Posted April 21st, 2012, 11:24 PM
If you've been to Pompeii, you've probably seen at least one or two of the houses of the wealthy. Have you ever wondered what a real Imperial villa of the time would've looked like? One that's so well preserved that you don't have to use your imagination, like you do to envision the palace on Palatine Hill?
Then I highly recommend that you visit the so-called Villa Oplontis
, also sometimes called the Villa Poppeia after a possible connection with the wife of Emperor Nero. Like Pompeii, the Villa was also destroyed in the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. Unlike Pompeii, it's practically crowd-free.
The Villa is built on a grand scale. It has large rooms with soaring ceilings, built around several courtyards with large windows/openings to let in plenty of light....much more than you might see in Pompeii. This was a "country house", a retreat for the super-rich of the time, and it was once right on the water, with views to die for, I'm sure.
Now, like Herculaneum, the Villa sits below an area of modern development. But it still has a peaceful feeling about it (maybe due to the lack of other visitors). You enter it from what was formerly the back. Before entering you can pause above and take in the extent of the property:
Once inside, you're free to wander around. The frescoes are some of the best painted and best preserved to be found anywhere. Frankly, it's amazing to me that they are still on site and not in a museum. Here's a photo of the decoration in the grand atrium, where guests would've been welcomed:
Honestly, the photo doesn't do justice to the intricacy and richness of the painting, which truly "fools the eye". The golden columns appear to be dripping with gems. Another room that is equally richly decorated with theatrical motifs is one that would've probably served as a sort of grand parlor or living area:
Detail from the room above:
The Villa, as I said, has several courtyards. One is very small and serves as the hub for the private baths complex that's also well decorated. Another one was probably in the area where the servants lived and worked. The grandest one is shown below:
All of the garden and courtyard areas have been replanted with plants similar to those that would've been there when the Villa was destroyed (this has all been researched via plant remains that were found).
The Villa even had a separate wing for (it is assumed) guests. Built around an Olympic-sized pool, shown below, were a series of small bedrooms (to the left in the photo) with pleasant "garden rooms" attached -- each having a mix of real plants and beautifully painted frescoes of garden scenery.
Altogether over 100 rooms or areas of the Villa have been excavated. It's definitely a place worth spending a couple of hours. If you're lucky, you might have it virtually to yourself.
When Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the site, it appears to have been undergoing renovations. Bodies were not found.
To get to Oplontis, take the Circumvesuviana line train, just as if you were going to Pompeii. You'll get off one stop earlier (from Naples; one stop after Pompeii Scavi if you are coming from Sorrento), the name of the stop is Torre Annunziata
. Underneath you may also see a sign that says Oplonti Scavi.
After getting off the train, you'll walk downhill along a main road for about 10 minutes, ending up at the site. There are places along the way to get a sandwich, water, etc.
Tickets cost 5,50 euro. Ask for a free mini guidebook (unfortunately they seem to be out of the English version quite often). Hours are 8:30 am to 7:30 pm during the summer season (6:00 pm from Nov-March).