Villa Poppaea: a timeless treasure from ancient Oplontis
Hidden within the timeless realm of ancient Oplontis, an opulent residential villa continues to reveal its historical treasures. Originating in the mid-1st century BC, the expansion of this magnificent villa occurred during the early Imperial Age. Once offering awe-inspiring panoramic views of the sea, the villa’s striking adornments stand remarkably well-preserved. Inscriptions on an amphora imply that the estate may have belonged to Poppaea Sabina, Emperor Nero’s second wife, or her family, with one note mentioning Sucundus, a slave or freedman of Poppaea’s.
Regrettably, when Mount Vesuvius erupted, the villa was likely primarily empty due to repair work underway from prior seismic damage, which removed many architectural and decorative elements.
The villa’s impressive design centers on perspective axes, symmetries, and picturesque backdrops highlighting lush gardens graced with sculptures and fountains. The oldest portion of the villa encloses the Tuscan atrium, displaying magnificent Second Style paintings and richly decorated rooms for leisure, dining, and living, all lit by windows offering garden vistas facing the sea. The villa even boasted private thermal baths, initially warmed from the kitchen and later transformed into a living room.
The Villa Poppaea Frescoes
Villa Poppaea’s frescoes, astonishingly preserved due to Mount Vesuvius’ eruption, enchant visitors with their distinctive style and vivid colors. Numerous frescoes embody the ancient Roman “Second Style” (or Architectural Style) of painting, which dates from around 90-25 BC, as categorized by August Mau in 1899. These intricate designs mimic architectural aspects like trompe-l’œil windows, doors, and painted columns.
In the caldarium, frescoes portraying Hercules in the Garden of the Hesperides exemplify the “Third Style” (or Ornate Style) dating from around 25 BC-40 AD, according to Mau. A realistic perspective is forsaken for flat, elongated architectural forms that frame a central, often mythological, scene like a shrine.
Located west of the triclinium, a spacious oecus functioned as the primary living space of the Roman house. Adorned with Second Style frescoes, the east wall boasts exceptional details, such as a theater mask and a peacock.
Special attention has been given to the Villa Poppaea frescoes’ references to stage painting (scene frons), particularly in Room 23. The eastern servant quarters encompass a peristyle with storage rooms and bedrooms for servants and enslaved people, facing a central fountain.
An underground passage ran beneath the 16th-century Sarno Canal from the peristyle’s southwest corner, emerging at a cryptoporticus with a sea view. Recent excavations have unveiled the collapsed remnants of this cryptoporticus.
In the mid-1st century AD, the villa expanded eastward, adding an enormous 61×17 meter swimming pool. This area also housed dining rooms, living rooms, guest suites, and delightful winter gardens adorned with stunning paintings. Paleobotanical research enabled the recreation of the original garden flora: box hedges, oleanders, lemons, plane trees, olive trees, cypresses, roses, and climbing ivy, all thriving in harmony with the villa’s sculptural and architectural embellishments.
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Embark on a journey through time, immersing yourself in the allure and culture of Ancient Oplontis. Then, seize this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and create unforgettable memories!