Just outside the city walls of Pompeii, if you exit via what is now called the Herculaneum gate, lies a construction that archaeologists have deemed the Villa of Mysteries. While it was buried in ash, the villa sustained very little damage when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 CE. The owner of the sprawling suburban villa is unknown, but a statue of Livia (the wife of Augustus, the first emperor) has led to speculation that it belonged to her.
The house is made of stucco-faced concrete, as evidenced by the curved vaulting and opus reticulatum construction; in some places you can see where the stucco has fallen away and the regularly formed bricks inserted into concrete are visible. The house has a barrel vault that goes all the way around the bottom, and lifts it up for what would have been spectacular views of the sea. (The original name of the Herculaneum gate was Porta Saliensis, which meant it was the gateway to the sea.) The shoreline was much closer in 79 CE than it is today.
The house gets its moniker from a series of paintings in what was either a triclinium (dining room) or a very large bedroom; they appear to depict the complete cycle o a woman being initiated into a Dionysian mystery cult.
(Photos by the author.)