Art Campania

Italian Art: Restoring Ancient Stabiae

What did Romans do in their spare time? They all fled to Rome’s best-kept secret, a place called Ancient Stabiae .

Located on a panoramic bluff overlooking the Bay of Naples, lies Ancient Stabiae, a little known jewel in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Here, powerful Romans built extraordinary villas, where they spent the summer months.

The villas were filled with everything their hearts desired. From splashing fountains and pools, to saunas and indoor bath complexes. They spent their summer days walking along shaded porticoes and gardens. These villas were also filled with stunning art collections and beautiful frescoes, and mosaics.

But in August 79 AD,  Mount Vesuvius unleashed its fury. The same volcanic eruption destroyed Pompeii, it buried Stabiae for 2000 years.

Rediscovering Ancient Stabiae

The beauty of these villas resurfaced in the 18th century. The Bourbons (aka the Spanish kings of Naples) partially excavated the site. Their archaeologists dug trenches and tunnels throughout the villas. Unfortunately, they removed frescoes and sent them to Spain. There, they became part of the King’s private collection.

Due to lack of finding and the changing political climate, the excavations stopped in 1782. Everything was, once again, forgotten.

Almost 200 years later, a local high school principal (Libero D’Orsi) and an avid historian began excavations. The school’s janitor and an unemployed mechanic joined them.

Stabiae Today

The questions is: could the treasures of ancient Stabiae be unearthed? The foundation Restoring Ancient Stabiae (RAS) believes so. Its goal is to excavate the whole town and villas. And perhaps transform the site into one of the largest archeological parks to date, bringing it back to its original glory.

The excavations

The site is already open to the public, but the excavation works are ongoing. Trial trenches in June 2006 revealed a 300 meter-long columned courtyard. In Febraury 2007, further excavations have revealed the entrance to one of the villas.

In 2008, the Villa of San Marco and the Villa Arianna underwent extensive excavations, revealing large garden and cubiculae. The same year also witnessed the birth of the Museo Diocesano Sorrentino-Stabiese, which features local artifacts.

Further excavations (2009) have unearthed a road parallel to the northern walls of the Villa of San Marco, which used to join the town of Stabiae to the beaches. On the road, researchers found the remnants of one of Stabiae’s doors. More discoveries (a 1st century AD villa) have been made in 2010, during construction works for a local railway line.

These excavations and discovering are a chance for the local community. Indeed, they could bring new opportunities, especially in tourism. However, it is essential to act quickly. Unfortunately, the Stabiae area is plagued by illegal building sites. In the long run, abusive building will no longer allow for excavations to take place. So, it’s time to support the foundation’s work.

What you can do

The RAS foundation has three initiatives for the public. All of them help funding and support the restoration and excavation works. They are:

  • Friends of Stabiae
  • Adopt a fresco
  • Adopt a project

The first option includes the donation of private funds. If you decide to adopt a fresco, you will also receive a copy of it and regular updates on the restorations. Finally, you can also adopt a project. This last option allows you to support one of the five major excavations in Ancient Stabiae.

It’s time to act.

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