The villa at Mook-Plasmolen
Kees Peterse was able to deduce the probable height of this building from the layout of the floor plan. The result is a villa with a building mass not seen anywhere else in the Netherlands. The impressive dimensions of the whole can be admired once again at the original location, in the form of a contour reconstruction using long pipes and gabions.
The villa stood on an artificial plateau on the west flank of the Sint Jansberg hill near Plasmolen (in the municipality of Mook en Middelaar). The plateau is rectangular and measures approximately
30 by 100 metres.
Excavations in 1931 and 1999 uncovered the remains of a building measuring 20.8 by 83.2 meters; this makes this villa the largest in the Netherlands in the Roman era. The villa was built at the beginning of the 2nd century and abandoned around the middle of the 3rd century.
Sketches for the reconstruction of the floor plan, cross section and façade view of the villa at Mook-Plasmolen. Drawings by Kees Peterse.
After the excavation in 1999, the Rijksdienst voor het Oudheidkundig Bodemonderzoek (currently the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands) took measures to protect the remains of the villa still present in the soil against tree roots and treasure hunters. On commission by this agency, Kees Peterse made a reconstruction of the villa. The Dutch Society for Nature Conservation (Natuurmonumenten), owner of the Sint Jansberg estate, subsequently used his reconstruction in 2006 to make a visual impression of the villa right on the grounds.
In the middle behind the colonnade (1) is a large reception room (3) with an entryway (2). The living quarters are to the right of this in the southern part of the building (4-6, 26-41), along with the bath suites (34 and 35) as well as the kitchen (29). The hallway at the rear of the villa (10 and 26) connected the living quarters with the north wing to the left of the reception area. Other, less luxurious living areas (7-9, 11-16) could be found in this part of the villa, as well as chambers for the administration of the estate (17-25).
Remains of underfloor heating have been found in both side wings of the villa (17-25 and 33-41) and in the connecting corridor between them (10, 26). The three rooms next to the large reception room (4-6) together form a characteristic element of the luxurious Roman residential architecture and were most likely the most opulent living spaces in the villa, intended to show off the occupant’s standing.
Reconstructed floor plan of the villa at Mook-Plasmolen. Drawing by Kees Peterse.
In the reconstruction, the central axis of the villa is accentuated at the front and back with a triangular tympanum above the main entrance, which itself also has a pediment. The pitched roofs over the side wings also display triangular pediments.
The rhythm of the three pediments at the front and the back facing of the villa reflects the dimensions in the floor plan. The main rooms in the centre (2 and 3) and the two side wings are each 40 Roman feet wide (assuming 1 Roman foot equals 29.71cm). With the villa measuring a total of 280 feet in length, 2 times 80 feet remained for the two sections of the villa in between. With a depth of 70 feet, the ground plane of the villa has a 1:4 ratio. The measurement of 40 was likely also repeated in the height of the building. This can be deduced from the proportions recommended by the Roman architect Vitruvius for the ground plane and height of the key living spaces in a Roman house.
Reconstructed façade of the villa at Mook-Plasmolen. Drawing by Kees Peterse.
Scale model of the villa at Mook-Plasmolen (scale 1:200), front view. Collection Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen.
Scale model of the villa at Mook-Plasmolen (scale 1:200), back view. Collection Museum Het Valkhof, Nijmegen.
The Dutch Society for Nature Conservation (Natuurmonumenten) used Kees Peterse’s reconstruction of the villa to make a visual impression of the villa right on the grounds. Sections of the walls built in the form of gabions installed at the location of the two side wings and the central reception area give an idea of the impressive dimensions of the villa. A framework formed by steel pipes suggests the contours and height of the central section.
Left: the grounds of the villa at Mook-Plasmolen as seen on Google Earth (2020).
Right: visual impression of the contours of the villa at Mook-Plasmolen. Photo: Natuurmonumenten.
To learn more
K.Peterse & M. Kocken, 2000: Romeinse villa Sint Jansberg in nieuw perspectief, Archeologie in Limburg 86 december, 53-58.
A. Koster, K. Peterse & L. Swinkels 2002, Romeins Nijmegen boven het maaiveld. Reconstructies van verdwenen architectuur, Nijmegen, 41-47. [PDF]
K. Peterse, L. Swinkels & A. Koster 2005, Romeinse architectuur, in: W. Willems e.a. (eds.), Nijmegen. Geschiedenis van de oudste stad van Nederland, 1, Prehistorie en oudheid, Wormer, 258-270 (here: 267-270).
K. Peterse, L. Swinkels & A. Koster 2009, Roman architecture, in: W.J.H. Willems & H. van Enckevort (eds.), Ulpia Noviomagus. The Batavian capital at the imperial frontier, Portsmouth, Rhode Island (Journal of Roman Archaeology, Supplementary Series 73), 172-178 (here: 176-178).