Monday, January 24, 2011

Timewarp Post: When I Went to Ancient Rome

Okay, so I didn't really go back in time, but I got pretty close:

I should have posted about this the first time we went, in early October. Or perhaps the second time we went, with M's mother. But I didn't. Ha! So I'm doing it now.

The Getty Villa is this really awesome museum that is based on an actual, REAL Roman luxury villa called the Villa dei Papiri as yet still un-excavated from the ruins of Herculaneum. The Villa dei Papiri is so named because of the charred ashes found within that used to be thousands of precious scrolls. Plus, this amazing piece of Roman opulence was owned by Julius Caesar's farther-in-law, talk about connections! You might well wonder how an unexcavated villa could be reproduced in California; it is largely possible because in the mid 1700's a man named Karl Weber spelunked through it, making detailed notes, until the poisonous gasses drove him out. He saw incredible opulence and recorded it carefully in journals and sketches.

Image credits: If you click on the map, you can see the museum/villa ground plan better.

In 1970's J Paul Getty- a very wealthy oil man- decided to recreate the Villa de Papiri to house his collection of ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art. The idea was to house these works of art in a setting somewhat similar to the settings the works were designed for. It's awesome! They've even recreated the gardens to the best of their knowledge/ability including actual Mediterranean plants. There is a shrine to Hercules with a giant, god-like statue. The marble mosaics on the floors are actual re purposed ancient marble. IT's NUTS. It gives me museum-high. If only all museums were this lovingly cared for by billionaires.

Admission is free, but you have to make an appointment online so that the museum knows how many people are coming. They are careful to avoid overcrowding in the idyllic setting. You turn off the Pacific Coastal Highway, and rumble up the reconstructed Roman Roads to park.

The front of the villa also functions as the stage for the giant Greek-style amphitheater, which the museum uses to produce Greek plays. This fall they produced Elektra.

Once you walk through the front door of the villa, you are in the Atrium: skylight above, pool below, and a vision of gardens before you. If you were visiting the owner of the Roman home, you would only be invited into the Inner Peristyle if your business was deemed worthy, or if you were a member of the family.

The Inner Peristyle is a courtyard surrounded on all sides by cloisters. There are several rooms build on each side of the courtyard that would have housed the family, servants, and various belongings of the owner, but in the case of the museum, serve as art galleries divided by subject matter.

The center fountain originally would have been much deeper, and filled with eels, which the Romans kept as pets, even fitting their favorites with golden earrings. This garden also features Acanthus plants, the inspiration for Corinthian columns.

If you were a woman of the family, you might have continued down the primary axis of the Villa to the East Garden, considered a retiring and resting place for the lady of the house and her children.

This garden also contains a reproduction of the fountain from the aptly named "House of Large Fountain at Pompeii". It's a mosaic containing seashells. What a piece of work!

OR! If you were the man of the house, or one of his close friends or advisers, you might choose to pass over the intricate marble mosaic marking the East/West axis...

...and on into the Outer Peristyle:

This is a truly stunning garden, with a swimming pool in the middle, a walking path around the edges, and a view of the sea out the other side. The original owner would have been able to walk from here down to his docks, to watch his cargo ships ride the tide home.

This garden is also walled, and the walls are painted with detailed Trompe-l'oeil scenes.

The garden contains several replicas of beautiful bronze statues found and plundered from the original Villa, including Mercury and the lolling drunkard Silenus.

At this point you are faced with another choice in paths. If you go to the end of the Outer Peristyle and turn left, you will be led to a secluded alcove, where you will be invited, almost illicitly, to experience the various textures of a marble statue of Venus. The difference between her skin and her hair, for instance, is remarkable.

Or, you may turn right, and wander back through another garden, this time an herb garden meant to supply the kitchens.

This garden also contains beautiful fountains, one of which is flanked by the papyrus plant itself.

In a haunting note, at the end of the herb garden is placed a giant pine tree of the species which Pliny the Younger used as an example to convey the shape of the cloud of ash which rose from the mouth of Mt. Vesuvius.

I hope you all get to visit one day. It's a lovely place and a world-class museum.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing -- very nice! Loved both your photos and the description!