Archaeological excavations of Oplontis
In Oplontis, which in antiquity was a suburban district of Pompeii destroyed by the eruption of 79 A.D., a villa has been found that may have belonged to Poppaea Sabina, the second wife of the Emperor Nero. It is a magnificent residential building from the mid 1st century B.C., and one of the best preserved examples of an otium villa.
Its decoration and the beauty of its views meant this villa had no reason to envy other imperial residences. The decorative scheme of sculptures and splendid frescoes is breathtaking. The excavations lie at the centre of the modern city of Torre Annunziata. The name Oplontis is only attested to in the Tabula Peutingeriana, a medieval copy of an ancient map of the road network existing in Italy at the time of the Roman Empire.
As a result, a series of archaeological finds has been attributed to Oplontis, which relate in reality to a suburban area of Pompeii: besides the villa attributed to Poppaea Sabina, these include a rustic villa attributed to L. Crassius Tertius, in which, alongside numerous bodies of victims of the eruption, a remarkable quantity of gold and silver coins has been found, as well as numerous pieces of very fine goldwork; and a thermal bath structure, attributed to the consul M. Crassus Frugi.
The main monument, and the only one currently accessible at the Oplontis excavations, is the villa of Poppaea, which has been listed as a ‘World Heritage Site’ by UNESCO: the villa of Poppaea, which is built on a grand scale and adorned with splendid frescoes and numerous marble sculptures, was extended in the Claudian Age. The attribution to Poppaea Sabina stems from the discovery of an inscription painted on an amphora, addressed to Secundus, Poppaea’s freedman: it must in any case have been part of the vast property of the imperial family, who, like many other members of the Roman aristocracy, favoured the Campanian coast, already famed in antiquity for the salubriousness of its climate, and delighted in building sumptuous residential villas there.
At the time of the eruption the villa was uninhabited: there were neither ornaments in the rooms, nor earthenware in the kitchen. Many of the objects found, such as columns and oil-lamps, were restricted to just a few rooms. Building materials and works in progress show that the villa was undergoing repairs in the wake of one of the numerous earthquakes, possibly the one of 62 A.D., that frequently struck the Vesuvian area.
The villa develops along an east-west axis, symmetrically to the central main body that constitutes the original nucleus, which is raised, projects into the garden and is lined with colonnades. The original entrance and the front façade, which has not been excavated, lie beyond the sixteenth-century Conte di Sarno artificial canal, below the modern built-up area. The eastern part is almost entirely excavated, while the western part has not been fully brought to light due to the presence of the modern street and a military building, the old Real Fabbrica d’Armi. This site is included in the circuit campania>artecard.