The Ancient Site of Oplontis
Identified from the Tabula Peutingeriana, a twelfth-century copy of a Roman map, ancient Oplontis was a seaside town, located five kilometers to the west of Pompeii. Today the site is occupied by the modern town of Torre Annunziata. To date, archaeologists have identified three different ancient sites: Oplontis A, B, and C. The focus of the Oplontis Project is the study of Villa A—sometimes called the villa of Poppaea owing to its possible association with the family of Nero’s second wife, Poppaea Sabina—and Villa B, also known as the Villa of L. Crassius Tertius. The Oplontis Project has focused since 2006 on the study and publication of Villa A, and will begin work at Villa B in the summer of 2012.
The history of archaeology in the Oplontis area dates back to late sixteenth century, when the tract of the Sarno Canal cut through several areas of archaeological importance, including Pompeii and Oplontis Villa A. In the 1830s, with the hope of discovering statuary for their palaces, the restored Bourbon monarchs underwent a campaign of tunneling through parts of Villa A. It was not until 1964 that the Italian Ministry of
Culture decided to begin excavation of Villa A. Under the direction of Alfonso De Franciscis, and later Stefano De Caro and Lorenzo Fergola, work on Villa A continued until the early eighties. In 1974, construction began at the site to build a new school, located just down the street from the ongoing excavations of Villa A. While coring to sink concrete piers for the school’s foundation, construction workers discovered evidence of an ancient structure. The plans for the school were immediately modified and excavation started on what we now know as Villa B.
Excavations at Villa A continued into the early eighties, including work on the gardens by Wilhelmina Jashemski (University of Maryland), who studied the structure of the gardens and engaged paleobotanists to study the plant material. The paleobotanical project not only studied the root cavities of trees and bushes; it also employed pollen- and seed-flotation analysis to determine what kinds of plants were growing at villa at the time of the eruption. Read More
The site of Villa B lies approximately 300 meters to the east of Villa A, and like Villa A, it is a building of the Roman era that was destroyed by the 79 C.E. eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Though located very near the luxurious and sprawling Villa A, Villa B is strikingly different in what it preserves, and from its remains we can also surmise that it had a very different function from its opulent neighbor. Whereas Villa A is clearly a luxury villa designed for otium, or leisure, Villa B may not even be a villa in the traditional sense, but rather some type of emporium or distribution center. Its spaces are meant not for leisure but for negotium, or industry. Read More