Description of the Villa
|The Villa San
Marco derives its name from a chapel dedicated to St. Mark that existed
on the site in the second half of the 18th century. The original villa, dating from the reign of Augustus, consisted of a few rooms centred round a square atrium (b). The villa was extended during the Claudian period to include a
garden and swimming pool enclosed by a three-sided portico surmounted by a
colonnade with tortile columns. These
additions modified the original layout, leaving the entrance and
original nucleus lying at an angle to the new axis, to create one of the
largest villas in the area (about 11,000 sq.m.).
The villa, first excavated
between 1749 and 1754, was re-buried after the
removal of its furnishings and many of the better preserved frescoes.
The building was re-excavated between 1950 and 1962 by Libero d’Orsi. The
ownership of the property is uncertain, although stamps on tiles could be an indication that the building was in the
possession of Narcissus, a freed slave of the Emperor Claudius.
current entrance (a) consists of a small porch with stone side benches
used by clients waiting to be received by the owner (pictured above and upper right). The entrance leads
to a tetrastyle atrium (b) (pictured right and below) with four Ionic columns around a central impluvium. The atrium is
decorated in the fourth style with red, black and yellow panels
above a lower black frieze.
A service corridor (h) off the north west corner of the atrium leads to a small but luxurious private bath suite centred round a tetrastyle atrium (i) (pictured right). The atrium is decorated in the fourth style
with red panels on a black ground above a lower black frieze. The
panels contain scenes of cupids, a wrestler and pugilists in various
The apodyterium (j) is off the west side of the atrium. From here bathers would proceed to the palaestra (k) to work up a sweat before entering the tepidarium (l) which is decorated in the third style on a black ground. Beyond the tepidarium
is the caldarium with its large bath veneered in marble. Like the tepidarium, the caldarium
has a hollow floor to allow the circulation of warm air. In the centre
of the floor was a large boiler which, unfortunately, was removed,
exposing the hypocaust below (pictured right). (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 coast of England). On leaving the caldarium the bather would enter the frigidarium (n) which has a cold bath lined with marble at its eastern end.
A doorway off the west side of the service corridor (h) opens onto a large peristyle (o) (pictured below and right),
containing a 30m long garden and pool. Originally a row of plane trees ran down the sides of the pool and the garden has been replanted accordingly.
At the end of the pool is a nymphaeum (pictured right) with a painted facade and central fountain. The nymphaeum is embellished with niches decorated with mosaics and stucco.
The walls of the portico are decorated in the fourth style
with red panels on a black ground above a lower black frieze (pictured
above and right). The upper zone contains many fine details including
that of the winged figure below.
A second peristyle (q) to the south
west was even larger, perhaps being as much as 145 metres long
according to recent geophysical studies. The surrounding portico was
sustained by unusual
spiral-fluted columns. The
ceiling of the portico was decorated with paintings depicting several mythological scenes including the Planisphere of the Seasons and the Chariot of the Sun with
Fragments of some of the frescoes can be seen in the Antiquarium Stabiano.
Either side of the entrance vestibule is a small cubiculum. On
the south west wall of the atrium next to a third cubiculum is the household lararium (c) (pictured above), adorned with frescoes imitating precious marbles. Beside the lararium are two bases for a
The tablinum (d) is located on
the north east side of the atrium next to a fourth cubiculum. The tablinum is
decorated in the fourth style on a red ground with garlands and ornamental
borders with central images of animals. The upper zone of the decoration consists of architectural
motifs on a black ground. The white mosaic floor is bordered by two
The tablinum opens onto a colonnaded courtyard (e) to the
north east. On the far side of this courtyard is a second entrance (f) which
opened directly onto the street leading into the village (pagus) of Stabiae. Several items were found in or around
the atrium and courtyard area including a bronze
sculpture of a raven (pictured left), a statue of Mercury and a bronze candelabrum.
kitchen (g), located behind and to the west of the atrium, is a large
rectangular room, whose eastern wall is partially occupied by the rear
of the lararium. On
the northern wall is a brick counter (pictured left) on which cooking took place. It was bordered by a line of curved
terracotta tiles designed to contain the charcoal bed required for
cooking. At the bottom there
are four arches, used for storing pots or for storing wood for the
fire. In the north-western corner is a basin, found
full of lime at the time of the excavation.
When first excavated the northern wall of the kitchen contained a painted lararium
but this was removed in 1752 and can now be seen in the National
Archaeological Museum in Naples. The remainder of the walls are coated
with plain, white plaster, but are of interest due to the large number
of graffiti, mainly Roman
numbers, testifying to the activities of daily life conducted there.
At each end of the side porticoes are
beautifully decorated diaetae where members of the household could take their ease. The
first of the rooms on the east side is decorated in the fourth style with several scenes including one of Perseus and Cassandra while the ceiling is in the form of a
false dome with a winged Victory in its centre. In the next room is a
painting of the Rape of Europa by Jupiter (in the form of a bull). The last room (p) (pictured below) is also decorated in the fourth style and is probably the most interesting architecturally of the three.