The Pausilypon Park: the villa of beauty and torture

by Chiara Sarracino

Relief from pain. This is the meaning of the name that the ancients greeks, even before the Romans, gave the promontory of Posillipo. And the Pausilypon Park today it is exactly like this: after a very long walk into the extraordinary Seiano Tunnel, one of the most interesting engineering works of the ancient world, you find yourself in front of a place that has exactly preserved the canons of ancient beauty: simple, pure, in perfect union with nature.

And it could not be otherwise, given that it has been forgotten for centuries, cut off from the rest of Neapolitan life and only recently rediscovered.

Parco del Pausilypon
The Pausilypon park today

The Pausilypon, more pain than peace: the villa of Pollione

In fact, despite the reassuring name, the Roman villa which we find as soon as we are on the small plateau at the end of the cave, historically the it is attributed to the figure of Publio Vedio Pollione, governor and knight of the Roman Empire, below Octavian Augustus.

Of him we didn't speak well at all, indeed, he was very famous for his immense cruelty, the total absence of morality and endless corruption.
He had set up a pool full of moray eels where it did throw his servants who, during banquets with friends, did not entertain him or who somehow disobeyed.
In short, at least he consoled himself in seeing them mauled by marine animals.
Seneca tells us that one day, during a buffet in the presence of Augustus himself, a young servant made a cup of wine falling to the ground. Pollio went into a rage for the fool and ordered the most painful execution possible for the boy, in order to give a bloody spectacle to his Imperator. The young man did despaired, he tried in every way to ask compassion, but the master he had no intention of taking it easy.

In the end Augusto intervened, moved by the poor boy: he ordered the servants of bring him anything of value inside the house of Pollione. Then, in front of the distraught guest, he broke all the objects one by one. The slave was like that spared thanks to the intervention of the emperor.

We know that, at the death of Pollione, the current Pausilypon Park it became an imperial residence thanks to testamentary dispositions of the cruel retired governor of Asia.

Parco del Pausilypon
The Pausilypon Park in the design of our Laura Capuano

The most beautiful villa in Campania Felix

The Pausilypon Park, in the remains still in good condition, shows the taste of its owner: occupies an area of nine hectares and, at the time of Rome, it also included the islet of Gaiola.

Today we see bare buildings and in decidedly inconspicuous condition. Two millennia ago they were instead one of the most beautiful villas in the entire EmpireFloors were paved in marble, they were present statues, terraces, finely decorated railings, fountains and vineyards. There was a Odeion, which today has been rebuilt and still carries out the theater function, with a capacity of almost 2000 seats.

Traces of other buildings can also be recognized: it was probably present a small stadium for athletic competitions.

Parco del Pausilypon
The Pausilypon area from above, design by Flavia Guarracino

The abandonment, the Bourbon restoration, the new abandonment

After collapse of the Roman Empire, the structures and wonders that had made the whole of Italy envied throughout the world ended covered with plants and oaki, then collapsed between earthquakes, abandonment and inexorable progression of time.

The villa of Pollione did just that. Also because the cave of Seiano, left without an owner, it was soon covered by weeds and then closed. And of all the structures by the sea only remained visible skeletons from the coast. Emblematic is, for example, the history of Palace of the Spirits of Marechiaro, which has become the seat of counterfeiters.

Self the villa became famous again in the 18th century, and we also find it in some lithographs, the cave was rediscovered by chance in 1841, as part of the construction of Via Coroglio, while the workers were clearing the land and creating the track for the road that still today it connects Posillipo with Bagnoli.

Under Ferdinand II, which he strongly relied on promotion of the image of Naples as a tourist city, the Grotta di Seiano and the Pausylipon Park became a very popular place: so it was that for example we have a chronicle of Edgar Allan Poe which got stuck inside the tunnel.

After World War II there was abandonment again: first served as air-raid shelter for citizens, then became deposit of waste materials for the buildings that, cruelly, were about to be built between the promontory and Coroglio.

The biggest slap in the face of the territory: Posillipo and Bagnoli, born as home of the beauties and vices of the Romans they have turned into a paradise behind a beach defaced by a graceless and horrible factory.

Today, in new times and with different morality, the Pausylipon Park has been completely recovered and restored and, since 2009, it has been returned to citizenship after sixty years of abandonment.

For info and visits: Pausilypon Archaeological Park (

-Chiara Sarracino

Achille Della Ragione, Posillipo and Mergellina between art and history, Naples, 2017
Vittorio Gleijeses, The Campania Region, History and Art, Edizioni del Giglio, Naples, 1972
Art Bonus - Pausilypon Archaeological Park

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