Nook of Naples: An ancient map named this suburb city of Pompeii "Oplontis." Today, the modern city is known as "Torre Annunziata". What remains of the Roman suburb is a well-preserved villa thirty feet below the modern level where visitors can roam a massive residential complex that once belonged to Nero's wife, Poppaea Sabina.
Buried during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, the rooms still tell a story about the daily lives of its former inhabitants. The first room at the entrance of the villa is the Atrium, a grand sitting room with an opening in the roof and a corresponding tub in the center of the floor that collects rainwater.
A brick oven looks as though it could still be fired up and the adjacent triclinium still boasts red frescoes. The triclinium once had cots along the walls where people lay down to eat.
There are latrines with top slabs and a canal below. At the entrance to the bathroom, a tub once contained water used to clean out the canal.
The baths are particularly impressive, including a calidarium and tepidarium that once had an advanced system of hot & warm air flowing along the walls and under the floor.
Roofless indoor gardens still depict lush vegetation on the walls and vast gardens are lined with marble sculptures. Archeologists have created casts out of the roots of tall trees they found here. The trees are believed to be sycamores.
The villa truly comes alive with the history of Poppaea Sabina (30-65 A.D.). Born in Pompeii, her distinguished mother committed suicide when Poppaea was 17. At the age of 14 she had already married Rufrius Crispinus, a man of Egyptian origin and leader of the Praetorian Guard. (The military group that assisted emperors in campaigns and were known for their intrigues and assassinations.) But Poppaea divorced him and married Otho, a good friend of Emperor Nero.
Nero fell in love with her and she became his favorite mistress. Tacitus describes her as ambitious and ruthless. She enticed Nero to kill his mother, Agrippina and after Nero's mother was out of the way, she pressured Nero to divorce and later execute his wife, Claudia Octavia.
Poppaea became pregnant and bore Nero one daughter who died at four months of age. Two years later, while pregnant with their second child, rumors held that she and Nero quarreled about him spending too much time at the races. In a fit of rage, Nero kicked her in the abdomen. She and her child died. Nevertheless, she was given a state funeral and Nero praised her during the eulogy.
Apparently, Poppaea enjoyed taking milk baths.
Movie Recommendation: It Started In Naples (1960) with Sophia Lauren and Clark Gable.
La Cucina Napoletana: My next few posts will be dedicated to the villas around Naples. In keeping with this theme, I would like to translate (loosely) some recipes from the book Ricette Della Cucina Romana A Pompeii (Recipes from the Roman Kitchen at Pompeii.) by Eugenia Salza Prina Ricotti. Because Pompeii was so well-preserved, today we know quite a bit about their eating habits. The author of this cookbook is also an archeologist who has written extensively on the period. The book is filled with delightful nuggets, but for today, very appropriately, I post the dessert called: