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Chapter 7: The Villa at Site 11 - Description and Function of the Residential Rooms or Areas

See "Site 11: Villa - Plans and Reconstructions" section of this report for room designations by number. The rooms of Period 1 are designated by Roman numerals rather than the Arabic numerals of Period 2.

The long room running east-west, Room I, is well defined from the very beginning of the villa's history (Phase 1A), and through the other two phases of Period 1; it even persists into Period 2 (Room 1) and all of its phases. However, the westernmost portion of the room was partitioned off in the villa's final phases by an opus criticium wall and a fine patterned black and white mosaic (see "Floor Mosaics") laid down over its earlier opus signinum floor. The many large panel fragments of cipollino marble found in the eastern part of the room would seem to indicate that the room once had a cipollino revetted dado destroyed late on with the ever increasing industrialization of the villa and perhaps occupation by squatters.71 There is no doubt that this long room in Period 1 was the focus of the villa's residential accommodation, perhaps a room for women's activities and household chores. In Period 2 its prime function was supplanted by the transformation of the open courtyard of Period 1 into a proper enclosed atrium (Room 10).

The masonry of the long room is first gray tufa ashlar which is then in large measure replaced by blocks of red tufa in Phase 1B. In Period 2 many of the red tufa blocks of this room are retained and some given a new face of reticulate. Finally, as said above, the room is partitioned by an opus criticium wall.72

Especially large red tufa blocks define Room XI, the end element of the eastern arm of the "U" during phases 1B and 1C. For all of Period 2 not only are these tufa blocks kept but the wall on the south is reinforced by the new reticulate facade. On the basis of such heavy walls, I propose that a tower of several stories was maintained here throughout both of the villa's major periods (Period 1 and Period 2). A tower would have allowed easy communication with both Rome and Gabii as well as neighbors. In Period 1 the need for communication might have been defensive while in Period 2 only a familiar romantic embelishment (see Footnote 5 of "The Introduction" for illustrations of villas with towers).

Three rooms (rooms II, VI, and VII) opened to the north of the long east-west room and are the only other spaces which can be termed exclusively residential for the Period 1 farmhouse/villa. From bonding criteria rooms IV and V are assigned to Phase 1B. Room IV, with its gray tufa flagstone paving, was likely a storage vestibule for a western entrance into the long east-west room.73Room V had a well with a much abraded red tufa head. As a source of water, the space must have served both residential and agricultural needs.74 In Phase I C other rooms (rooms XIII, XIV and XV) are added along the western flank of the farmhouse/ villa; again the masonry is the same red tufa. However, these new rooms are likely used for storage rather than residential purposes75

The transformation of the simple farmhouse/villa of Period 1 into the city type atrium dwelling of Period 2 involved increasing the residential area many times over.76 All of the Phase 2A ground floor now seems residential. It is not until Phase 2B/C that the northeastern part of the villa is turned over to the production of olive oil (Room 42). It may even be that the southeastern part is industrialized. Perhaps at the same time or a little earlier a bath suite of two rooms (rooms 34 and 35) is inserted into what had been rooms 16 and 17 of Phase 2A. The floor of one room of the bath suite (Room 35) was raised over what is now a partially intact hypocaust and a small pool or tub at one end completed the furnishings of Room 34. Both Room 35 and likely the water for the pool of Room 34 were heated by a furnace designated Room 36 on the plan.

Factors in the Phase 2A design are the extension northward of the rooms bordering on the long east-west room (rooms II, VI, and VII). These spaces are reconfigured into rooms 2, 21, 22, 23 and 24. Room 2 can be identified as a triclinium from its in situ carpet composed of both tesserae and opus sectile (see "Mosiac and Opus Sectile Floors"). The diners' couches would have been placed on three sides of the carpet. Room 23 is a vestibule and 22 a corridor from the northern exterior of the villa to the long east-west room (now Room 1).

In Period 2 both the eastern and western perimeter walls of the farmhouse/villa are pushed outward by new construction in opus reticulatum. On the west this allows a one-storied portico (Room 18) and entrance from the western enclosed hortus or garden; in Phase 2B/C concrete steps are added to the portico and the facade adjusted to accommodate the new bath suite (undoubtedly the bath suite carried an upper storey). A large plunge pool with an overflow tank at its far western end was created in the center of the hortus/garden to serve as part of the bathing sequence.

What would have given an entirely new appearance to the villa in Period 2 is its two storey elevation for all of its parts except, as already noted, the western garden portico. The proof for a second storey is the emplacement and lower steps in reticulate masonry (Room 26) found just off the atrium on its right hand side. Two other areas or rooms (rooms 19 and 39) also represent staircases, that of Room 19 perhaps only of wood. The Room 19 stair can be assigned as early as Phase 2A; the space is given a small vestibule with half-columns in Phase 2B/C. The staircase of Room 39 would have been necessary for access to the rooms above the southwestern parts of the villa, especially those over the bath suite. It was constructed of masonry and had a tile half-column frame on its left side. This stair probably replaced one of wood on the far south (Room 20) proposed for Phase 2A.

I still hold (see Widrig, 1980) that the western second storey rooms served slaves or the resident vilicus while the rooms on the east would have been cubiculi for the owner and his family. A light source for all these upper rooms on the south, other than windows in their exterior facades, would have been the compluvium of the atrium. The owner may also have claimed the rooms directly above the Phase 2B/C bath to take advantage of the heat this would have provided in winter.

Perhaps as suggested in Chapter 6, the long east-west room always had a two storey height. This would mean that communication would have been interrupted between the upper rooms of the southern part of the villa and those on the north. However, the staircase of Room 19 would have given easy access to these northern second storey rooms even if their exact use can not be determined.

A new southern facade in opus reticulatum closed off what had been the open courtyard of Period 1 and helped define the Phase 2A atrium. An axial entrance, framed by brick half-columns, became the principal means of access to the villa.77 The half-columns probably carried a brick pediment.

A few words need to be said about the atrium itself. A shallow concrete lined impluvium caught rain water from the opening of the compluvium. A concrete and tile lined channel led from the impluvium to a small tank on the exterior of the building just to the west of the villa's southern entrance before exiting the western facade. The concrete and tile lined channel just described likely protected terra cotta or lead pipe robbed out at the time of the villa's decay.78 No floor material, only make-up, was found for the atrium space. Does this mean the atrium like the eastern section of the long room was turned over to industrial function in the last phase in the life of the villa?

An abundance of painted plaster fragments, some with small figures, was found throughout and above presumed floor levels where paving no longer existed. These fragments represent a mixture from both stories of the Period 2 villa. Yet enough plaster material had been dumped, perhaps intentionally, in the hortus/garden pool to allow a faithful reconstruction of the wall panels of at least one room and even its trelised ceiling (see "Fresco Wall Decoration").

From all the above description of the residential rooms of the Site 11 Villa, it would seem a simple farm structure becomes a fairly elaborate country retreat in Period 2. As we shall see in Chapter 8, for whatever reason, farm industry (here the production of olive oil) becomes a 2nd century A.C. development. The transition from farmhouse to atrium villa probably marks a change of ownership; so, too, might the villa's industrialization.

All text and images copyright © 2002 by Walter Widrig and Rice University. Last updated May 2007 by