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  Home » Getty Villa, Malibu, California, Antiquity Re-Lived, by Shyam Amladi

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Getty Villa, Malibu, California, Antiquity Re-Lived, by Shyam Amladi

Reflecting Pool at Getty Villa


Getty Villa, located on the border of the cities of Malibu and Pacific Palisades, is about 22 miles west of the Los Angeles downtown. People often think of Getty Museum (otherwise known as the Getty) – this pre-dates the museum, which is  further north of Getty Villa, in the Belair suburb of Los Angeles.


Getty Villa is, in my opinion and judging by the visitors it gets every year, a must-see attraction in LA for a lot of reasons.

1. First, it is unique architectural rarity. Usually, structures designed by famous architects carry their distinctive stamp of individual taste. Like a painting, you look at it and enjoy it. And of course each is unique. However, most of the roman structures are now ruins with no roof, crumbling pillars and faded frescos.

Now consider Getty Villa. It is probably the most unique building in the world. Why? Because it is an exact architectural duplicate of a 2100 year old famous building in Herculaneum, Italy, owned by a relative of Julius Caeser, called Villa Dei Papayri--and the original structure is still being excavated. When you stand in the Getty Villa, you do not have to imagine how Roman nobility’s homes looked like. You are there! Now, how many ancient structures can claim that distinction?

2. Its antiquities collection dates back to 6500 BC, most of the exhibits are in pristine condition—considering they have been around and probably tossed about over 3 millennia.

3. Getty houses one of the rarest original collections of Grecian, Roman and Etruscan civilizations.

4. Because LA sits in the middle of seismic activity, the huge statues and paintings are “stabilized” to be virtually earthquake-proof and sustain no damage even in a major earthquake. This is done by a unique foundation involving rotating pedestals, moving floor panels etc. that Getty Foundation designed—and the technology has been shared with other museums throughout the world.

5. It is in a very scenic part of west side of LA, overlooking the pacific.

6. It has one of the most impressive group of docents---volunteers—that you will encounter.

7. Most of all, it is FREE! Except for the parking which is $15.

8. Exquisite, elegant decor that shows  power, style and ambience of a historic civilization

9. It is perhaps the only major museum in the world designed and separated according to themes, not age of the artifact or some other nomenclature.


The Original, Excavated Villa Dei Papyri in Herculaneum, Italy

J.Paul Getty, the oil magnate (Dec 1892-June 1976) who founded the Getty Museum, was passionate about ancient civilizations, notably Greek and Roman. When he heard that the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum had been excavated and drawings found of the ancient Villa de Papiri which is reputed to have been built for Julius Caser’s father-in-law, Mr. Getty hired the world famous architects  Robert Langdon and Ernest Wilson in consultation with Stephen Garrett and Norman Neuerburg, and commissioned them to re- build  the Villa de Papiri.


As you enter the site descending the steps of the mini-coliseum, you are surrounded by a magnificent Roman country villa as it would have looked 2,100 years ago, complete with its opulent marble walls, intricate flower designs on the ceiling and terrazzo floors.  You enter the Vestibulum ( entrance hall) with its compluvium and impluvium, respectively, the open section of the ceiling to collect rain water and the receiving pond dug into the floor. The flooring is mosaic and marble with intricate designs, exactly as the original floors would have been.

Fresco on the Entrance Ceiling of Getty Villa Depicting Delicate Flowers

On both sides there are rooms which would serve various functions—meeting, dining, entertaining and sleeping. A double door leads to a colonnade with carved peristyles and a reflecting pool. In fact, Mr Getty insisted on building the pool to the exact depth of the original—until the City of Los Angeles said that if he did, he would have to station a lifeguard as long as the Villa was open. So the actual pool has an 18” depth. It is eye-catching nevertheless, with its striking swimmers in various positions.

Getty Villa has four fountains and several gardens including a herb garden, positioned exactly as it would have been at the original villa in Herculaneum, all decorated with flowers, vines and nymphs. There are 300 plant varieties on display.


Getty Villa sits on 64 acres overlooking the Pacific ocean in Pacific Palisades and Malibu.  It has two floors. First floor set of galleries house artifacts from themes such as Gods and Goddesses, Temple of Hercules, Mythological Heroes etc. 2nd floor has both permanent and changing exhibitions-- themes such as Victorious Youth, Men, Women and Children in Antiquity, Athletes and Competition and Funerary Sculptures. There is truly a lot to see....and admire. 


Getty Villa houses an average of 1,200 works of art, dating back from 6500 BC. The permanent exhibits have some of the rarest, most beautiful and historic artifacts. Notable among those:

  • Statue of Hercules (Heracles in Greek), 1st century BC
  • Head of Athena, the Goddess of Athens
  • Prize vessel  from the Athenian games signed by —one of the 30 unbroken remaining in the world
  • Statue of Zeus or Jupiter, 1st century AD
  • Trojan War artifacts, including a vessel depicting the Greek Hero, Diomedes, the king of the ancient city of Argos
  • Drinking vessels from the time of Alexander the Great
  • Situla (Latin for bucket or pail) and fragments. This is probably the oldest artifact in the museum
  • Designed pottery from Etruscan civilization
  • A stunning sculpture of Lion attacking a Horse, 4th Cetury BC
  • Paintings from the masters—mostly from Europe
  • Exhibitions that show certain themes from time to time—e.g. Molten Glass Exhibition showing glassmaking from 2500 BC.


Unlike Getty Museum which does not take reservations, the Getty Villa requires advance reservations. It is free but you pay for parking--$15. Pedestrians are not allowed so you can only visit by car – unless of course you take a taxi, in which case you have to call in advance.


Phone: (310) 440-7300 (closed Mondays)

There is also a museum store and a cafeteria. There  is also 12 minute film about the making of the Getty Villa and Mr Getty’s passion for getting it done in the most authentic fashion, sparing no detail. The Volunteer group is very knowledgeable and conducts Garden, Architectural and other tours every day

Floor Mosaic from a Home in Herculaneum showing Gladitors Boxing