (m), an oecus, is decorated in the second
style with themes based around perspective views of theatrical backdrops (scaenae frons) (the west wall of the room is pictured opposite).
On the north wall the detail includes a basket of fruit covered by
a veil and, on the cornice, a glass bowl with pomegranates. The south wall includes images of a cluster of grapes, a pheasant and a cake
placed upon a tray (ferculum).
door in the south east corner of hall (b) leads past the lararium (n) on
the left to an internal court (p), colonnaded on all four sides. The
peristyle (pictured right) has small columns joined to a low wall
decorated with plants and birds on a red ground. In the central garden
is a fountain similarly decorated. The floor of the colonnade is in
cocciopesto with marble insets. The rooms
off the four sides of this peristyle appear to be mostly service rooms
including cubicula for use by the domestic servants and in the north
east corner, the villa's latrines (o).
Off the north east corner
of the peristyle a long, high corridor (pictured lower right) leads to
the newer east wing set in gardens overlooking the swimming pool. The
corridor, which is paved in cocciopesto,
has stone benches lining its walls and is lit from above by clerestory
windows. The walls of this link corridor are decorated in the fourth
The Tuscan style atrium (a) (pictured above), which would
have been entered from the south, has a central impluvium with a
reconstructed compluvium above. Much of the atrium's original floor has
survived. It consisted of white mosaic embellished with a polychrome
border. The walls are richly decorated in the second style with
illusionary architecture and views of distant landscapes glimpsed behind
doorways and through the columns of porticoes. A detail from the fresco
on the east wall is pictured left.
The frescoes' trompe l'oeile colonnades and architectural
features serve as frames for motifs such as peacocks, theatrical masks
and emblems of the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. Couches originally
lined the three walls, with a central table for the diners.
Immediately to the west of the triclinium is a large oecus (g). One
of the finest rooms in the villa, it commanded spectacular views over
the Bay of Naples to the south. The white mosaic floor features a black
the walls and includes inserts of coloured marbles. The room is finely decorated in the second style. The east wall (pictured above and left) displays
perspective views of colonnades either side of a central painting of
the sanctuary at Delphi depicting the traditional theme of a tripod
placed atop a column. The fresco includes some fine detail such as the theatre mask and peacock captured in the photo opposite.
The north side of the oecus opens onto a small tetrastyle atrium (h) (pictured left) that serviced the villa's private baths.
Room (i) was possibly an apodyterium or perhaps a frigidarium. Next to
this was the tepidarium (j) and, on the east side of the atrium, the
caldarium (k). Both the tepidarium and caldarium were heated by means of
warm air circulating under the floor while the hotter caldarium had
additional heat supplied through hollow terracotta slabs incorporated into the walls. Both rooms were
decorated in the second style in reds, yellows and black with stylised
details and panels with landscapes.
the wall of the niche on the east side of the caldarium (pictured above
and left) is a large fresco of the mythological scene of Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides which is echoed in the central panels of the adjoining walls. Along the upper frieze are a series of fine miniature landscapes.
the centre of the wing overlooking the swimming pool is a large hall
(r), the walls of which were veneered with coloured marbles surmounted
by a white upper zone. The floor was in opus sectile. On either side are
reception rooms (two to the north and one to the south). They appear to
be cubicula, perhaps for guests to the villa. Connected to each room was a small viridarium, painted to evoke a
garden and its statuary.