National Geographic : 1946 Nov
Seaside Villas « TOTHING in the world can rival the lovely bay of N Baiae!" exclaims a rich Roman in one of Horace's Epistles. The visitor to this region today finds only remnants of brick and stucco hidden among the vineyards on the slopes, and breakers roll in on empty beaches above which Greek Cumae stood. Yet somewhere here Cicero had his Cumaean villa, and not far away his rival, Hortensius, fattened the lamprey eels on which he loved to dine. Lucullus built here on a spectacular headland a country home wherein, a century later, the gloomy and degenerate Emperor Tiberius was to die, and Nero briefly was to live. In a villa near by, Nero had his mother Agrippina murdered. Roman literature records that the gentry came here to summer villas when the capital city was oppressively hot. But neither historian nor archeologist has ever succeeded in putting together from the few and scattered fragments a visualization of the gaily dissolute life at the baths of Baiae and Bauli. A series of pictures on the walls of the main room of a finely decorated house unearthed in Pompeii in 1900 seems the most credible source from which to assemble a picture of these long-lost Roman watering places. To be sure, what the Romans actually built and used cannot be de termined exactly from the rather fanciful wall paintings, but as an experiment in recalling a civilization which has been virtually destroyed, our illustration merits attention. Everything about these clustering villas is full of variety, movement, and life, and the effect is heightened by a liberal use of towers and pergolasand terraces and open colonnades. In the background are thehills, and inthe foreground is the sea. Rowboats carrying folk onpleasure excursions move along stone quays which arelined with masonry posts spaced close along their edge. All the bizarre and attractive materials which gotomake up Mr. Herget's illustrationhave been taken out ofthe flat ness of the ancient artist'sconventional wall paintings and distributed over a realistic landscape. No details represented are without authority. The structures depictedare not the splendid country houses of which Cicero and Horace make mention and which Pliny describes in detail. They arenot permanent edifices containing many richly furnished rooms and nestling in complicated and ornategardens full of covered ways and resting places. Instead, they are inexpensive creations designed for the holiday use of a civilizationinwhich great seaside hotels were completely unknown. They are the seaside cabins and bungalows of antiquity, intheir architectural sprightliness much more imaginative and colorful than modern attempts at seashore colonies usuallycan claim tobe. Across the Gulf of Naples, above the sheer eastern cliffs of the isle of Capri, rose the pretentious palace ofTiberius. Outside of Rome, not far from the waterfalls ofTivoli, the Emperor Hadrian realizedthe most complex architectural dream this side of Kubla Khan's pleasure-dome inXanadu. But such colossal enterprises give noproper idea ofthe simpler frivolities of a Roman seaside resort.