THE VILLAS OF SUBURBAN POMPEII
The suburb of the ancient city of Pompeii was populated by numerous settlement complexes, scattered over a territory which responded to productive (wine and oil-producing farms) as well as residential or seasonal needs when the owner needed to stay temporarily.
The safeguarding activity carried out by the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii and now by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii has allowed us to outline a rather complex and articulated context, with the identification of various ‘villas’, located in the relevant territory.
The current excavation operation, in Civita Giuliana, around 700m northwest of the walls of Ancient Pompeii, as well as confirming this data, has brought to light the servile-productive sector of a large villa, which had already been partially investigated at the beginning of the 20th century, and the area (to the south and southwest of the structure) dedicated to agricultural use.
THE HISTORIC EXCAVATIONS
Between 1907 and 1908, the Marquis Giovanni Imperiali carried out excavations in the area immediately to the north of the current area, on the basis of an excavation permit granted by the then Ministry of Education to the private individual, according to the norms of regulations in force at the time, and whose reports were published in 1994 with a monograph by the Superintendency.
The historic excavation unearthed 15 rooms relating to two sectors of the villa, one residential and the other productive.
The residential sector was arranged around a rectangular plan peristyle, bordered on the north and east sides by a portico supported by masonry columns, whilst the western side - presumably taking advantage of a natural rise in height, was bordered by a long cryptoporticus covered by a terrace onto which the peristyle opened, with a view over the land in front.
On the eastern side of the peristyle, five rooms were discovered (the only ones whose structure it has been possible to locate, thanks to photographic documentation of the excavation), decorated with paintings of the Third and Fourth Style, and which yielded a varied typology of objects related to daily life, personal adornment and domestic worship.
Regarding the productive sector, which was probably located on the northeastern side of the building, we lack the information necessary to be able to locate it with certainty, but undoubtedly it consisted of a torcularium, a wine cellar and other rooms for storing foodstuffs produced in the agricultural land which surrounded the building; the position of a lararium in the southeastern corner of the courtyard is also uncertain.
Over the course of the following years, other random finds have revealed further remains of the structures. In 1955, just before one of the tests carried out during the current investigation, the Archaeological Superintendency brought to light the dividing walls; of particular interest is the presence of two walls parallel and perpendicular to the road track, joined by a connecting wall in opus craticium.
THE ILLEGAL TUNNELS
The complex described above has been affected by illegal excavations in recent decades, identified thanks to the discovery of underground tunnels, explored by the Carabinieri with the logistical support of the fire brigade.
The tunnels were dug along the perimeter walls of the rooms and caused damage to the ancient walls and the plasterwork, destroyed part of the walls and saw the theft and damage of artefacts.
The need to definitively interrupt such criminal acts of archaeological looting has established the need to carry out a new excavation plan, through a synergistic operation between the Archaeological Park of Pompeii and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata.
THE ONGOING EXCAVATION
The stratigraphic excavation has revealed the presence of a rectangular structure, constructed with opus reticulatum walls of fine workmanship, which are preserved to a height of 5 meters, with certain rooms over two floors. This structure includes at least 5 quadrangular rooms (4x3.5m), all affected by the collapse of the roof tiles and flooring of the upper floor, of which only traces of the beams remain.
The upper part of the western endwall of the building collapsed during the eruptive phases of AD 79, and this portion was covered by lapilli deposits. The collapse was certainly caused by earth tremors which occurred during the eruption.
At the moment, two rooms have been explored, referred to as ‘d’ and ‘e’.
Room ‘d’ is characterised on the western side by the presence of a door and a small splayed window, of which the wooden jack arch is still preserved; on the eastern side there is but one quadrangular window, an opening through which pyroclastic flow deposits (the surge, i.e consolidated ash, the so-called ‘thunder’) poured from the final phases of the Plinian eruption.
The walls, with the exception of the western one, were decorated with a thin layer of white plaster, with traces of red stripes.
The southern wall houses a quadrangular niche - a small lararium, bordered by a plaster frame, within which a quadrangular marble base was discovered. Underneath was a censer cup, two pots and a lamp, resting on a wooden shelf of which it was possible to make a plaster cast.
The uniqueness of the burial of the room, being almost entirely occupied by the pyroclastic flow (surge), has allowed us to even create plaster casts of two items of furniture, one is certainly a bed and the other likely a similar specimen, and to recover traces of a mat or piece of fabric positioned over the rope bed base.
On the floor formed of a simple layer of compacted earth, various finds were made, including: three amphorae (one damaged by the illegal excavators) for containing wine and oil; a pot; a long iron saw, and animal bone fragments.
Room ‘e’, currently being excavated, turned out to be a stable. In this room, too, the presence of pyroclastic flow has allowed us to produce plaster casts. These were of a long wooden trough, positioned along the southern wall, and two equids, found in front of the trough, collapsed on the ground during the eruption.
One of the animals, untouched by the actions of the illegal excavators, was recovered intact, with the complete and connected skeletal structure, harnessed with bit and iron bridle, Between the ears, on the occipital bone, bronze decorative elements which were probably applied to leather elements (since disappeared) were found.
The second animal, of a smaller size, is incomplete due to the presence of a landslide, and only part of the legs have been identified.
The discovery in the eastern portion of the area of a dividing wall bordered by a beaten earth road defined, on this side, the boundary of the property of the villa.
The current investigation has posed new questions on the peculiarities of the complex, and has opened, or rather reopened, the debate regarding its planimetric development, suggesting the hypothesis of a much larger complex compared to what was known until now, and which extends towards the southwest.