Pliny the Elder described the many luxury villas of Stabia, a popular resort for wealthy Romans. Pliny died here after setting sail from Misenum and crossing the Bay of Naples to rescue people during the 79 A.D. eruption. Stabia itself was destroyed by more than ten feet of volcanic ash.

Driving through small streets, you might go in circles for a while, passing town centers where vendors sell pizza and caffè. Stabia was once a resort town, which lies about five kilometers from Pompeii and on the way to Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. You know you’ve found the ruins when you hit a long narrow road with signs leading to an empty parking lot. A trailer is wedged to the left of a gravel road. After you buy a ticket inside the trailer, a guide escorts you to a stunning edifice hovering over a dramatic view of Naples.

The Villa of Arianna stretches along a walkway overlooking Mt. Vesuvius much like the ancient Roman villas that once stood along this ridge overlooking the bay. This huge villa was once richly decorated with deep colored frescoes on every wall, detailed mosaics on every floor, and a complicated maze of rooms. The building grew gradually over 150 years, so it’s hard to get a complete picture of what functions all the rooms had. A service quarter has a masonry hearth and a courtyard with a square pool, probably used as a hatchery for small fish. A thermal quarter with a caldarium, tepidarium, and frigidarium preserve a lead water-duct that brought the water from a pool. A bronze cauldron also still exists that was used to heat the caladium.

One other villa is also open to the public, located down the road from the Villa of Arianna: the Villa San Marco, which measures more than 11,000 square meters. On a stroll through this structure you will see a well-preserved atrium, triclinium, and kitchen. The villa also once had an extensive bath system. Along the walls are detailed frescoes and there’s also a large palestra (gymnasium) inside.