The Villa del Discobolo at Castelporziano on the Tyrrhenian Coast of Central Italy. (News & Notes)

By Goalen, Martin; Fortenberry, Diane | Antiquity, March 2002 | Go to article overview

The Villa del Discobolo at Castelporziano on the Tyrrhenian Coast of Central Italy. (News & Notes)


Goalen, Martin, Fortenberry, Diane, Antiquity


The 2nd-century AD Villa del Discobolo, which takes its name from a statue of the Discobolos of Myron type found there (now in the Palazzo Massimo, Rome), is one of a chain of 15 or so villa sites lining the coast of the Presidential Estate of Castelporziano, south of Ostia. Though not Pliny's Laurentine villa, it lies on the same shore and exemplifies the type of seaside retreat that Pliny described in his letter to Gallus (Epistles 2.17). It combines a relatively good state of preservation with a coherent and legible layout.

The site was first explored by Queen Elena in 1906 and 1910-11 and reported by Rodolfo Lanciani (1906; 1909; Cubberly 1988), who characterized it as a `model of rational cottage design'. Apart from his publications, no records of the excavations survive. The villa lay forgotten and exposed to the elements until 1996, when preliminary explorations were carried out by the authors as part of a proposal (Goalen & Fortenberry 1997) for the conservation and presentation of three sites along this coast: the Villa del Discobolo, Tor Paterno (a 2nd-century AD imperial villa) and the Vicus Augustanus (the village close to Pliny's villa). In 1999 an architectural survey was conducted as a basis for further study, conservation and eventual presentation of the building (Goalen & Fortenberry forthcoming). A joint research project based on the Villa del Discobolo ruins is now planned in collaboration with the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro, Rome.

It became clear in 1999 that the site is much larger than Lanciani was aware, and more complex, comprising the metre-high vaulted platform with its rooms (Lanciani's `casino'), a peristyle garden to the north and rooms to the northwest, a portico wall and a garden facing the sea immediately to the east of the casino, with a large wing some 100 m further east. The exposure of these outlying structures and the presence of at least three building phases in the casino has led to a revised interpretation of the Villa as a 2nd-century AD pavilion created on a Late Republican platform; the pavilion would have been part of a larger complex of gardens, baths and dining areas.

The main room of the casino, which faced south towards the sea, is a large central space dominated by a curving wall, reminiscent of the D-shaped atrium mentioned in Pliny's letter. …

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