From the 1st century BC the Bay of Naples witnessed the rise of villas constructed by elite Romans along the most panoramic points of the coast, who had chosen the area as a favourite vacation spot. The remains of some of these can be seen today in the archaeological park and elsewhere.
The houses at water's edge all have at least small piers or landings, and there are even a few small coves with breakwaters along the way. These small harbors are the nuclei for separate, named communities such as Gaiola Island and Marechiaro, with the characteristic "Large rock".
The French Homeric scholar Victor Bérard identified Posillipo as the land of Homer's Cyclopes. It is mentioned in ancient Greek and Roman sources and the Greeks first named this rocky, wooded height at the western end of the Bay of Naples Pausílypon, meaning "respite from worry".
In the 17th century the property of the site of the imperial villa passed to the family Maza who, for several generations, showed an interest in archaeology and Francesco Maria Maza (circ. 1680) was the author of inscriptions which he affixed to the so-called 'Piscine of V.Pollio' and to the 'Temple of Fortune' which were in situ in 1913. However the Maza collection was dispersed and the loss to archaeological science was irreparable as a catalogue had never been prepared. Several objects of art from Posillipan sites found their way into the hands of Spanish collectors, and are still no doubt among the Roman antiquities in Spain. Many fine pieces were taken to Mergellina and lost among the other ornaments of the villa of the Duke of Medina.
In 1820 the southern portion of the property was purchased by a well-known Neapolitan archaeologist, Cavaliere Guglielmo Bechi, and his name was associated with the Villa for more than half a century. He did much excavation, but again without publication of results.
In 1841 more methodical excavations were begun on the adjoining property to the west of the ancient lane that led down the valley from the Seiano cave to the sea. The principal buildings of that part of the Villa were soon brought to light; the Theatre, an Odeon, and the remains of a Portico overlooking the sea. An oblong building called the Temple was also found and the remains of an aqueduct.
In about 1870 the Marchese del Tufo opened a quarry for pozzolana clearing away the central part of what had been a broad continuous terrace along the south front of the property in Roman times. The buildings that stood on the hillside above the terrace, including the southern part of the baths, fell down the slope into the sea.
The archaeological park is one of the most beautiful places in the city and along the coast of Posillipo.
Among the most important sites are the Seiano cave, the underwater park of Gaiola, the imperial villa of Pausilypon, the Odeon, the theatre and the Palace of the Spirits.
The ruins of the Roman villa of Vedius Pollio, also known as the Imperial Villa, include a 2000-seat theatre on the rocky promontary at the end of the Bay of Naples. Some of the villa's rooms can be seen with traces of the wall decorations while its marine structures and fish ponds are now part of the neighbouring submerged Gaiola Park.
The villa was built in the first century BC by Publius Vedius Pollio. On his death in 15 BC, the villa was bequeathed to Augustus, and remained in imperial possession for his successors at least until Hadrian, as witnessed by a stamped water pipe. In various points the presence of water supply pipes (coated with hydraulic mortar) show the opulence of the facilities.
The submerged parts of the ruins of the imperial villa and the rich and diverse marine and coastal natural environment can be seen via boat excursions.
The 700 metre-long tunnel of the "Seiano cave" passes beneath the Posillipo hill and connected the imperial villa and other patrician villas nearby with the Phlegrean Fields and the towns and ports of Puteoli and Cumae. The eastern entrance is within the archaeological park. It was built by Agrippa with three secondary branching tunnels ending in openings overhanging the bay to provide light and ventilation.
The site is also noteworthy for the so-called Virgil's tomb.
The remains of other Roman houses can be seen in Marechiaro along the beach, or at Calata Ponticello where there is an Ionic column base and a brick niche. On the cliff towards Gaiola are the remains of the "House of the Spirits" also called "Villarosa". Further along the coast to the west is the perimeter of the "Virgil School" where it was believed that the "prophet" practiced magical arts.
The grandeur and luxury of these villas are documented in the George Vallet Archaeological museum which hosts a model of the villa Pollio and a colossal marble statue.
The Roman aqueduct supplying the coastal villas was a branch of the Serino or Aqua Augusta (Naples) and was discovered in 1882 when the Grotta Nuova di Posilipo was made for a tramway through the hill. Ancient inscriptions found inside the tunnel verify that it fed the villa of Felix Pollio, among others, mainly intended for the nymphaeum and the baths.
The area remained largely undeveloped until a road, via Posillipo, was built between 1812 and 1824. That road starts at sea-level at the Mergellina harbor and moves up the coast, roughly parallel to the shore. The School of Posillipo was started by Anton Sminck Pitloo painting marine shore landscapes from this area.
The area has been heavily overbuilt since the end of World War II, but contains some notable historical buildings and landmarks. Among these is the Villa Rosebery, the Italian President's residence during his stays in Naples. It also contains a Mausoleum to those who died for their country, the Mausoleo Schilizzi.
- Vedius Pollio
- George Norman Douglas (1868-1952) Scottish-Austrian travel and novel writer. In 1897 lived in Villa Maya, Posillipo Naples, Italy.
- Oscar Wilde completed "The Ballad of Reading Gaol" while residing in Posillipo in 1897.
- Posillipo is the birthplace of Franco Alfano, the Italian composer and pianist best known for completing Turandot.
- Sándor Márai, the author of Embers, lived in Posillipo between 1948 and 1952; his novel "San Gennaro vére" ("Blood of San Gennaro") is set in Naples.
- It may well also have been the residence of Virgil, the Roman poet of, most famously, the 'Aeneid'.
- Franco Ambrosio, the wheat magnate and Formula One racing team sponsor, lived in Posillipo until his death in 2009.
- Giambattista Basile was born in Posillipo in 1575. It is also the setting of one of his first works Le Avventurose Disavventure (The Adventurous Misadventures) published in 1611.
- (Bérard & 1927-9); (Bérard 1933)
- Pausilypon, the imperial villa near Naples, R. T. GUNTHER, OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1913, p.10
- Pausilypon, the imperial villa near Naples, R. T. GUNTHER, OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1913
- Dio 52.23.5–6,55.8.2
- Ovid, Fasti 6.639–648.
- Pausilypon, the imperial villa near Naples, R. T. GUNTHER, OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1913, p.131
- Hazzard, Shirley (2008). Ancient Shore. University of Chicago Press. p. 32.