Excavations in this area started at the end of the 19th century and were mostly performed by local landowners for the sole purpose of plundering valuable art. Once the objects were extracted and the frescoes detached, the villas were buried again. Most of the finds from these early excavations are on display in various museums around the world, including Paris's Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Of some 30 villas discovered in the area, one, the Villa della Pisanella, yielded a real treasure: over 1,000 gold coins, some jewelry, and a complete set of silverware, including richly decorated cups and pitchers. Most of this treasure is now in the Louvre.

Modern excavations are ongoing, and from them, archaeologists have learned a great deal about ancient Roman life. Farms were typically organized around a rural villa within which were richly decorated apartments for the rare visits of the landlord, and larger quarters for the workmen and slaves.

Adjacent to the antiquarium, Villa Regina is the only local villa that was completely excavated with the aid of modern technology. Discovered in the 1970s, the villa is modest in size, but reflects the typical structure of Roman rural houses of this kind, with an elegant residential space for the owner and a farm producing wine and grains. The villa is now a kind of living museum: Vineyards have been replanted with historical accuracy, and the ancient torcularium (the room for pressing grapes) and the cellar, which had a capacity of 10,000 liters (over 2,600 gal.), have been replicated. Note: Villa Regina was closed for repairs at presstime. It is due to re-open in early 2012.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.