Art & Culture

The new renaissance of Minori’s Villa marittima Romana

The Ministry of Cultural Heritage has allocated 5 million euros to start a restoration project of this historic residence to give the monumental complex a new life.

By Vito Pinto

That pretty cove in small leaps set in the green of the coastal mountains, rich in game, crossed by a joyful stream, certainly attracted the Roman patrician’s attention. Perhaps a senator or a consul sailed on the sea already crossed by Odysseus and Aeneas and inhabited by the evil sirens. Maybe he was directed by friends in the nearby Villa of Positano or in that of Li Galli. Perhaps someone in Rome had told him to visit the coast from the Etruscan Marcina reached the Punta Campanella. It was a pleasant and peaceful place where you can fully experience your otium (a Latin word that means leisure) away from the troubles of imperial Rome. A place where silence was high and nature spoke the language of the mystery of a terra mater called Felix.

The refinement of a residence

That small cove was in the place where Minori now stands. A pretty coastal town that knows how to become a tourist space among the great attractions of Ravello, Amalfi, and Positano with its own authentic and original cultural and promotional offer, thanks also to the finds of what was once the Maritime Villa of the Roman patrician. His name is unknown, but looking at what remains of his “holiday” home (we would say today), he was undoubtedly a wealthy, cultured, and refined person. The testimonies that had survived show the residence elegance that the owner had built for his otium to live in when he needed a refuge away from Rome’s embassies.

The Buen Retiro

In the following centuries, especially in the period between the two great wars of the last century, the Amalfi Coast was, for many, a refuge from history, from the great totalitarianism of the twentieth century. In contrast, for others, even in more recent years, it was considered the Buen Retiro to refresh the body and the spirit. It was built approximately around the first century after Christ. 

The voice of silence

The entrance to the Villa was directly on the sea and enjoyed the necessary “solitude” for the gentleman’s rest to be truly such. The prosperous Marcina, rich in trade, was a few miles away, as was Positano, a patrician villa. The freedman Arienzo would build a mill to grind grain to be sent to Emperor Tiberius stationed in his estate of Capri. Next to the building, among other things, flowed the small river (Reghinna Minor).  It was appropriately exploited in the Villa’s design to supply running water both for the scenographic fountains and for the use and the baths that the patrician thought well to be built.

Imagining a glorious past

A possible reconstruction of what this house was like, made based on existing elements, shows indoor gardens with running waters and fountains, a remarkable variety of vegetation, statues of gods and heroes, a room for music, another for the theater, and boardrooms. The 111 decorations that still exist refer to the Roman red (or if we want Pompeian) of the semi-columns, the yellow and blue of the wall backdrops, and the black of the skirtings. And then the stuccos and mosaics, with precious hunting and sea scenes. The viridarium enclosed in an arched triporticus, with vital chromatic signs, for the relaxed summer walks, had in the center a swimming pool. The water of the scenographic nymphaeum placed at the bottom of the triclinium, the Villa’s central environment that widened on the opening towards the sea, where the play of the waters became a sweet melody of waterfalls and a wrapping element for the guests. A set that makes us think of a person of considerable economic possibilities and a high cultural level and refined taste.

The path to the rediscovery

Inhabited for about six centuries, climatic and environmental events, therefore, advised its abandonment. In 1932, it was discovered following a collapse due to the renovation of a building above. One of those many condominiums built over the centuries and which now constitute the town of Minori. The failure opened the gaze to an underground chamber from the Roman era. The real works to bring the complex back to light and citizens’ use only began in 1934. Other excavations then took place in 1950 and again after the tragic flood of 1954, which struck the Salerno area, especially the municipalities along the Amalfi coast.

In the Antiquarium, the finds from the Villa

The complex spread over 2500 square meters and rose on two floors: the upper one, which has now completely disappeared. Only a tiny part recovered constitutes the Antiquarium, where the finds from the VillaVilla and other coastal and marine finds are exhibited. These are objects mainly belonging to the daily life and navigation of the Romans. Of great importance are some oil lamps bearing the symbol of Constantine the Emperor, a sign that Christianity had arrived here.

The viridarium with a swimming-pool, Minori’s Villa marittima Romana

A cultural center

For lack of funds, in recent decades, the Villa has been in forced conservative suffering. Even if it continued a sort of existence and vitality thanks to the initiative and, at times, the healthy tourist invention of the mayor Andrea Reale, who managed to animate on summer evenings, this place so rich in history, but also so suggestive of impalpable presences. The Villa, in recent years, has been used for cultural performances. In September 2020, the show “Drama de Antiquis 5.0” was conceived by Gerardo Buonocore for Lucia Amato’s direction. As the performance took place in the Roman Maritime Villa of Minori, they created an installation with 3D images dated back precisely 2000 years ago.

A critical, historical novelty

Today, we face what Mayor Andrea Reale has defined as “an important, historical novelty”. The Ministry of Cultural Heritage has allocated a reasonable 5 million euros, which will allow for the investigation and restoration of this splendid VillaVilla, located in this loop of the Salerno coast that Unesco has included in the list of world heritage of humanity. «I express great satisfaction and great hope – underlined the mayor Reale – for this restoration project, the result of many years of work and solicitations. It should consider the Villa’s importance for the productive relaunch of Minori and the entire Amalfi Coast in economic and cultural terms. In 2019 the archaeological complex registered over 27 thousand visitors. We will continue to offer our collaboration without saving for the start of the restoration project”.

The restart begins with the enhancement of the territory

The National President of Archeoclub d’Italia, Rosario Santanastaso, with great sensitivity, stressed that “Italy must start again from developing its cultural heritage. We are faced with unprecedented news for the Amalfi Coast, and therefore the great, awaited turning point arrives”. For its part, the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage of Salerno and Avellino, led by Superintendent Francesca Casule, together with the head of the sector, Silvia Pacifico, has already begun the design of the restoration. First of all, carrying out an in-depth investigation aimed at solving the major critical issues of archaeological structure and then proceed with the first step of extensive repair that will give the monumental complex a new life, starting with the recovery of the stuccos, mosaics, and painted plasters.  Universities and research centers, the Higher Institute for Conservation and Restoration of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage will continue to work on the project.

A high-end hospitality

The climate that reigns around this design is that of a great event, capable of reviving a territory that, in essence, lives mainly on tourism. The Municipalities and the Mountain Community of the Amalfi Coast at the end of the last century made a robust common front against the attempts to drill oil off the seabed in the Gulf of Salerno, winning the game. Today, with the ministerial funds’ interventions for Minori and the exciting Villa of Positano’s visitable presence, the Amalfi Coast adds an extra piece to its tourist offer. Now people will also visit an archaeological park with a high historical and cultural importance. 

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