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Identified from the Tabula Peutingeriana, a twelfth-century copy of a Roman map, ancient Oplontis was a seaside town, located five kilometers to the west of Pompeii. Today the site is occupied by the modern town of Torre Annunziata. To date, archaeologists have identified three different ancient sites: Oplontis A, B, and C. The focus of the Oplontis Project is Villa A, sometimes called the villa of Poppaea owing to its possible association with the family of Nero’s second wife, Poppaea Sabina.



In 1590, the Count of Sarno engaged the architect Domenico Fontana to construct a canal to bring the waters of the Sarnus River from Serino to Torre Annunziata, where the water would power a grain mill and an arms factory. This canal cut across the south side of the villa of Oplontis A. There was no interest at the time in excavating, but in the 1830s the restored Bourbon monarchs tunneled through parts of the villa at Torre Annunziata. Fortunately they uncovered only a part of the eastern peristyle and of the slave quarters. It was not until 1964 that the Italian Ministry of Culture, with funds provided by the state to develop industry and tourism, decided to uncover the villa. The excavations were deeper than at Pompeii, where the volcanic fill rarely exceeds 15 feet. Under the direction of Alfonso De Franciscis, and later Stefano De Caro, these excavations had to go down more than 8 meters to recover the remains of the villa.


Excavations continued into the early eighties, including work on the gardens by Wilhelmina Jashemski (University of Maryland), who studied the structure of the gardens and engaged paleobotanists to study the plant material. The paleobotanical project not only studied the root cavities of trees and bushes; it also employed pollen- and seed-flotation analysis to determine what kinds of plants were growing at villa at the time of the eruption.


The Villa

When excavations ceased over twenty years ago, excavators had failed to find the limits of the villa.  In addition to the cut made across the south portion of the villa by the Sarno Canal, the foundations of the sixteenth-century mill (later to become a modern pasta factory) destroyed evidence for the continuation of the villa to the south. To the west, a busy modern street and a military compound built into the former arms factory have all but negated any possibility of future excavation. Yet the excavated parts of the villa, comprising 98 discrete spaces ranging from small rooms to a 60 meter swimming pool, reveal one of the most extravagant Roman villas on the Bay of Naples.


The villa is perhaps best known for its extraordinary examples of Second-Style decorative ensembles which can be found in several rooms centered around the Second-Style atrium (5), including a cubiculum (11), a triclinium (14), and two oeci (15 and 23). Identified as Phase 2B of the SecondStyle, these rooms mark the oldest part of the villa, dating to circa 50 BCE.  To the northwest of the atrium, the owners added a Third-Style bath complex (1-15 CE) centered on a small fountain peristyle; this suite of rooms was later remodeled into a series of entertainment rooms during the Fourth-Style (after 45 CE).


To the east of the atrium, a peristyle (32), painted in Fourth-Style “zebra stripes” served as the as the hub of the villa’s slave activity. Rooms surrounding it included a lararium (27), a latrine (48), and both ground and upperstory sleeping quarters. At the southwest corner, a tunnel (36), still just partially excavated, may have carried one out the villa to the ancient sea shore. A massive two-story hallway (46), lit by clerestory windows from above, led one from the slave area out to the villa’s eastern wing. This wing along the villa’s 60 meter swimming pool consisted of a series of three grand entertainment rooms separated by painted garden rooms (complete with central planters and open to the sky).   


The villa seems to have undergone several phases of construction including an initial building phase in circa 50 BCE, a subsequent remodeling in circa 1 CE,  and at least two, if not three  major modifications after 45.  There is growing evidence that either the earthquake of 62 CE, or a subsequent seismic event, inflicted enough damage to require extensive repair, and perhaps disable much, if not all, of the running water to the villa.   At the time of the eruption it was more or less a construction site; excavators found the east wing portico (60) dismantled with the columns stacked against the wall in room 21, some 60 meters away.
Detail of Tabula Peutingeriana
Excavation of the Villa in 1973
Plan of the Villa