From Stabiae to Herculaneum: a journey in the most charming locations of the “Campania Felix”

FLORA

Castellammare, Oplontis, Boscoreale and much more: a surprising archaeological tour of the Vesuvian area.

 

If the archaeological sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are famous worldwide for their size and their unique citadels remained crystallized to a precise date in history, AD 79, in which mount Vesuvius buried them under a thick blanket of ash, there are also more not-to-be-missed appointments with history for archaeology aficionados, maybe less known but extraordinary all the same.
Travelling from Sorrento, the first site to be met is that of ancient Stabiae, located on the northern side of Varano, a hill in Castellammare di Stabia. Three panoramic villas can be visited here which overlook the underlying town, but in the 1st century AD they overlooked the sea and the beach could be reached by means of tunnels and walkways. They are luxurious residences with vast and wonderfully decorated living quarters, thermal structures, arcades and nymphaea.
Pompeii can be found just after Castellammare, though the city’s ancient suburb was part of Boscoreale, where a number of rustic villas and productive settlements linked to pasture and wine and oil production.
Among these findings only wall and floor decorations and ornaments can be found today at the Louvre, the Metropolitan or Naples’ Museo Archeologico Nazionale, but it is still possible to visit the rustic Villa located in Villa Regina with its Antiquarium.
After Boscoreale visitors arrive in Torre Annunziata, ancient Oplontis, where the only place that can be visited is Villa di Poppea, named “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO. It is a magnificent residential building from the mid-1st century BC which was expanded in the Imperial age and owned by Poppaea Sabine, Emperor Nero’s second wife.
The archaeological site of Herculaneum, along with Pompeii and Oplontis, is also part of the World Heritage Site. A short walk from the site the MAV can be found; it is a cultural and technological centre applied to Cultural property and communication which hosts in its interior an interesting museum-like area that allows visitors to take part in an extraordinary virtual and interactive journey thanks to which, with over seventy multimedia installations, the principal archaeological areas of Pompeii, Herculaneum, Baia, Stabiae and Capri are brought back to their original splendour.

Pompeii: World Heritage of Mankind.

Pompeii, situated at the feet of Vesuvius, on a plateau of volcanic formation, almost 30 metres above sea level, is not only one of the most famous archaeological centres in the world, because it keeps, in its excavations, traces of ancient civilizations like no other place, but it is also an important religious centre venerated and visited, every year, by thousands of tourists. The ancient Pompeii was probably founded by Oscans, and inhabited, then, by Etruskans, Greeks, Sannites and became a Roman colony in 91 B.C.

The town was completely destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius on August 24th, 79 A.D. Its rediscovery occurred thanks to the excavation work begun in 1748 by the King of Naples Charles the Bourbon. Excavations, finds and heated debates conditioned, in 1700, the flourishing of Neoclassical art. In an area which was, until a century ago, marshy, the inhabited centre was created; this developed especially thanks to the construction of the Sanctuary of Madonna del Rosario, in 1833, by Beato Bartolo Longo. The centre developed as an independent town on March 29th, 1928, including parts of the territories of Scafati, Boscoreale, Gragnano and Torre Annunziata. The latest expansions have determined the almost complete linking up of the centre with the neighbouring conglomerates of Scafati and Torre Annunziata. At present, the town extends on a territory of 12.4 sq. Km. with 25,745 inhabitants.

Its main resource is, above all, tourism, attracted by the famous Sanctuary and by the remarkable archaeological heritage, unique in the world, so that in 1997 the UNESCO declared Pompeii World Heritage of Mankind, considering, on the basis of cultural assumptions, that Pompeii, together with Herculaneum and other neighbouring towns, buried by the eruption of 79 A.D., are a complete and living testimony of society and daily life in a precise moment in the past, and do not find any equivalent in any other part of the world. Moreover, the town is well-known also for its artistic and craftsmanlike productions of which the numerous shops located along the roads are an evidence, and every year the Religious Handicraft Exhibition is held there. So, also in Pompeii it is possible to make various tourist, cultural and religious itineraries, with the possibility to stay comfortably thanks to the multiplicity of accommodation facilities, such as hotels, residences, bed and breakfasts and campsites. The most longed for destination is certainly that of Excavations, visited, on the basis of an estimate, in 2007, by 2,571,725 people. In the area of the Archaeological Excavations, a whole civilization, buried by the eruption of the neighbouring Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D., has been brought to light; it is the Roman civilization, with its usages and habits, that is possible to reconstruct thanks to the several monuments which were rediscovered after the excavation work. The Forum , where the most important public and religious buildings were, was the area around which life whirled , or the Basilica, the place appointed to the administration of justice, or the temples of Jupiter and Apollo, or the spa baths and the Macellum, a sort of market where any kind of good was sold.

To commerce the ancient Pompeians alternated idleness, by frequenting various entertainment places, like the Teatro Grande, with a seating capacity of almost 5,000 spectators, the Teatro Piccolo, with a terrace able to seat almost 1,000 people and the Amphitheatre, where almost 12,000 people were present at gladiators’ fights. Of the Pompeians’ refined taste for architecture and art various evidences remain, like the House of the Vettii, of Menandro, of the Fauno and the Villa dei Misteri, where interesting evidences of ancient pictorial decorations remain. In the last years it has been possible to make a night visit to the excavations, through an illuminated and multimedia itinerary. We start from the Suburban Spa Baths and go on along the tangle of houses, gardens, vegetable gardens, peristyles and alleys overlooking Via Marina, up to the inside of the temple of Apollo (info at 081 8575111).

Of great effect is also the Antiquarium, the museum which goes over the most important events of the history of Pompeii, destroyed by the bombings of 1943 and later rebuilt. In the pre-Samnite section the most ancient material of the Oscan- Campania civilization in the Sarno Valley is kept. Then, there are other sections dedicated to economic and commercial life of the ancient Pompeii, with a remarkable iconography and with remains of tools, work tools, workshop material and medical instruments (info. 081 8575111). Of great religious value and destination of flows of pilgrimages coming from all over the world is also the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Rosario, built in 1876 according to the future Beato Bartolo Longo’s will. The inside, Latin cross shaped, with a nave and two aisles risen above by a dome 57 metres high, is rich in frescos, mosaics and marbles. On the high altar there is the painting of the Madonna going back to 1600 and enclosed in a big bronze frame. For its size, the Sanctuary rises above the surrounding area and culminates with a statue of the Madonna del Rosario, derived from a unique Carrara marble block. The magnificent bell tower is 80 metres high and is endowed with a lift which can take people up to the top and allow them to admire the suggestive view of the Gulf of Naples. Pompeii is a town rich in traditions, and numerous are the shows which occur during the year, such as shows in the square, concerts and festivals. The most ancient tradition is surely the worship of the Madonna del Rosario, patron of the town and celebrated on May 8th , who every year attracts, to Pompeii and to the Sanctuary, millions of believers coming from all over the world.

Useful information:
How to reach Pompeii:
Distance from Sorrento: 28 km
By car/motorcycle: by going along the State Street 145 towards Naples and then the Highway A3 towards Naples, exit in Pompeii.
By train: by Circumvesuviana, line Sorrento- Naples, go off in Pompeii Villa dei Misteri.

Useful numbers:
Local police: tel.: 081 8506164
Taxi. Tel.. 081 8632686 – 081 5367852 – 081 8503199
Post offices: 32, Via Sacro Cuore – 3, Via Sacra – 1, Via Esedra.
Local Tourist Board: 1, Via Sacra, tel.: 081 8507255

The House of Vettii in Pompeii

A luxurious villa discovered during the archaeological excavations of Pompei, the house of Vetti, ascribed to the two freedmen Aulus Vettius Restitutus e Aulus Vettius Conviva, is famous for its numerous paintings on the walls. The villa still retains the ancient structure with two halls after the restoration made in the first century A.C and the restoration works of 62 A.C.

The first hall, in Tuscan style, was the patronal house while the second hosted the slavery.
Portrayed at the entrance is Priapo Itifallico, an emblem of well-being and fecundity, weighing his big phallus on a scale with a sack full of coins as the counterbalance .

Two safes covered with iron and decorated with bronze elements are found in a corner of the hall, while striking paintings on the walls portraying mythological scenes such as the fight of Amore and Pan in front of Dionisus and Arianna and the myth of Ciparisso. The hall of the slavery in the centre of tufa impluvium and a niched lararium with Corintium semi-columns which hold a triangular typanum , portraying a Genius guardian of the family in the looks of Nero, wearing a toga covering his head while toasting, with two dancing lares. The garden is surrounded by marble and bronze fountains, while the Peristilium is made up of eighteen columns.

On the left, in the entrance of the Peristilium, on the yellow walls there are revivals of the mythological episodes of Anfione and Zeto tieing Dirce to a bull, Penteo killed by Baccanti and Hercules as a child strangling the snakes.
The north-east wall shows a painting of Dedalus while giving Pasifae the wooden cow built in her honour. On the bottom wall is portrayed the myth of Issione condemned by Zeus to run in a wheel, tied with snakes. In the north of the peristilium there is the triclinium, the palace where parties and banquets where held, hosting the well-known pictorial complex of the villa representing the La cherubs and psycai busy in different activities.