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Italian Art: Restoring Ancient Stabiae
Ever wonder what the wealthy Roman elite did when not taking over the western world? Where did Rome's most powerful senators and nobility escape to during the hot summer months? They fled to Rome's best-kept secret, a place called Stabiae.
Located on a panoramic bluff overlooking the dramatic Bay of Naples, only three miles from its famous neighbors Pompeii and Herculaneum, lies Stabiae, a little known jewel In the shadow of Mount Vesuvius where powerful Romans built villas of extraordinary proportions not only for their summer getaway from Rome, but to entertain other prominent Romans to plot politics and do business over lavish dinners and exuberant festivities. The villas were filled with everything their hearts desired: from splashing fountains and pools, to saunas and indoor bath complexes; they spent their summer days walking along shaded porticoes and gardens where they could admire the breathtaking views of the Sorrento-Amalfi Coast.
Villa San Marco: Peristyle and pool
These villas were filled with stunning art collections, and every wall, ceiling and pavement was covered in beautiful frescoes and mosaics. Until one hot summer day in August 79 A.D., Mt. Vesuvius unleashed its fury and silenced these lavish estates for centuries to come. The same violent volcanic eruption destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum and buried everything and everyone in its path, and Stabiae along with its legendary villas, was lost for almost 2000 years.
It was not until the eighteenth century that the site was finally discovered and partially excavated by the Bourbons (Spanish Kings of Naples who took over Italy from 1734-1861) The Bourbons dug trenches and tunnels throughout the villas, grotesquely detaching many of the most beautiful frescoes for their collections. But because of changing political climates, lack of funding and interest in nearby Pompeii, excavations ceased in 1782. Trenches were soon buried, maps were stored in private libraries and traces of Stabiae once again forgotten.
Almost 200 years later, a local high school principal named Libero D'Orsi, a native of the modern day city of Castellammare di Stabia, and an avid historian, began excavations on the site with the help of the school's janitor and an out-of-work mechanic.
Excavations at Villa San Marco of the spiral-fluted colonnade during its restoration in 1951
Thanks to their passion to find this unique site, they gained permission from the Superintendancy of Archeology of Pompei, which oversees all archeological sites in the Bay of Naples, to proclaim it a protected area and continue excavating. The excavations of the 1950's brought to light several enormous villas with porticoes, gardens and bold frescoes, but most of the 150-acre site is still largely unexcavated and unexplored.
So can the entire Roman resort be brought back to life? And can the treasures of ancient Stabiae be unearthed from the ash? An Italian-American foundation is trying to do just that. The Restoring Ancient Stabiae (RAS) Foundation is at the forefront of this ambitious project to excavate the remaining villas. RAS, a cultural non-profit foundation in the US and in Italy (Fondazione Onlus) has been charged with the mission to complete the excavations of the spectacular Stabiae seaside villas, and transform the site into one of the largest archeological parks to date, bringing the ancient villa site of Stabiae back to its original glory. The archeological park project is estimated at $190 million, two thirds of which will be funded by the European Union if the remaining third can be raised through private funds.
Though the site is open to the public and visitors are welcome to walk through the splendid villas, the plan for the archeological park at Stabiae includes extensive new excavations, as well as a visitor center, an onsite museum, public amenities, restaurants, walkways and an interconnecting transit system that allows tourist to reach Pompeii in mere minutes. Trial trenches in June 2006 revealed a 300 meter-long columned courtyard, and the first major excavations are due to reveal the entrance to one villa starting February 2007.
The project would not only save the vast artistic and cultural patrimony at Stabiae, it would integrate the park with the surrounding city of Castellammare di Stabia, opening new opportunities for tourism, cultural activity, and economic development in the area. This ground-breaking project must act now!
Think about this: Though the site is still largely un-built upon, and parts are under temporary roofing, unstoppable illegal building will soon make the site inaccessible forever and the gorgeous frescoes and mosaics, which are so well-preserved today, would be lost or left undiscovered.
Join Us in Bringing Endangered Frescoes Back to Life!
Unique opportunity to 'Adopt-a-Fresco' from the fabulous seaside villas of the Roman elite at Stabiae!
A major part of the project involves saving the vibrant frescoes found at Stabia. Amazingly, and thanks to the ashes that sealed the villas for so long, most of the frescoes are still on the walls and are extremely well preserved. Some of the most imperiled and delicate frescoes have been detached for safe-keeping, but if left as they are they will be lost forever. Because of the immediate need to restore these unique pieces of art, RAS has selected the first 20 frescoes, which are "Mask of Medusa" Fresco for Adoption $2,200 shown above.
The Adopt-A-Fresco (AAF) Campaign, in which RAS gives the public an opportunity to participate, for the first time, in the foundation's program to restore these magnificent fresco fragments and to support the RAS Foundation's cultural mission.
Sponsorship of a fresco would completely restore the fresco to the highest possible level, it would free it from unstable backings; stabilize the fresco so that it is able to travel to exhibitions around the world; cover shipping and insurance costs for traveling exhibits; provide archival space and maintenance; and cover administrative costs. The donor(s) would then receive a mounted photograph of the restored fresco upon completion and plaque recognizing the donor's name. The fresco will be accompanied by the donor's name throughout RASsponsored exhibitions around the world. Furthermore, the donor(s) would also be recognized as a beneficiary to the project with a plaque in their honor displayed at the on-site visitor center when the archeological park is realized.
The Adopt-A-Fresco program is a truly unique opportunity to save a rare piece of art and conserve it for generations to enjoy.