Oplontis – Villa Poppaea

Located just five kilometres from Pompeii, the so-called Villa Poppaea at Oplontis in the modern city of Torre Annunziata is one of the finest examples of aristocratic Roman residences. Renowned for its magnificent frescoes and its majestic position overlooking the coast of Campania, Villa Poppaea was apparently owned by Nero’s second wife, Poppaea Sabina. The villa was badly damaged in the AD 62 earthquake and then destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. It was declared World Heritage by Unesco in 1997 along with Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Coordinates: 40° 45′ 25.2″ N, 14° 27′ 10.8″

The name of Oplontis is found on the Tabula Peutingeriana, a medieval copy of an ancient map of the roads of the Roman Empire. It was part of the suburban area of Pompeii on which it depended administratively. The Villa Poppaea was built in two main phases. The oldest part of the building dates back to about the middle of the 1st century BC and was organised around a Tuscan atrium with magnificent paintings in Second Pompeian Style with illusionistic depictions of architectural elements and views of landscapes. The villa overlooked the sea to the south with a large peristyle and a large garden (viridarium) with porticoes to the north. Around the atrium were sumptuously decorated rooms for resting, dining and sitting.

The complex was later extended to the east. This new wing housed several reception and service rooms set in extensive gardens overlooking a vast swimming pool (61×17 metres). A large portion of the sculptures that decorated the villa were found around the swimming pool. These improvements were ongoing at the time of Vesuvius’s eruption.

Plan of the excavations of Oplontis.

According to an inscription on an amphora that refers to one of Poppaea’s slaves or freedmen (“SECUNDO POPPAEAE”), the villa may have belonged to the family of Nero’s second wife (the gens Poppaea).

After the Vesuvius eruption, the villa lay for centuries beneath six metres of layers of lapilli and ashes and then a thick layer of mud. It was first discovered in 1590 during the construction of the Sarno Canal which cut through the central hall of the villa. However, little was done at that time to explore the site further. The excavations of the site restarted between 1839 and 1840 and were undertaken by Bourbon excavators. Due to lack of funds, work was again suspended, and it was not until the mid-1980s that systematic excavations finally started on a full scale uncovering about 60% of the villa. More than one hundred rooms have been excavated so far.

A large number of artefacts from Oplontis are preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum.


View of the viridarium (ornamental garden) and tablinum (reception space).
The Tuscan style atrium was the main entrance to the villa in ancient times. It is richly decorated in the Second Style with illusionary architecture.
The central impluvium (water tank to collect rainwater) of the atrium with the original floor consisting of white mosaic embellished with a polychrome meander border.
On the north side of the atrium is a viridarium, a small enclosed garden. Its walls are decorated with red and black panels containing garden scenes with images of plants and birds along the lower frieze.
The villa was equipped with private baths. The baths had a tepidarium, a room with mild heating and a calidarium, a hot room. This space was transformed into a sitting room and walls were frescoed in the Fourth Style.
The eastern wall of the great sitting room, one of the most elegant and luxurious rooms in the villa. It had frescoes in the Second Style depicting a view of a sanctuary of Apollo and the Delphic tripod. At the sides of the tripod, the decoration is enlivened by peacocks and theatrical masks.
Another sitting room is located between the atrium and the southern peristyle. It is decorated in the Second Style with themes based around perspective views of theatrical backdrops (scaenae frons).
The North wall of the sitting room was also richly decorated with Second Style frescoes.
Fresco detail depicting a basket of fruit covered by a very thin veil.
Two porticoes link the rooms on the southern side of the villa. This portico is decorated with columns covered with red and white scales and with white mosaic floors with bands of black. The walls are decorated in the Fourth Style with red panels above a lower black frieze.
A cubiculum (bedroom) with Third Style frescoes.
Second Style painting on the walls surrounding the viridarium (small garden).
The viridarium, a large open garden enclosed by the portico. This is the traditional space that was dedicated to rest and meditation.
The portico of the large garden has brick columns covered with white stucco. The walls are decorated the Fourth Style.
View of the northern side of the villa complex.
Fourth Style fresco detail depicting a bird pecking fruits.
The peristylium whose open central area was occupied by a fountain. It has four corridors with an Opus Signinum floor with marble inserts.
The rooms of the oldest part of the building and the most recent area with the pool are linked by this imposing corridor. Along the walls decorated with large panels in Fourth Style are resting benches painted in red.
Second Style painting in the walls surrounding the viridarium (small garden).
The 61×17 metre pool is the central element of the northern section of the villa and was added in the Julio-Claudian age. It was used for swimming, but its main purpose was a decorative one.


2 thoughts on “Oplontis – Villa Poppaea

  1. Fabulous thanks. I was going to be there just over a week ago but had a change of heart as the weather wasn’t looking too good. Went to Nimes instead.
    Looking forward to going next year – did you go to Stabiae and/or Positano?


  2. So amazing to see this. Probably the closest I’ll ever get, so it is a wonder. Keep up the good word. I love it all.


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