Abstract: The Garden of Flora: New Discoveries at the Roman Seaside Villas of Stabiae near Pompeii


Perhaps the most famous of Roman gardens is not real: the fresco of the garden room of the Villa of the Empress Livia from Prima Porta. It is an early example of a “rustic” type of garden painting which presents something rather like a “dense, impenetrable thicket” (von Stackelberg) rather than a planned formal arrangement of plants. Until 2007 there was little material evidence for this kind of garden in any Roman site. In that year the Superintendancy of Pompei and the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation began to uncover just such a garden, and in a very unexpected place: the enormous formal peristyle court of the Villa Arianna at Stabiae.

Stabiae lies 4 km from Pompeii and was buried in the same Vesuvian eruption of A.D. 79 that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pliny the Elder died on the beach of one of the villas during the eruption. The site today is the largest concentration of well preserved panoramic villas in the entire Mediterranean, and may be the only place where archaeology might recover some image of the dense clusters of elite senatorial villas which lined the Bay of Naples from Cuma to Capri. Since 2000 the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation has been building a very unusual project to excavate, conserve and present the site as a large archaeological park and aid the Italian government in managing the site as a permanent foundation. Other large scale excavations since 2007 have revealed the two-storey entrance courtyard, street and adjacent townhouse at the Villa San Marco at the other end of the site.

The excavations in the Villa Arianna garden give new evidence for a period of seminal creativity in the early decades of the Empire with the growth of a new appreciation of integration of architecture with landscape and nature.


Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:

Thomas Noble Howe, “Powerhouses: The Seaside Villas of Campania in the Power Culture of Rome,” in In Stabiano: Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite, (Editrice Longobardi, Castellammare di Stabia, 2004) 15-23.

Katherine T. von Stackelberg, The Roman Garden: Space, Sense and Society, (Routledge, Abingdon, U.K., 2009).

Linda Farrar, Ancient Roman Gardens, (Sutton Publishing, Philps Mill, U.K., 1998)

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum (Princeton Univ. Press, 1994).

John Clarke, The Houses of Roman Italy: Ritual, Space and Decoration (Univ. of California Press, 1991).

Eds., Ray Laurence and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Domestic Space in the Roman World: Pompeii and Beyond (Journal of Roman Archaeology, Suppl Series no. 22, Portsmouth, RI, 1997).

Carol C. Mattusch, Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples (National Gallery of Art/Thames and Hudson, 2008).

Eds. Domenico Camardo, Antonio Ferrara, Stabiae dai Borbone alle ultime Scoperte (Editrice Longobardi, Castellammare di Stabia, 2000).

Eds. Giovanna Bonifacio, Annamaria Sodo, Stabiae: Storia e Architettura. 250o Anniversario degli Scavi di Stabiae, 1740-1999 (Editrice Longobardi, Castellammare di Stabia, 2000).

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