In the Civita Giuliana area, north of the ancient city of Pompeii, a large residence called Villa Imperiali had already been identified at the beginning of the 20th century. Since 2017 and then in 2019, thanks to an understanding protocol signed with the Torre Annunziata Prosecutor’s Office, the Archaeological Park of Pompeii has launched excavation campaigns that have halted the systematic looting that has affected the villa for years, and have yielded new data and exceptional finds.

The 2023-24 investigations have focused along the stretch of the current Civita Giuliana road, investigating for the first time an area interposed between the two already known sectors: the residential area to the north and the servile quarter to the south, in order to verify the reliability of the information retrieved from the judicial investigations conducted by the Torre Annunziata Prosecutor’s Office.

Among the important discoveries that have affected the villa, the latest being the carpenters’ room, a sacellum, a space dedicated to religious worship, also emerges, located at a junction between the service sector (with stables and the slaves’ room) to the south and the residential complex to the north of the villa.

Detail of the decoration of the sacellum
Detail of the decoration of the sacellum. Credit: Ministero della Cultura

The removal of the road, initiated in August 2023, has brought to light – just below the preparatory layers of the modern road, between 40 and 50 cm deep from the current road level – pavements belonging to the upper floor of the servile quarter as well as the vaulted sacellum of rectangular plan, of which some examples annexed to the villas of the Pompeian suburb are known, though not with the same monumentality.

The sacellum seems to correspond to what was indicated by archaeologists during the investigations, in which references emerge to a tempietto dedicated to Hercules, and to frescoes representing the 12 labors of Hercules, of which, however, there are no traces at the moment.

The space is covered with a single-pitched roof, while the exterior front, completely plastered and painted white, features a large portal (2.65 x 2.75 m) and is crowned by a sort of relief “pediment”. In front of the huge door is a ramp with wheel tracks, indicating the possible use of a ceremonial chariot during rituals.

Remains of an altar in the interior of the sacellum
Remains of an altar in the interior of the sacellum. Credit: Ministero della Cultura

Internally, the space is characterized by a mural pictorial decoration in Pompeian style IV: the decorative cycle included a sequence of twelve panels with yellow drapery on a red background, while in the center of the back wall, two panels framed a masonry podium, probably for supporting a statue.

A short distance along the walls runs a continuous bench, made of masonry covered with painted plaster, which shows evident wear determined by use over time by participants in the rituals.

The excavation of the sacellum, on one hand, is disconcerting because it shows the unscrupulousness with which the clandestine excavators operated, stripping almost all the walls and the interior of the room – declared the Director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, Gabriel Zuchtriegel. Seeing this place of worship, annexed to the productive quarter of the villa, reduced to these conditions is painful, also because there are very few examples of such spaces. Paradoxically, however, at the same time, it is encouraging: the State is present, along with the Prosecutor’s Office and the Carabinieri, the Ministry of Culture is recovering a complex of great importance. The findings confirm what has been determined by the judicial police and the Prosecutor’s Office. This is an excavation of active protection and I would also say justice, after years of looting. The next steps will be: continuation of the excavations, continuation of expropriations, demolition of expropriated buildings for the recovery of the archaeological heritage and planning for a public use of the villa: it will be a jewel of Greater Pompeii, which will help us better appreciate the entire territory of the ancient city.

Another detail of the sacellum decoration
Another detail of the sacellum decoration. Credit: Ministero della Cultura

The ongoing research activities in Civita Giuliana constitute a model excavation that exemplifies legality and protection, becoming an opportunity for knowledge and development of research. The objective is to continue the program of expropriations and the demolition of already acquired buildings, while at the same time expanding the excavations to clarify the numerous unknown aspects of Civita Giuliana both scientifically and legally, and to plan accordingly.

Fundamental to the continuation of activities in the area will be the planning of a comprehensive system of accessibility and use that connects this site with the Greater Pompeii network. On this last point, a collaboration with Federico II and ReParch, a second-level Master’s in Restoration and Project for Archaeology, is underway.

The areas investigated so far are those of the large productive and servile neighborhood, including:

  • A stable with the remains of harnessed equids, where the first complete cast of a horse was made.
  • A four-wheeled ceremonial wooden cart with iron elements, refined bronze and silver decorations, interpreted as a pilentum, a vehicle used in the Roman world by elites for ceremonies, particularly to accompany the bride to her new home, a unique specimen in its kind so far in Italy.
  • The so-called slave room, a servile environment that, thanks to its exceptional state of preservation and the possibility of making plaster casts of beds and other objects made of perishable materials that left their mark in the ash, offers a rare view of the daily life of the slaves who lived and worked in the villa.
  • A second slave room, where it was possible to make casts of much of the furniture, providing a precise image of the room as if in a black-and-white photo. For example, it allows us to suggest a hierarchy within the service: while one of the two beds found is of the same type, extremely simple and without a mattress, as those in the first mentioned room, the other is of a more comfortable and costly type, known in the bibliography as a “bed with headboard.” The room also contains two small cabinets, partially preserved as casts, a series of amphorae and ceramic vessels, and various tools, including an iron hoe.
  • Movable finds of various types and typologies, including common and fine ceramic dishes and cups, amphorae, decorative elements of the cart, and equine harnesses.
  • An additional room with a carpenter’s tools. The room contains a bed but also work tools and what appears to be a frame, perhaps of another bed, disassembled: baskets, a long rope, pieces of wood, and a saw blade, which does not seem very different from traditional saws used until recently, can also be identified. Even a piece of the rope, always as a mark in the ground, that kept it under tension has been identified.
Archaeologists working inside the sacellum
Archaeologists working inside the sacellum. Credit: Ministero della Cultura

On the other side of the road, the residential sector with a panoramic view of the gulf has been investigated, revealing:

  • Elegant rooms arranged around a peristyle bordered on two sides by a portico and characterized on the third side by a cryptoporticus.
  • The two skeletons of victims of the eruption, near the cryptoporticus, from which casts were made.

All these new acquisitions, analyzed and documented thanks to the most advanced technologies and archaeological excavation methodologies, enrich the knowledge of aspects of daily life poorly documented by written and iconographic sources, contributing to reconstructing an increasingly complete picture of the structure and functioning of one of the many residential complexes scattered in the Pompeian territory.

The exceptional nature and historical importance of this excavation, both in terms of protection and discoveries, which are increasingly numerous, have also necessitated an organic exhibition in the Antiquarium of Boscoreale of the main findings, including the casts of the eruption victims and the ceremonial cart, to make this context accessible and comprehensible to the general public.

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