Villa dei Misteri was buried under hundreds of feet of ash and volcanic material when the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 destroyed Pompei, Herculaneum, and other nearby towns. The villa was largely undamaged though, and its ancient frescos survived remarkably intact. Today they are among the few remaining examples of ancient Roman painting.
The name of the villa translates to “Villa of the Mysteries,” which comes from a series of frescos dating back to the 1st century. They depict a ritual interpreted as the initiation of a young woman to a Greco-Roman mystery cult, an esoteric religious current very common in the ancient world. The particular cult represented here seems to be dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine, fertility, and religious ecstasy.
Villa dei Misteri was very large with many different rooms, as was common for many Roman villas of that period. A wine press was found at the site, as it was also common for wealthy families to produce their own wine, olive oil, and other products since most villas included some farmland. Also, as with many other parts of Pompei and the other destroyed cities, some petrified bodies were found here. The villa was first excavated in the early 20th century, and is still being explored by archaeologists today.
Know Before You Go
The site is open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 24 hours on weekends. The villa is about a 15-minute walk from the main ruins of Pompei, and well worth the journey.