Ancient Rome on exhibit at Nevada Museum of Art

Vivid color is seen in this detail from the Pilad fresco from the "In Stabiano" exhibit.

Vivid color is seen in this detail from the Pilad fresco from the "In Stabiano" exhibit.

With the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ just weeks away, it might be rewarding to see just what kind of a world he entered. The History Channel on TV would be one place to go, but there's another just miles down Highway 395 offering a peek at the world of ancient Rome.

Through Jan. 22, the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno will be displaying artifacts from first century B.C. to the first C.E. Roman world. Nothing about Bethlehem, but much about the way the Romans lived during Christ's time.

The show is called "In Stabiano, Exploring the Ancient Seaside Villas of the Roman Elite." And an elite world it was, with villas dwarfing those of modern-day California.

Stabiano (Stabiae in Roman times) was perched on the coast overlooking the Bay of Naples. Many Roman nobles (only 300 to 600 Romans really counted in those days) built sprawling villas in the area, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius (Vesuvio). These villas were as much for political maneuvering as for enjoying the mild climate of Naples (Napoli), Capri and Ischia islands.

Careers were made and broken in these villas - that is, until April A.D. 79 when Vesuvius spewed ash and lava, burying Pompeii, Herculanium and Stabiae. In modern times, the site would be called Castellammare, which is how this writer knew it when living in Naples in the 1960s.

These villas were excavated in 1759-82, reburied and the location lost until 1950 when a local school principal rediscovered Stabiae. Now the Italian government is sponsoring a plan to build a public recreation and educational site on the old town of Stabiae.

On show in Reno are treasures from several of the partially uncovered villas. From the Village San Marco come an alabaster crater or vase and a fresco of Flora is from the Villa Arianna. Also from Arianna is a fragment of Hippolitus and another of the Seller of Cupids.

The biggest and perhaps most impressive exhibit at the Nevada Museum is a nearly complete triclinia or dining room, with original frescos on the walls. It was in such rooms that Caesar, Augustus, Cicero and Nero's third wife Poppaea plotted political games.

In these dining rooms, guests would recline on couches and dine on exotic foods, even on ice cream rushed from the mountains.

Several large rooms are devoted to "In Stabiano," with excellent maps showing the Bay of Naples and surrounding countryside.

Lots of guides and pamphlets are on hand, and commentary by Professor Thomas Noble Howe from the Restoring Ancient Stabiae Foundation is available. He was in Reno to open the exhibit.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and children, $1 for children under 5 and museum members are free. Call 329-3333.

An old travel agent phrase was "See Naples and Die." Well, you can see a good part of Naples in Reno, and you don't have to die for it.

n Contact Sam Bauman at or 881-1236.


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