In the Wake of Mount Vesuvius
Ancient Stabiae lies only 4 km from Pompeii, but is a very different type of site: it is primarily occupied by a half-dozen enormous panoramic villas, up to 22,000 meters squared, built directly next to one another over a distance of approximately 1.8 kilometers along the edge of a 50-meter high sea-cliff facing the Bay of Naples. Due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, which buried the city in fourteen meters of dry lapilli (cinder), the villas are spectacularly well-preserved. Walls stand in some cases to the second storey, hundreds of square meters of frescoes are in brilliant condition, and garden surfaces are perfectly preserved when first cleared. The architecture has many innovative features and the frescoes are among the highest quality of those in the Roman Empire. The caliber of this preservation and the quality of art and architecture make Ancient Stabiae the largest concentration of well-preserved large Roman villas in the entire Mediterranean.
Dating back to the early first century BCE, Villa Arianna is the oldest Stabiae villa and is famous for its beautiful frescos. The villa’s name has been derived from one such fresco depicting Dionysus saving Ariadne from the island of Dia. This mythological painting adorned the back wall of the triclinium.
When occupied, an underground tunnel stretched from Villa Arianna to the seashore, which was only two-hundred meters away. Additionally, a massive garden – about the size of a football field – was discovered at the Villa. This garden is thought to be more than two-thousand years old and could very well be the largest preserved garden ever rediscovered. This garden has been called “the Rosetta stone of garden archaeology” by Dr. Thomas Howe, Coordinator General of the Restoring Ancient Stabiae (RAS) Foundation.
Digital Preservation and Physical Restoration
In June 2013, the non-profit Restoring Ancient Stabiae (RAS) Foundation partnered with CyArk to digitally preserve priority areas of the villas, including Villa Arianna, as part of a larger master plan to define and create Ancient Stabiae as a sustainable archaeological park. To accomplish this, CyArk utilized terrestrial LiDAR scanners in tandem with conventional survey methods to create accurate digital measurements of the villa. In addition to the digital preservation of priority areas at Ancient Stabiae, the RAS Foundation’s master plan calls for new measures to transform the site into a museum-park that will soon provide the best place to study Roman villa culture.