Scavi di Stabia
Stabiae is the ancient Latin name for the city of Castellammare di Stabia, which lies between Pompeii and Sorrento. Thanks to its magnificent geographical position and its particularly mild climate, it was inhabited since the 7th century B.C., as testified to by material found in the vast necropolis, containing more than three hundred graves, which was discovered in Via Madonna delle Grazie. The importance of the finds made here immediately reveals the major commercial role played by this city.
The built-up area must have occupied the northern tip of the Varano hill, from where it was possible to keep control both of the maritime port and the road junction. Stabiae would have been an oppidum, in other words a fortified city of a certain importance, as can be deduced from the fact that Sulla, the supreme commander of the Roman army during the Social War (91-88 B.C.), did not stop at occupying it (as he did with Pompeii and Herculaneum), but destroyed it
both militarily and politically on 30 April 89 B.C.
Many otium villas were then built in a panoramic position on the Varano hill; intended mainly for residential purposes, they boasted vast living quarters, thermal bath structures, colonnades and splendidly decorated nymphaea.
Villa San Marco, which dates back to the early Augustan Age, underwent successive transformations in the Claudian Age. The main entrance from the street, which is now filled in, gave onto a colonnaded courtyard giving access
to the tablinum and then to the tetrastyle atrium, with four cubicula opening off it. The thermal bath quarters are reached by way of a small atrium whose decoration with scenes of wrestling and boxing cupids was also renovated in the Claudian Age. The villa’s entertaining room must also have been sumptuous, with its walls clad with marble
at the bottom and frescoed at the top.
The Varano hill is also home to nearby Villa Arianna, so called for the large painting of the mythical heroine Ariadne found in the triclinium.
The eighteenth-century excavation was carried out by means of underground explorations, which only allowed for the retrieval of objects: the bestpreserved ornaments and frescoes were removed and sent to the Museo Borbonico at the Palazzo Reale di Portici (now in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli). The villa, whose excavated area extends over an area measuring 2500 m2, has a complex layout, both because it is the result of successive enlargements, and because it follows the curve of the hill, adapting to its conformation. It is divided into four main areas: atrium and surrounding rooms dating back to the late-Republican Age; service and thermal bath areas; rooms at the sides of the summer triclinium, dating back to the Neronian Age; and the large palaestra annexed to the villa in the Flavian Age. Furthermore, a long tunnel, starting at the ramps and passing under the residential quarters, emerged in the rustic area, where there was access to the villa from the Varano plateau.
The decorative schemes testify not only to the high standard of living that must have prevailed here, but also to the extremely refined taste of a high-ranking and demanding client.
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