Stabiae was an ancient Roman town, located close to the modern town of Castellammare di Stabia approximately 4.5 km southeast of Pompeii. It was positioned on a 50 m high headland overlooking the Bay of Naples. Being only sixteen kilometers from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, this seaside resort was largely destroyed by 2 meters of tephra ash. Originally a small port, by the 6th century BC Stabiae had already been overshadowed by the much larger port at Pompeii. The town was destroyed by Lucius Cornelius Sulla on 30 April 89 BC during the Social War, a revolt by many of Rome's allies in the area. The Roman author and admiral Pliny the Elder recorded that the town was rebuilt and became a popular resort for wealthy Romans. He reported that there were several miles of luxury villas built along the edge of the headland, all enjoying panoramic views out over the bay. According to the account written by his nephew, Pliny the Elder was at the other side of the bay in Misenum when the eruption started. He traveled by galley across the bay, partly to observe the eruption more closely, and partly to rescue people from the coast near the volcano. Unable to land to carry out the rescue because of volcanic debris blocking the shoreline, he continued south to Stabiae. Pliny died at Stabiae the following day, probably during the arrival of the sixth and largest pyroclastic surge of the eruption caused by the collapse of the eruption plume. The very dilute outer edge of this surge was the only one to reach Stabiae and left two centimeters of ash on top of the tephra deposits.
Among the many villas found at Stabiae, the most famous are Villa San Marco, Villa Del Pastore, and Villa Arianna. Some of the other villas include Villa Carmiano, Villa del Petraro, and Villa Capella di San Marco.
Villa San Marco is one of the largest villas ever discovered in Campania, measuring more than 11,000 square meters. This villa has an atrium, a courtyard containing a pool, a triclinium with views of the bay, and a colonnaded courtyard. There are also many other small rooms, a kitchen, and two internal gardens. Villa San Marco also has a private bath complex that is made up of a caldarium, tepidarium, and a frigidarium. This villa is also important because it has provided us with beautiful frescoes, sculptures, mosaics, and architecture, which show styles and themes comparable to those found in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Villa Del Pastore means “Villa of the Shepherd” in Italian. This villa gets its name from a small statue of a shepherd that was discovered at this site. This villa measures even larger than Villa San Marco, coming in at 19,000 square meters. This Villa was rediscovered in 1967. This villa includes many rooms and both large baths and luxurious gardens. It lacks, however, any domestic rooms, suggesting that it may not have been a residence. One hypothesis is that this is instead a valetudinarium (health spa) that would have allowed people to take advantage of the famous spring waters of Stabiae. This Villa has not yet been fully excavated.
Villa Arianna gets its name from the fresco depicting Dionysus saving Ariadne from a desert island. This villa is particularly famous for its frescoes, many of which depict light, winged figures. It is difficult to get a clear sense of this villa, however, because it grew over the course of 150 years. This villa has one of the largest courtyards of any Roman villa, which measures two stadium lengths. Another interesting feature of Villa Arianna is its private tunnel system that connects its location on the ridge to the sea shore, which was probably only between 100-200 meters away from the bottom of the hill. The shoreline has since changed, making the archaeological site further inland than it was in antiquity.