“Wherever possible, traditional craftsmanship was used,” says Katie Lewis, who helped manage the project for the Newt. “For example, the clay used in the mix for the daub to the wattle and daub walls was dug from the estate and applied by hand.” The majority of the build was done on Newt premises, Lewis points out. “The mantra was: ‘Build it like the Romans.’ The mosaics were made off-site in panels, and then pieced together on-site like a large jigsaw puzzle. But this is a technique that the Romans also sometimes adopted, so we believe this was an appropriate approach to this element of the project.”
Though the original location informed the vast majority of the villa, elements such as wall paintings, tiling, and frescoes also draw from the period’s Roman life. “It’s very much a composite of Roman Britain and the Roman Empire,” says Bob Croft, head of historic environment at the South West Heritage Trust, who did consultation on the project. Beyond stone carvings and funerary monuments found in the UK, he added that they “often looked to Pompeii and Herculaneum as sources to describe what life was like.”
Tom Mayberry, CEO at the trust, notes how the presence of a golden arrow broach found on the site indicated that the villa was for someone of “magisterial class”—someone with links to the civitas-capital at Londinium. To many, the project has been a rare opportunity to translate academic knowledge to the real world. “Nothing this ambitious has been attempted in the UK,” Mayberry says. “This was a moment where everything you’ve ever learned was called into play.”
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Accompanying the villa is a more formal, albeit still interactive, museum which sits above the original villa’s foundations, allowing visitors to see them through a glass floor. Though clearly second fiddle to the re-imagined villa, the museum is a sophisticated piece of 21st-century architecture, also by Stonewood Design. It floats above the ground, its lightness amplified by a 164-foot-long glass wall free from visible fixings that, at 16 feet high, also provides grand views onto the villa and rolling hills beyond.
Villa Ventorium opened in July this year, but plans to further enhance the Roman experience are already afoot. According to Edward Workman, CEO at the Newt, workshops and “experimental archaeology” are being planned, “building on what [the team has] learned during the construction of the villa—be it operating the bathhouse, the corn dryer, or the Roman vineyard, for which we have just recruited a specialist winemaker.” And one more thing: “We also have a Roman horse-drawn cart in production that guests will be able to take a trip on once complete.”