Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous

December 15, 2009 / Art & Archaeology
Torre Annunziata, Campania

oplontis1When asked, “Which archaeological site should I visit, Pompeii or Herculaneum?” I will inevitably answer, “Go to Oplontis!”

The patrician villa excavated under the modern town of Torre Annunziata belonged to the Emperor Nero, famous for his appreciation of music and the arts, but more so for his cruelty. The villa was home to his beautiful and devious wife Poppea, until she died after her husband kicked her in the stomach when she was heavily pregnant. (She should have been more careful; Nero had ordered the murder of his mother Agrippina as well.)

oplontis2While it is hard to imagine much domestic bliss within these walls, the villa itself is extraordinary to behold. It contains some of the finest and best preserved wall paintings to have survived from early Imperial times. Visiting Oplontis is like taking a voyeuristic tour into the lives of the imperially rich and famous. It is amazing how the aura of power and wealth is still palpable in the spacious hallways, frescoed walls and shaded garden with its vast swimming pool. It makes you want to walk on tiptoe or talk in a whisper; as if at any moment you might find yourself in the presence of the emperor, lounging in the calidarium or strolling along its cloistered porticos.

oplontis3The complex was swallowed in ash during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Fortunately, the roof of the building survived, preserving the interior for posterity. Even the doors are visible, poignantly cast in the solidified ashes.

Barbara Goldfield

by Barbara Goldfield

Owner of “Savour The Sannio”,, a travel consultancy for central and southern Italy.

4 Responses to “Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous”

  1. This is truly amazing. I thought Pompeii was thrilling when I was there, wish I visited this also. My next trip to Italy has to be a long long extented one. I am keeping a log of all the great places I want to visit. Thank you Italian Notebook.

  2. I agree, Barbara, this is a spectacular site. And only because we lived in the area for a time were we able to see it. There are so many incredible places in Italy, (I’m repeating myself) – a lifetime would not be enough to see them all! But this one is definitely worth making time for, if you are in the area.

  3. I typically really enjoy your posts – look forward to the daily tidbits of wonderful Italy. Today’s post was greatly disturbing. Saying that Poppea should have “been more careful” is not funny – even if it was said in jest. It puts the blame on the victim again. Then, and today, domestic violence is a serious issue, and the reasons people remain in those relationships are not simple.

    Thanks for listening.

  4. I am so glad that you put this up on the notebook. We passed by it by accident one day on a day excursion after arriving to Naples but we didnt stop, and I regret that now.
    We greatly prefer Herculaneum to Pompeii anyday, so we really would have liked to have gone inside the villa.
    People need to spend more time in the Naples, Campania area. There is so much more history there than other parts of Italy. Don’t do the tours-rent a car and find the places on your own.


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