The Museum of the sumptuous Villa d'Ozio, symbolic of Positano's greatness
Through a phenomenal and constant work of recovery, maintenance and enhancement, the Villa Romana in Positano now offers itself to the public in all its splendour, ready to reveal its heritage of stories and experiences that take us back to the time of Otium.
History of the Museum
Inaugurated on 18 July 2018, the Roman Archaeological Museum of Positano includes a richly frescoed room belonging to a villa from the Roman era, the crypts and some rooms annexed to the church of Santa Maria Assunta, where artefacts found during excavations are displayed.
In the late republican age it was common practice for wealthy Roman citizens to build seaside villas in which to spend their leisure time.
However, while evidence of villas built in the Gulf of Naples is very well documented, the presence of villas overlooking the Gulf of Salerno is much less common, although there is at least one in Amalfi and one in Minori.
Although it has not been possible to define the exact date of construction of the Positano villa (presumably the 1st century BC), it is fairly certain that it was destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption in 79 AD.
At the time of the destruction, the villa was undergoing renovation, probably as a result of the damage caused by the earthquake in 62 AD, as demonstrated by the discovery of a saw. The archaeologist and epigraphist Matteo Della Corte (1875 - 1962) hypothesised, on the basis of the topography, that the villa belonged to Posides, a freedman of the Emperor Claudio, thus deriving the name Positano from "Posidetanum", or property of Posides.
In 1758, during reinforcement work on the bell tower of the church of Santa Maria Assunta, ancient remains were found and Karl Weber (1712 - 1764), the engineer in charge of the excavations of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabia on behalf of the Bourbons, was informed of this and drew up a report.
During the course of the 20th century, further discoveries were made, but only more recent excavation and restoration campaigns (2004/2006 and 2015/2016) have allowed the complex to be opened to the public.
The tour shows the results of the demanding restoration work, with the sequence of changes over time.
The villa, which occupied the entire seafront in the area of the present-day historic centre of Positano, probably had, like others of its kind, two or more levels, and was just as probably characterised by a peristyle, a central garden with a fountain (as described by Weber), a bathing area (as demonstrated by the discovery of a room with terracotta pipes for heating), and a richly decorated room, most probably a triclinium.
The hypogeum of the villa, which extends partly underneath the Oratory and partly underneath the centre aisle of the church, consists of two longitudinal vaulted spaces, connected by three passageways. The larger room has a rectangular shape and a vestibule, while the other is narrower and longer and ends with a quadrangular hall.
Along the walls of the main hall and the passageways are 69 masonry seats used for drying the dead, finished in stucco and with red brushstrokes. Given the unusual richness of these rooms, it is probable that they were commissioned in the early 18th century by the Confraternity of Monte dei Morti, whose headquarters were in the Oratory of the church upstairs.
Simpler, however, are the masonry grave pits along the adjacent corridor, in the middle of which is the access to another burial space, under the centre aisle of the church. The multi-level distribution of the washroom seats is unusual.
Below the presbytery is a room whose original function is not entirely clear due to the repeated transformations of the building. It was probably an actual church or crypt. The plan is similar to other Romanesque crypts in Campania, with a main part divided into two barrel-vaulted aisles, separated by arches on marble columns.
The east wall contains an apse covered by small cross vaults in which stucco moulded in the style of rocks is visible, suggesting the presence of an altar dedicated to the Nativity, which is mentioned several times in documents. Later, a wall separated the apse space from the aisles and the seats were built.
The presence of an opening at the high altar for lowering the bodies of the dead would suggest that, at least after the 17th-century work, the crypt lost its religious purpose and was used exclusively for cemeteries. As far as objects are concerned, furnishings, bronze ware, crockery and metal ware, all of high quality, were found inside the villa.