Episode 162 – Greece and Rome in Los Angeles County

January 10, 2022 68°F/20°C


This world cruise was offered in 2 versions: 139 days starting in Fort Lauderdale, or 121 days starting here in L.A., which meant that there were staterooms available for people wanting an 18-day Florida to California cruise through the Panama Canal. Those approximately 350 people are disembarking today, along with any World Cruisers who are not interested in the revised itinerary shared yesterday and have opted to take future travel vouchers in lieu of continuing onward. With all that activity going on around us, we’re going to stay out of the crew’s way. It’s an intensely busy day for them.

There is also a crew turnover of over 100 happening here, all of whom have been waiting in hotel quarantine for a minimum of 10 days, and the rumoured welcoming of a new Head Chef (I’m not sure how the food could possibly get any better, but….). We’ve taken on a new complement of “resident experts” as well: historians, naturalists, and lecturers on archeology, marine life, the environment, cultures and heritage relevant to the parts of the world in which we’ll be travelling. It’s a mind-boggling array of scholars, diplomats, and retired military personnel. Captain Lars has also gone home, leaving us in the capable hands of Captain Olaf for the remainder of our journey.

We’re in port two more days as PCR test results are collated to ensure everyone on board is at least starting out negative, so Ted and I signed up for a tour to visit the Getty Villa Museum, where Greek and Roman antiquities are housed in a re-created Roman country home located in Pacific Palisades, and then take a drive through Malibu. It’s a foreshadowing of later destinations in our journey (the villa, not Malibu!).

Let me first say that, of you have a huge fortune, you can do anything – and I’m basing that statement on J. Paul Getty deciding to build, in California, a full scale copy of a Roman villa that was buried in the 79AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Villa dei Papiri, so named because of the over 1800 carbonized papyrus scrolls found in it when it was discovered in 1750, was apparently considered to be one of the most luxurious houses in all of Herculaneum and in the Roman world.

The Getty reproduction, even before talking about the incredible antiquities housed in it, is spectacular.

Even the road up the steep hill to the villa is a reproduction of Roman roads of the time, with the characteristic multi-sided stones that Roman legions and chariots would have walked and driven on.

Guests enter through an arched opening to the atrium. In the original home, the entrance opened with a columned portico on the sea side; here it faces the Pacific, although it is located high above the shoreline.

After passing through an ornate hallway, you reach the first collonade (the “inner peristyle”): ten columns on each side, with a reflecting pool in the centre, and 4 fountains. The pool is surrounded by statues of females that seem to be drawing water from the fountain, and which are all replicas of the statues in the original villa.

Top: the inner peristyle.
Bottom: the atrium.
Water was an important feature in the design of a Roman villa.

From the first collonade (peristyle), you walk through to the much larger “outer peristyle” (below). Here the statues are also all reproductions of the bronzes unearthed in Herculaneum. Every plant inside this area is perfectly groomed to complement the villa’s design: manicured bay laurel, boxwood, oleander, and viburnum shrubs, as well as date palms, allof which would have been indigenous to Herculaneum. Each corner also features pomegranate trees surrounded by acanthus, ivy, hellebore, lavender, and snow white irises. The result is stunning.

In the original villa, the two stories of living and reception quarters would have been grouped around the porticoes and terraces, giving occupants ample sunlight and a view of the countryside and sea. In the reproduction, those rooms form the museum.

Getty’s architect based many of the villa’s architectural and landscaping details on elements from other ancient Roman houses in the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, since the Villa dei Papiri was not fully excavated in 1970 when building began in California. It still remains only partially excavated, since the Italian government is tending towards preservation/conservation of the intact site. There is new information that there may be a further 2 levels to the original villa; perhaps not knowing that in 1970 saved Getty some money.

The mosaic fountain in the museum’s garden peristyle is a copy of one in the Nymphaeum of the House of the Large Fountain at Pompeii. The trees here are laurel and plane trees.

There is also a gorgeous “kitchen garden” with herbs as well as trees that would have been found in a Roman home: pomegranate, fig, apricot, apple, citrus, and pear, surrounded by grapevines. Of course, there would need to be olives! They are planted on terraces above the garden.

I was absolutely obsessed with the details in the various ceilings and columns, and kept asking Ted to photograph them.

The vast expanses of marble and mosaic floors were equally breathtaking, which had me constantly looking up and down in order not to miss a thing. Even the room numbers were made of inlaid marble!

The villa has 3 areas of permanent exhibits, showcasing about 1200 of a total of 44000 items owned by the Getty Foundation. Many more are displayed at the separate Getty Centre, although it focuses more on art than antiquity.

On the first floor are the Etruscan and Greek exhibits – rooms and rooms of incredible marbles, bronzes, glassware that rivals modern-day Murano, and stunning pottery.

Glassware in myriad colours, plus beautiful swirled designs on oil/perfume vials, and what looked like a BC precursor to Wedgewood!
Top to bottom: Greek ladle, 550-500 BC.
Life-sized Orpheus and Sirens 350-300 BC. Notice the Sirens’ bird feet and tails. Water jar (in closeup and showing it’s full 4 foot height) about 330 BC.
Pair of altars to Aphrodite and Adonis. 425-375 BC.
Unimaginably delicate artwork around the rim of an Athenian fired clay pot.
Something about the giant Greek Medusa head appealed to me, maybe because the sculptor somehow managed to make her hair seem soft and curly despite being made of snakes.

The Greek terracotta sarcophagi like the one below were the specialty of an artist in Klazomenai, located in what is now Turkey.

Ted took a picture of me beside the marble Lansdowne Hercules (Roman aro. 125 AD) just to demonstrate how large it is.

Facing the west side of the villa is a 450 seat Greek theatre, which would not have been part of the original home, but makes a great addition to the museum, allowing for performances of classical Greek and Roman theatricals.

On the second floor, the Roman exhibit, in addition to all the kinds of things seen on the first floor, includes a mummy of Herakleides from Roman Egypt around 120-140 AD, along with a selection of mummy portraits, detailed depictions of the deceased person painted in tempera on wood, and incorporated into the mummy wrapping.

I found the ornately carved figures on the sarcophagi below both beautiful and very moving. Fragments of a marble Roman sarcophagus with muses. AD 240-260, and one with Medusa and theatre masks AD 140-170.

We both found this marble particularly touching. Read the plaque.

The HUGE glass and stone mosaic (below) was just one of many mounted on the second floor walls of the villa.

We were also lucky enough to be able to see the temporary Peter Paul Rubens exhibit, here for only 2 more weeks. The focus of this huge exhibit was Rubens’ work based on his interest in ancient Rome, with many of the paintings and sketches done in the years he studied in Italy. What Ted and I find endlessly fascinating about Rubens’ large paintings, beyond the fact that they have survived 400 years, is that even when standing only inches away from them, we cannot see a single brushstroke. The result is almost photographic, most especially in the liquid look of a glistening tear, or the lifelike sheen of the whites of his subjects’ eyes. Then too, there are details like collar ruffles that look so real you’re convinced you could touch them and feel starched fabric.

I’m in the picture below to provide an idea of scale. I am anything but “Rubenesque”.

After leaving the villa, we took a short scenic drive along Highway 1 to Malibu Pier. Somehow the modern homes of the rich and famous just didn’t seem all that special in comparison to what we’d just experienced.

I did dip my toes in the Pacific surf though!


  1. What beautiful photos of a past world! Thankyou for both the photos and corresponding dialogue. I truly appreciate the time you are taking in giving us access to your trip and all the wonderful sights you are seeing!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fantastic blog and beautiful photos Rose. As a Brit who has been fortunate enough to go to Herculaneum and Pompeii several times this took me right back there and I could imagine how it really was all those years ago. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m so glad you are enjoying our area of the world. We live in Pasadena and love the Villa. We took our son there last month when he visited and also marveled at the Rubens exhibit. The East Coast bias likes to say how there is no culture in Los Angeles, thanks for promoting one of our gems.


  4. We lived in SoCal for ten years and the Getty Villa and the Getty Museum were our favorite destinations. Both are free. You only need to make a reservation and pay for a parking spot. We waited too long to sign up for anything other than the included tour. You made the right choice. Looking forward to seeing you around the ship. You both do a wonderful job.


  5. For a minute there I thought I was wandering through Herculaneum … especially seeing the replica of the mosaic fountain. I wonder if your new head chef is Farid Oudir? He was the head chef on our Oceania world cruise in 2017. He recently jumped to Viking.


    • Wasn’t that fountain just gorgeous? I’m really looking forward to Pompeii in April after this taste of ancient times. I’ll have to check into who our chef is – we were told it MIGHT be Viking’s culinary chief!


  6. Wow that looks amazing! We made it safely home to Atlanta and back to reality. So nice to meet you and we will be looking forward to following the rest of your wonderful adventure! Steve & Greg


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