Villas of Ancient Stabiae

Trip Start May 22, 2010
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Trip End Jun 08, 2010


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Flag of Italy  , Campania,
Monday, May 31, 2010

Today is the first day we've had wet weather. It's overcast and a bit chilly but we're still going out to the villas of Ancient Stabiae which are not far from the Vesuvian Institute. The two main villas currently under excavation are Villa di Arianna and Villa San Marco.

 Ancient Stabiae, villas and farmsteads, lies outside the modern town on the Varano plain. Stabiae was destroyed by the Vesuvius eruption (AD 79) and was only partly excavated in the 18th century. After World War II more ancient houses were found along the coast and in the interior. Many of these villas were richly decorated and placed in splendid scenic positions. The oldest is the Villa di Arianna on the Varano hill, with a 1t-century BC nucleus and 13 rooms overlooking the bay. Villa San Marco on the same site has the remnants of a Roman swimming pool but fewer frescoed decorations. No one knows who occupied these villas (private residence) at the time of the eruption but they are both quite large and very "high end".

Villa di Arianna is the larger of the two.It is a Roman archaeological site (active, working site). The villa is 2000 years old and because it's an active, working site, we can take photos but cannot use a flash and cannot take pictures of the archaeologists unless they give us permission.

This region had experienced the Republican period (500 years) and then moved into the Empire period (for another 500 years). The last 100 years of the Republic and the first 100 years of the Empire are what you can see in Castellammare, Pompeii, and Herculaneum. The history of the Roman Republic is that they conquered everyone over 3 centuries... Italian peninsula, Greek peninsula, Mediterranean, etc. As Romans conquered the Mediterranean world they are drawing wealth back to themselves. Men who lead conquests get to decide who gets the "stuff". This destabilizes the region socially and economically. The Roman Republic ends because they got too wealthy. So much funneling of wealth and power that warlords emerged... enter Julius Caesar, the most powerful warlord. 

A new social class emerges in Rome during this period. Senators are the leaders of Rome and were great landowners. Joining them are the merchants (equestrian class) and together with the landowners they make the major social class. So now the region has Senatorial (landowners), Equestrians (business merchants) and the Socii which are not Roman citizens and they revolt against the Roman citizens. Pompeii rose up and revolted against Roman rule. Rome came in and stomped them down. After wards, all Romans in Italy were given citizenship. Socii got what they wanted but they had to get their teeth kicked in first. Now we have the concept of Patronage (client relationship). Patron is the dominant with the Client being the subservient one. Basically the powerful and the non-powerful. The Patrons need the votes from the clients so they can stay in a powerful position.

Now going back to Ancient Stabiae... This is the site of the Roman elite. These elites would have a town home in Rome and a great estate in the Campania region. The coastline at the time was one long facade of villas with little pockets of EXTREME wealth. Villa di Arianna is 190,000 sq ft (the size of a Super WalMart) and it's a private home. We don't know who owned this home but it was a seasonal home. These extreme wealthy residents followed the Epicurean philosophy. The villas became places of gaining pleasure and losing control... in total excess. The residents of these villas and their guests were treated with every conceivable luxury. Villa di Arianna, along with being a high end Roman site, also has a very political aspect. Ceiling to floor frescoes, colonnaded courtyard, cool breezes off the coast, great views, etc. Basically total luxury. Each villa on the coastline at the time was trying to out do the others. Villa San Marco is slightly smaller at 160,000 sq ft and has the largest known para-style garden in the Bay of Naples (it's about the size of a soccer field).

In AD 79 the volcano erupts burying and destroying the town. The coastline changes due to all the volcanic material deposited from the eruption. Stabiae was only partially buried. What wasn't buried is pillaged (marble and other recyclable materials). In the 1700s we have the Kingdom of Naples (2nd tier of European power). The family of Bourbon authorizes the excavation of Stabiae (Bourbon is the Emperor of Napes) and pillaged for wealth in the 1780s. Once they pillaged the villas of Stabiae and took everything they thought was wealth back to Naples, they ordered Stabiae to be reburied. The villas were not reopened until the 1950s for excavations. Started in 2003, the RAS (Restore Ancient Stabiae) movement, in conjunction with the Vesuvian Institute supports whole archeology programs for the excavation and preservation of the villas of Stabiae. The Vesuvian Institute is the first international organization in Italy south of Rome. While I stayed in Castellammare, there were archeology teams from the University of Maryland, Canada, Arkansas, and Russia working and staying at the Institute.


After the tour of the Stabiae villas, we went to Gragnano... a town that is famous for its pasta. The town has located just behind Castellammare and has 12 pasta factories. Gragnano has been making pasta for 400 years and is famous because of the cooling airs from the mountain which help the pasta to dry slowly so it's always aldente and never gummy. We visited and toured the Di Martino pasta factory. The company was found in 1912 in Gragnano and it is still completely owned by the family and run by the third generation.

The decision of locating the factory there, was due to two main reasons: first, Gragnano has always been the historical centre in Italy for the production of pasta and second the logistic of the place was perfect for exporting the product overseas. Gragnano has always been so famous in Italy and abroad for pasta because it is the only place in Italy were this basic ingredient of the Mediterranean diet has an industrial history that dates back 500 years, this was due to natural perfect condition for the production, as the product was dried outside until 1950 and is climate is very stable and mild and the temperature varies very little during all the year. Also the town was founded during the Roman Empire by a wheat trading family called Gens Grania (Grania in latin means Wheat) that established their business in Gragnano due to the presence of mountains around and so of water mills, and the nearby city of Pompei, we could then say that it is over 2000 years that the town deals with wheat, pasta and trade abroad
 
The Di Martino company was the first to cross the Panama Channel in 1915 with pasta and a silver medal was appointed to remember this event. After that, the history of the Pastificio is marked by progress and growth. The early 80s see the first production increase, achieved thanks to a re-organization. In 2005 the second investment relates to a new plant in Pastorano. So that the company own now, 3 sites. The Gragnano plant is equipped with 4 production lines producing long shape pasta and 2 producing short shape pasta. The production capacity is 145 tons per 24hrs. The number of the employee is 37. The site can manufacture every kind of dried pasta (both short and long) even coloured (tricolour), flavoured, whole wheat and organic.They produce 350 different pasta shapes out of the current 500 which are made in Italy.
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