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Stabiae‎ > ‎

Villa Arianna

Description of the Villa

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The villa was first excavated by Karl Weber between 1757 and 1762 and was named the 'first complex', to distinguish it from the 'second complex', a neighbouring villa separated from the first by a narrow lane. After the removal of the best furnishings and frescoes, the villa was reburied. Excavations resumed in 1950 and it was during this time that the villa was named Arianna after a fresco on the far wall of the grand triclinium depicting the mythological scene of Ariadne abandoned by Theseus.

The villa has an unconventional layout, due in part to its continuous development but also to the sloping nature of the site. As much of the building is still buried, the original floor-plan is quite difficult to interpret. Certainly the main range of rooms was at the front of the highest of a series of terraces; some of these rooms featured views both of the sea on one side and of the mountains on the other. There was also a long tunnel (g) leading from the stables and farm courts (h) under the residential quarters to the shore.

The villa's fine frescoes, including those of Diana (pictured top right) and Flora (pictured opposite) are matched by the splendid flooring, with elegant mosaics offering an extensive range of black and white decorative motifs.
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The atrium (a) (pictured above) and the surrounding rooms date from the late Republican period. The atrium has an impluvium set in the centre of a black and white mosaic floor. The floor has a broad white border set round the sides of the room and framing the impluvium. The walls are decorated in the third style on a red and black ground.

Two rooms at the entrance to the atrium retain much of their second style decoration which is based on architectural illusion and takes the form of fluted Ionic columns set on a raised wall supporting a coffered ceiling (pictured right).

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ome of the most important frescoes of ancient Stabiae were found in the adjoining cubicula. Most of them were removed during the Bourbon period and can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. They include frescoes of Medea, Leda and the Swan, Flora (pictured above right) and the Cupid Vendor (pictured below), which de
picts a seated matron, to whom an elderly courtesan seated opposite proffers a winged Cupid, lifted from a birdcage by the wings as if it were a chicken being sold for dinner.
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The grand triclinium and surrounding rooms (d) date from the middle of the first century AD. The triclinium (pictured below) is richly decorated in the fourth style with large mythological scenes framed in blue on a yellow and red ground above a lower red and black decorative frieze.
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The smaller rooms around the triclinium have walls decorated in reds or yellows with minimalist decor composed of cupids, flying figures, miniature landscapes and medallions containing busts. One of these rooms has an unusual tapestry or 'tiled' pattern (pictured below).
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The Villa Arianna is one of the oldest villas in Stabiae, dating from the second century BC. It is situated on the western hills of Varano , in a clifftop position overlooking the Bay of Naples. The exact extent of the villa may never be determined, as large parts of the rooms nearest the sea have collapsed down the cliff, but an initial survey carried out by tunnel in Bourbon times produced a plan which covered an area of over 2500 sq.m. Including the large palaestra to the west the total area must be in the order of 11,000 sq.m.
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On the northern side of the atrium is the tablinum. On the atrium's southern side the doorway originally opened onto a square peristyle (c) which was excavated during the Bourbon period but was subsequently reburied and has not yet been re-explored.

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The central panel on the rear wall features Ariadne abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos (pictured left). In the same room are also the frescoes of Lycurgus and Ambrosia on the east wall, and Hippolytus and Phaedra (pictured above) on the west. Outwith the central panels the decoration contains many fine details such as that pictured below.
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Above a red decorative frieze the 'tiles' contain painted female figures and putti in a pattern that is repeated every four rows (pictured left). The first row or band features alternating female figures and birds, followed by birds and flowers in the second, flowers and medallions in the third with a final row featuring medallions interspersed with roses.
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Nearby are two diaetae placed either side of a summer triclinium (e). Both diaetae are decorated in the fourth style with a mixture of landscapes and wildlife including crickets, birds and butterflies.
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The palaestra (f) is located at the west end of the villa and was added to the building shortly before the eruption of AD79, probably between AD60 and AD70. It was about 104 metres long by 81 metres wide, giving it a perimeter of about 1200 Roman feet, or 2 stadia, the recommended size of a public palaestra as set out by Vitruvius
in his Ten Books on Architecture (Book V, chapter IX - 'The Palaestra'). The open area was surrounded by a colonnade (pictured left) composed of over 100 columns covered in white stucco.
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In 2007 a large garden was found lying within the palaestra. During 2009 the entire garden area was cleared of volcanic debris and the area gridded to allow the plotting of plant beds, shrubs and trees as well as garden furniture (wells, cisterns and curbing for beds). The study is on-going and it is hoped that in time they will be able to identify the plants and trees that were growing at the time of the eruption.

The villa had its own private bath suite (i) (pictured left). Although smaller than those found in other villas in Stabiae, the suite still had the full compliment of tepidarium, caldarium and frigidarium. There are also numerous service areas as well as stables and farm buildings (h) at the south eastern limit of the property.



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