Ninfeo di Pipiano

The Ninfeo di Pipiano is one of the best preserved Roman mosaics in Campania. Found in Marina della Lobra, it can be visited in the Villa Fondi in Piano di Sorrento.

The right side of the Ninfeo di Pipiano has been exposed for years in the garden of a nineteenth-century residence, Villa Fondi. The left side, however, after a long itinerant exhibition in China, came in 2019 to the Territorial Archaeological Museum “George Vallet” (inside the park of Villa Fondi). Reconstructed from the Museum of Campania with the help of three-dimensionality, the nymphaeum returns to shine in its indisputable charm.

Dettaglio del Ninfeo di Pipiano

From the catalogue “Myth and Nature”

Where it was and where it is now

The mosaic nymphaeum, discovered between 1980 and 2001 in the locality Marina della Lobra of Massa Lubrense, is one of the best-preserved examples in Campania of the “facade” type, which was part of a terraced villa overlooking the sea, embellished in the first-century a.C., with gardens and fountains, such as the nearby villas of Agrippa Postumo, Pollio Felice and that of Capo di Massa.

The right half of the monument is reconstructed in the Park of the Territorial Archaeological Museum of the Sorrento Peninsula Georges Vallet in Piano di Sorrento, while here the six niches of the north-west side lend themselves.* The walls in work cross-linked, pumice and ashes of 79 a.C. that had filled part of the elements of the elevation and what remains of the tank (pool) long m. 25.50 and deep m.1.20, provide significant data for the dating of the structure and its definitive abandonment.

Structural data

The architectural background is divided into 12 niches arranged 6 for part, on the sides of the central waterfall that slipped on 5 steps, fed the pool, in the center of which was preserved the base covered with marble slabs of a fountain. The niches measured about m. 2.70 in height so the total area covered in mosaic is about 100.8 square meters. The mixed front of the niches develops for the length of about m. 25, alternating large exedras on the back walls from which there are as many apses and smaller rectangular niches, a projecting cornice crowned the structure above in order to protect the mosaic parts.


The mosaic is made with tiles of Egyptian blue glass paste and polychrome limestone; the partitions of the decorated fields are obtained from shells of Cardium eduli and Murex brandans.

In the lunettes alternate representations of turtledoves or doves in front of cups and cists and crouching animals, while the ceilings host rounds with busts of gods. On the sides of the waterfall, there is a representation of the seabed, with lobsters, groupers, scorpionfish, cuttlefish, and other typical Mediterranean fish.

The decoration can be seen in the initial phase of the fourth style, between the end of the Claudia age and the beginning of the Neronian age; next to elements of the third style, recognizable in the garden views, there are the edges of carpet, the medallion with swans, pinakes with sea monsters, the tripods topped with swans and golden candlesticks typical of the formal experiences of the IV style.

Punctual comparisons are found in the representation of the garden populated by birds of the nymphaeum mosaic of the triclinium of the house of the Golden Bracelet in Pompeii, which responds to similar models for the yield of the trees behind the funnel fence and the use of the same shades of color for the leaves.

Historical significance

For the state of conservation of the mosaic decoration and for the uniqueness of the architectural articulation, this nymphaeum adds an important datum to the study of such structures present in the maritime villas of Campania of the imperial age, Moreover, due to the large extent of the mosaic surface, the nymphaeum of Massa Lubrense is a unique document. The great villas of Campania, including those of the Vesuvian area and with the exception of the Villa di Lauro di Nola, have not returned examples of “facade” nymphaeum, whose models are to be found in the East and Greece, in the Hellenistic architecture of the great scenographic facades, which inspired also the architecture of the theatrical buildings and that of the great funerary monuments.

*now also kept in the museum Georges Vallet.