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Ancient Rome's Forgotten Paradise

Stabiae's seaside villas will soon be resurrected in one of the largest archaeological projects in Europe since World War II

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(Continued from page 1)

That was the genesis of RAS and the creation of an ambitious project that has partnered the university with the Archeological Superintendency of Pompeii, which has authority over Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae. The foundation has also enlisted national and international partners and funding from donors in the United States, Italy and Campania.

A visit to Villa San Marco explains all this support—it's like a window into the world of Rome's titans. Plenty of open space for the groupies and "clients" who followed or lobbied the great men; cold, tepid and hot spas; a gym; a kitchen big enough to feed 125 people; lodging for 100 servants; a room for sacrificial offerings; hidden gardens; tree-line walkways; and a pool-facing living rooms (dietae) and panoramic dining rooms (oecus)—said to have been the place for the ultimate power lunches.

Frescoes were everywhere, including the rooms thought to have belonged to the kitchen staff—an indication of the importance that this area attached then as now to food preparation. Some of the works, still vibrant after all these years, are being restored under the RAS Adopt-A-Fresco Campaign that allows individuals or groups to pay for their repair. The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg will showcase some of these restored wall paintings in September.

In order to engage the best scientific minds, RAS recently opened the first residential and academic facility for visiting scholars in Southern Italy, the Vesuvian Institute for Archaeology and the Humanities.

The influence of modern technology is already having an effect. Last year a small exploratory excavation confirmed an earlier study that Villa San Marco has a still-buried 355-foot colonnaded courtyard, which Howe calls "the most significant recent discovery in the Vesuvian region in the last generation." Archaeologists also recently unearthed a skeleton—from the eruption of Vesuvius—in the region for the first time.

Varone says no one knows exactly the geographical boundaries of the resort or precisely the number of villas that are still buried. Likewise, no one knows what other long-buried secrets could be revealed as the story unfolds.

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