Villa dei Misteri


To the north of the walls of Pompeii, along the terrain that goes up towards Vesuvius, in the region rich in suburban and rustic villas, between the Via dei Sepolcri and the Via Superior is Villa dei Misteri. Partially discovered in 1909, Villa dei Misteri is an important example of commingling between a suburban villa and a rustic villa. It has an architectural structure dating back to the first half of the second century. B.C. with subsequent transformations up to the eruption of Vesuvius. The subsequent excavation, carried out by Amedeo Maiuri, brought to light almost the entire villa, but still left under the ground a part of the servile quarter and the main entrance that opened along the Via Superior, which together with the peristyle, the atrium, the vestibulum and exedra formed a perspective axis that faced the sea. As in the work of the archaeologist, the project digs into the layers, revealing hidden characters of the ancient, but above all it gives back a sense and recognisability to fragments or parts that constitute the memory of the place. The current state of the excavation of the villa does not show the landscape-infrastructural relationships that connected it to the city and does not make clear the compositional understanding of its environments. 

Through a rewriting on an urban and architectural scale, characters such as the connection with Via dei Sepolcri and Via Superior, the archaeological border, the excavation edge and the central axis of the villa have been reconstituted. The project develops on two distinct themes: the “fence” and “the axis”. The first concerns the realization of a museum made up of different spaces: “l’Atrio”, “la Cisterna” and “la Sala Ipostila”, which are organized along an exhibition path and which redefines the excavation. At the same time, bringing to light the ancient entrance, the axis of the villa became recognizable through interventions that solve structural and conservative problems but at the same time have an important architectural character. Our will is to create a new order, bringing to light some fundamental connections hidden by time and bringing out some fundamental elements hidden today, recalling images of what no longer exists.


What prompted the project?

At the base of the project is our desire to give back to Villa dei Misteri some characters that time and other events have canceled, starting from an analysis of the criticality of the site. Among these the lack of a real border, the vestibulum and a part of the rustic quarter of the Villa still buried, condition for which today we access the Villa from the south side through the double portico visiting its rooms with a confusing path without being able to read the system according to the main axis, and finally the impossibility of seeing the different levels of the Villa surrounded by the land not yet excavated. Our project tries to adapt to all the inputs it receives from the context, distinguishing itself from the ancient through the use of white concrete walls for the hypogeum museum and steel and bronze elements for the structures designed inside the Villa, dividing the project into two themes: Recinto and Asse.

What is your take on the museums objective and mandate today?

In our opinion, the museum plays a very important role nowadays, because it is a place where our history is preserved and where we learn to understand our past and our present. The architecture hosting a museum must reflect this task, taking into account the fact that a museum is not only an exhibition space for objects, but also a cognitive path.

How important is the drawing as tool through which to reveal that which isn't physically visible anymore?

Drawing is essential. We can imagine what once was and that today is no longer, we can admire the archaeological remains and try to guess if that opening in the wall was a window or a door, but without the drawing it is very difficult to read an architecture, especially an architecture of the past. The drawings allowed us to reconstruct the Villa’s past, to understand the changes it has undergone, six different periods of construction, and to hypothesize what the missing parts could have been. Drawings of the differente phases that we eventually overlapped were important for us to understand the geometry of the Villa and its proportions.

What defined the choice of different drawings through which you reveal the Villa and the intervention?

The drawings we made for the project were intended to show the Villa at present state and our intervention clearly distinguishable. Starting from the project, i.e. the white concrete walls, the steel and bronze elements, and from the Villa with its stone walls and its colorful frescoes, we decided to use a simple graphic, red lines for the existing and black and white for the new. In this way it was more immediate to read the intervention in its complexity. We used this technique also in some of the 3D views.

How important is it to understand our historic past and culture?

It is central. The first phase of our work, that is not noticeable in the final drawings, was a long search in the archives for books, photographs, drawings, sketches of the Villa dei Misteri. Without a search of the past and the history of the Villa, it would have been impossible for us to think of a project that addresses the critical issues. For example the idea of reopening the axis of the Villa that faces the sea and making this axis practicable again comes from the studies and the hypothesis made by Amedeo Maiuri during the excavations in 1929, who wanted to excavate that part of the Villa but never did.

What role did archival material play in understanding and acknowledging yourself with the site? Where did you find this material?

The historical material was the starting point of our study. We consulted the libraries of our university, the Milanese libraries, and the archives of the Municipality of Pompei, as well as online photo archives, where we could find all the documents necessary for understanding the archaeological site where we were going to intervene.

What was your most important tool in the development of the project?

The most important tool for us was the history of the Villa. Our project starts from there: when the Villa was built, who was the owner, its role as a suburban villa and rustic villa in the countryside outside Pompei, its orientation, its proportions, its rooms and their uses. Through the geometric and photographic studies, we could verify the drawings found in the archives and study the change processes of the Villa over the centuries and after its discovery. The history of the Villa is the basis of our project for the museum that, in addition to redefining its border becomes an exhibition path facing the archaeological rest.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

We think that the most important tool of the architect is the study of the architectural type related to the function and context in which it intervenes. A building detached from the context in which it is inserted leads to a separation between architecture and place but above all between architecture and people. It becomes inhospitable and an end to itself. Through drawing, photography, and historical archives, it is possible to document, understand what is around, how the context has changed over time and why, and to face the complexity of the project in a more linear way.