It’s easy to imagine lounging in the garden at the sprawling villa of Julia Felix, a savvy Roman business woman who lived in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in the first century A.D. There would have been wine to drink, and fresh figs, apricots and walnuts to savor. The warm sea breeze would have blended the dry scent of cypress and bay leaves with the stench of rubbish and excrement from the street, and the gurgle of water in the baths would have been occasionally drowned out by cries from the crowd in the 20,000-seat amphitheater nearby.
On a recent weekday morning, a slow-moving line of tourists snaked through the elegant estate, admiring what’s left of the elaborate frescoes, deep-set dining room and marble pillars. Nearly 2,000 years have passed since Pompeii and its surroundings were buried under ash and rock following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. But this estate, which recently reopened following extensive restoration, appears much as it would have looked when Julia Felix still welcomed her paying guests.