Oplontis: in the sumptuous rooms of the villa of Poppea

by Laura d'Avossa

Time consumes, wears out, but often the earth retains its most precious gifts, imposing architectural structures, such as the Villa of Poppea, eaten by the lava without being destroyed, destined to be reborn in different eras, to see the light again after centuries and to be admired under the fascinated eyes of contemporary spectators.
That's what happened in XVIII century, in the current area of Torre Annunziata, when the excavations of Oplontis, suburban area of Pompeii, also a victim of the tragedy of '79.

The discovery of the Villa di Poppea

In 1964 a majestic villa was found, full of frescoes and marble statues. Among the memorabilia and relics present, dating back to the 1st century BC. C., an amphora was found with an inscription addressed to Secundus, free of Poppea.

It was proof that in those frescoed rooms, surrounded by luxury and pomp, Nero's second wife, the empress Poppea, bejeweled, spending hours in front of the mirror admiring his own image.
Fascinating, shrewd woman and probably instigator and accomplice of the numerous crimes that stained the reign of Nero, she used to cover only part of her face with a veil, so that the men she met on her way could be eager to discover it in order to admire his face. in full.

interiors of Villa di Poppea
The interiors of the Villa di Poppea

The princely and ostentatious aspect of the villa thus reflects the vanity of the hostess. The pictorial decorations, characteristic of real architecture, create intriguing perspective games. Doors, columns and carpets are painted on the walls creating surprising optical effects and thus inducing the visitor to constantly question whether those shapes seen from afar are real structures or simple representations.
This is the painting technique trompe l'oeil, aimed precisely at creating the illusion of three-dimensional objects through the use of perspective.
Symbol of pride and vanity par excellence, the peacock appears among the frescoes of the villa, together with theatrical masks, fruit, mosaics with geometric motifs.

Thus Poppea, a lover of unbridled luxury, surrounded herself with beauty, regardless of excesses. She also loved taking care of her body: she anointed her face with creams and used to bathe in donkey's milk, ideal for moisturizing and purifying the skin. Not surprisingly, in the east area of the villa there is a small thermal complex surrounded by a flower garden and frescoed with scenes from the myth of Hercules in the garden of the Hesperides. But not only that: a large one is also part of the structure pool, of dimensions comparable to those of the current Olympic pools.
However, despite the fact that the villa was a royal possession destined tootium, there is no shortage of areas dedicated to productivity. In fact, environments destined for the pressing of grapes for the production of wine have been recognized.

Villa of Poppea
Some details of the Villa di Poppea

Probably Oplontis it was not only the cradle of the empress's charm, but also her macabre tomb.
According to some sources, in fact, Poppea was killed when she was pregnant by her husband with a kick in the belly. Tacitinstead, she claims that her death was due to a pregnancy problem. Still others affirm that the woman, repudiated by her husband intending to marry Statilia Messalina, would have retired to her villa and then overwhelmed by the eruption of Vesuvius in '79.
The latter hypothesis, however, is poorly accredited by modern scholars. In fact, many objects were found set aside in some rooms, no pottery was found in the kitchen, nor human remains in the building. It is therefore believed that the villa was uninhabited at the time of the tragedy.
Probably its inhabitants, troubled and alarmed by the violent tremors that preceded the catastrophic eruption, abandoned the structure some time before the tragedy, thus managing to escape to safety.

Oplontis: in the sumptuous rooms of the villa of Poppea
Frescoes of the Villa

With the excavations of modern times, the eastern part of the villa was almost completely brought to the surface, while the excavations of the western one were interrupted due to the presence of a military building: theancient Royal Armory Factorythe.
From 1997 the excavations have been declared heritage ofUNESCO and it is possible to visit them together with those of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Laura d'Avossa

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