The Villas at Stabiae - the unknown Vesuvian sites

The Roman Villas at Stabiae - Villas Marco and Arianna - the unknown Vesuvian sites

The statistics say it all. Pompeii attracted over 2.5 million visitors in 2015. Herculaneum, marginally less. These UNESCO World Heritage sites are overrun with visitors and are two of the most popular places to visit in the Campania region. Vesuvius' destruction in AD79 has enabled the preservation of an extraordinary glimpse into Roman life - and boy, doesn't everyone want to see it!

Photo - crowds at Pompeii's ticket office, September 2015

Photo - crowds waiting to enter the Lupanare (brothel) in Pompeii. 

But Pompeii and Herculaneum are not the only sights that Vesuvius locked away. Very close by to both of them are the Villas of Oplontis and Stabiae - three palatial, enormous residences that belonged to wealthy owners and that had stunning views of the coastline. It is possible to visit these three villas - and in doing so you will be well rewarded with an insight in to the lives of these wealthy Romans - plus you will dodge the crowds who flock to P0mpeii. 


These villas were first discovered in the 17th century and as was practice back then, they were looted for their furnishings and better preserved frescoes and then re-buried. Excavations re-started in earnest between 1950 and 1962. Both villas are remarkably intact, however they incurred some damage from the devastating 1980 earthquake. 

Villa San Marco is the remains of what was a 36,000 square foot single home - if you can get your imagination around that one - and both are examples of how the Roman elite lived, dined, played and rested. Villa San Marco's owner is unknown however it is thought it may have belonged to a freedman - a former slave of Emperor Claudius.

View of Vesuvius from Villa Marco. See how suburbia has encroached right up to the boundaries of the ancient structure.

There are many information panels like this one.

One of the many stunning frescoes on site.

The garden area beside the ancient swimming pool

Above and below - decorated nymphaeum surrounding the swimming pool - a reconstruction is below

 Another view of the swimming pool - note the beautiful autumn leaves - and the lack of crowds - all you see is Jack, Robert and Catherine

The colonnaded portico

The atrium and impluvium

Some more information on Villa San Marco is here.


As with Villa San Marco, Arianna was also discovered, looted and re-buried, with excavations starting in the 1950s. The villa was named Arianna after a fresco on the far wall of the triclinium depicts the mythological scene of Ariadne abandoned by Theseus.

The entrance to Villa Arianna (above and below) - couldn't resist the photo op!

The fresco after which the villa was named - Ariadne abandoned by Theseus on the Greek island of Naxos.

'Second style' frescoes at the entrance to the atrium. Pompeiian art has four 'styles' which were first described by German archaeologist August Mau. 

Robert and Jack clowning around in the impluvium.

Further information on Villa Arianna is here

We visited in September 2015, on our way from Positano to Naples. We were using a private car service but the villa can be visited from the nearby Via Nocera train station on the Circumvesuviana line either by walking or using  a taxi. Walking can be quite tricky as the area has few signs, so a cab is recommended.

The extraordinary thing about these two villas is that they are virtually unknown - and they are FREE of charge. As you can see from my photos, we were the only ones there and were able to enjoy these ancient homes in quiet reflection.

If you have some extra time in Naples or Sorrento and fancy visiting these villas, you will most likely have them all to yourself, while the rest of the world stampedes to Pompeii. 

April 2016


  1. Hi Kathy firstly thank you for blogging. I love your blog. It is very insightful and thoughtfully written and helpful for people like me travelling with teens and keen to get off the beaten track. You have inspired me to book the Pristine Sistine trip and Underground colosseum tour. So thank you! Now...I would love your thoughts on the following. We are staying in Rome for 6-8 nights and San Marina Del Cantone for 7 ( for our number 2s wedding to a boy from Napoli). My son had Pompeii and walking up Vesuvius on his bucket list. After reading your various stories I was wondering whether we should stay in Napoli for 1-2 nights? Then after showing my son this story about the villas he wondered if we should go there instead of Pompeii. All thoughts welcomed. We could also do day trip from Nerano. Thank you! Lisa

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  3. Thank you Kathy for your awesome blog!
    You have inspired me to stay in Naples (as well as book underground Colosseum tour and Pristine Sistine tours in Rome) thank you!!!
    Our travelling party is Mum, Dad and 13 year old. Charlie had on his list to do for his 1st trip to Italy, Pompeii. After showing him this article and others he is liking Villas, Solfatara vulcano and Piscina Mirabilis. I want to do it all (as well as Archaeological museum, eating out, wandering, Mt Vesuvius) but we only have 2 nights in Napoli. All thoughts welcomed! Thank you again for your insightful, thoughtful, inspiring and very relevant (to our family) post!

    1. Hi Lisa - so much to see and so little time :( Oh well, you will all have to go back! I guess prioritising what you want to see is the way to go. The Solfatara and Piscina Mirabilis are on one side of Naples and Pompeii/Vesuvius/the villas are on the other so you won't have time to see both.
      If you use a car service you could cover all in one very long day but it can be done. A car service could also help with Piscina Mirabilis as you need to phone ahead for an appointment - they could do this for you.
      I'm so happy the posts have inspired you all and please get in touch again if I can help further. My son Sam was Charlie's age when he first went to Naples (he's almost 16 now) and he loved it. Happy planning


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