The desire to have a summer holiday home isn’t just a modern phenomenon. Oh, to have an escape - perhaps on a hill to catch a breeze or maybe with a view of water. Better still, to have a holiday home in a rural spot but near a main route between Rome and the coast of northern Italy. A retreat along the pilgrim’s trail from Canterbury to Rome. How perfect would that be? Not just for us today, but also for a well-to-do family during the first century AD.
The Venulei family, from Pisa, built just such a summer villa on a hill overlooking Lake Massaciuccoli in Tuscany, not far from the coast. As with many Roman-era buildings, this one was lost to view until it was discovered and excavated during the 18th century. Work on the site has continued over the years and today includes a small museum in which the baths, with their well-persevered mosaic floor, can be viewed. There is also an outdoor area with remains of other parts of the villa. On my recent visit, the museum was closed, but the outdoor areas were completely accessible - no barriers to prevent exploration. What a thrill to walk freely through well-preserved ruins from so long ago.
There is some debate about the history of the site - was it just a family holiday villa, a waystation for visitors, or perhaps a part of the family’s business (the firing of bricks)? Even with that mystery unsolved, the site is fascinating. The complex had its own piped-in water supply (through lead pipes). The baths included a frigidarium (cold pool) and a caldarium (heated pool and sauna room). A family had to be quite wealthy to afford these first century luxuries.
Surrounded by olive trees and with a panoramic view of Lake Massaciuccoli, the ruins of the villa (known today as Massaciuccoli Romana) are open to the public. Feel free to wander about, imagining life in the first century AD, and enjoying the beautiful vistas. These ruins, just above the town of Massaciuccoli, make a nice addition to a visit to the nearby wildlife preserve at Lake Massaciuccoli. -post by JMB