Directed by: Gigi Oliviero – Lenght 57′
On August 24, 79 AD, the volcano Vesuvius (in southern Italy’s Campania region) suddenly erupted with devastating force, wiping out the towns and villages around it. Today, one of those towns has come back to light telling us about the splendour of a world we thought was buried for ever: Pompeii. Why do millions of visitors flock to a place that has been dead for twenty centuries? Perhaps because it represents a unique crossroads in history where we can compare our civilisation and that of the Roman’s two thousand years ago, by taking a journey back in time.
At the time of the eruption, Pompeii was a busy town in the Campania region. It was not a new settlement… on the contrary, it had been founded 700 years previously, and then taken over by the Etruscans, the Greeks, the Sannites, and finally by the Roman legions in 80 BC, when the town became a Roman colony. in what turned out to be the last century of its life. A century during which the town became an increasingly important trading centre and a resort area much frequented by wealthy Roman citizens who built themselves large villas adorned with many splendid works of art.
The first sign of impending disaster came in 62 AD when the whole area around Mount Vesuvius was rocked by a devastating earthquake which caused immense damage in Pompeii, as well as many victims. The rest of the story is well known. Seventeen years later, while reconstruction work was still underway, Mount Vesuvius suddenly erupted, turning a busy seaside town into a place of death and destruction. It was a Thursday, the day dedicated to Jupiter. But on that day, the father of the gods did not watch over the town where he was venerated as its protector.
An enormous mass of volcanic ash and stones (known as lapilli) was ejected by the eruption, falling back over the next few hours to cover the whole region like a deadly shroud, followed by a dense cloud of poisonous gases, killing every form of life. The effects were catastrophic. In less than 48 hours, a flourishing town was cancelled from the face of the earth.
The memory of the disaster and of the town itself gradually faded away. It was not until seventeen centuries later that the town of Pompeii re-emerged again, thanks to King Charles of Bourbon and to teams of archaeologists who brought it back to life with the most extraordinary restoration of all time. And the town gave us back these casts of its inhabitants, macabre but fascinating witnesses of history. They will accompany us on our tour of their hometown and the mysteries it still conceals.
At Pompeii there are three entrances to the public. The most important is Porta Marina, one of the seven gates in Pompeii’s town walls. located at the exit of the toll-exit “Pompei North”-on the Naples -Salerno highway and just in front of the station of the Cumana railway-line that connects with the Central Station in Naples.
At Pompeii there are three entrances to the public. The most important is Porta Marina, one of the seven gates in Pompeii’s town walls. located at the exit of the toll-exit “Pompei North”-on the Naples -Salerno highway and just in front of the station of the Cumana railway-line that connects with the Central Station in Naples. Alongside the main gate Porta Marina we see the Terme Suburbane (suburban baths) dating from the first century AD. The Romans were very fond of public baths, places not only for body-care but also for socialising in pleasant surroundings… and of course catching up on the latest gossip.
The dressing room, called the apoditerium, has several erotic wall paintings (and there are many others in Pompeii), including a scene involving two women (something that was rarely depicted in the ancient world). However, there were separate areas for men and for women in the baths. Further on we come to the “frigidarium” for cold baths, decorated with stuccoes, seascapes, splendid frescoes, with a small waterfall in the background. The fountain is decorated with a mosaic of glassy paste, and shells that represents Mars, the god of War, in flight flanked by cupids that handle its weapons. All around, other splendid frescoes were decorating the walls.
Then come the “tepidarium” and the “calidarium” for warm and hot baths, with three windows looking out over the surroundings. In the rear area of these rooms a system of furnaces and boilers is placed, here the hot air was channeled into cavities of the floors and walls of the heated rooms.
TEMPLE OF APOLLO
We continue on the road towards the Forum and reach to our left, the temple of Apollo, one of the oldest in Pompeii, built during the first half of the sixth century BC. It is surrounded by a wall, with a portico on the four sides. In front of the columns of the courtyard were placed statues of deities, of which today remains the statue of Apollo in the act of drawing the bow and on the other side, of Diana, goddess of hunters.
At the foot of the entrance steps, we find an altar in travertine stone, with an inscription saying that the temple was built by the “quattuòrviri” (the town governors). We will find often during our visit, similar devotes, dedicated on big public monuments to the powerful and ambitious men, who, in order to demonstrate their power, left to the city notable architectural vestiges. One of the Doric columns has a sundial on it, with an inscription saying it was erected by the two “duòviri”, Lucio Sepurnio and Marco Erennio.
Just opposite the temple of Apollo we enter the Basilica, a large building that overlooks the Forum. The name of the Basilica (which derives from the Greek language and means ‘house of the King’, because in the Archaic period was King’s duty to administer justice) should not deceive us. The Roman basilicas were not places of worship, but large buildings devoted to business contracts and the administration of justice. Hence they were the courtrooms of the time.
This basilica is the largest and oldest public building in the city. Goes back to the second century BC and is divided into three aisles by 28 huge columns more than ten meters tall.
In the background are the remains of the trial room, accessed by the judges through wooden stairs. Its height indicated a hierarchical position of superiority, but also served to protect the judges from frequent ire of the convicted people.
The trials involved several criteria similar to ours, with the prosecution, the defense lawyers and excellent safeguard for the defendants. Evidence of the great modernity of the Roman law, which has greatly contributed to the modern law.
We exit from the basilica through the south side of the Big Forum. The Forum was the focus of the town’s political, administrative and religious life. It was surrounded by a colonnade with two tiers, decorated with arches, statues and fountains. The piazza was big enough to hold the entire population of the town, which presumably was of 20,000 individuals.
and wagons were not allowed to drive through it. It was a great pedestrian area.
Along the sides of the piazza stood a portico with two rows of columns in tuff.
Numerous bases along the porches supported the honorary statues of famous citizens, while the largest, along the south side, were the emperor’s and imperial family members’. At the center of the left side of the square was a rostrum for orators.
Behind you can now visit three almost identical buildings, the municipal buildings of the city where the duoviri were operating, the biggest city authorities, the aediles, who were in charge of the maintenance of the city, the council of the decurions, the local councilmen and administrative archive. Something similar to our city halls.
At that time there was no mayor as we know it, but two supreme authorities (the duoviri, as a matter of fact) that remained in office 5 years and allowed a reciprocal control on a fair management of power. The elections were held in March, each year. Women, although they had no right to vote, participated actively to the campaign. Elections took place in March every year. Although women couldn’t vote, they took an active part in the election campaigns.
Now we start visiting the various buildings surrounding the piazza. At your right, just past the Street of Abundance, we find the “building Eumachia” The building belonged to a priestess of Venus and her rich family of farmers and merchants who had made their fortune in the wool trade. This large two-storey building was one of the most impressive in the Forum. A small niche holds a statue of the priestess, dedicated to the corporation of the “fullones”, or weavers, dyers and launderers, one of the most important activities in Pompeii.
The dedication to the priestess is engraved on a marble block, located on the left facade. The entrance was surrounded by an elegant marble ornament, with patterns of plants and animal. It was divided into two floors and over became from time to time a place of worship, intended to enhance the prestige of the family.
Once inside, stop in the small hallway to give a look to the small cubicle at your right. Over there was settle a jar which was used to collect the urine, used, as we shall see, as degreaser while washing the draperies.
The inner space is characterized by a vast courtyard in which the remains of a portico are visible, with two rows of columns and an apse that retained on a podium, the statue of Concordia Augusta. In a niche behind the apse a copy of the statue of the priestess is kept , dedicated to her by the guild of fullones, the weavers, dyers and launderers, which was the most important industry in Pompeii
TEM’PLE OF VESPASIAN
Near the Eumachia building you will discover the remains of a temple which seems to have been dedicated to the Genius of Octavian Augustus, the first Roman emperor. This was the place where the emperor was honoured (originally the temple was dedicated to Augustus). Logically, it was “updated” every now and then with the name of the reigning emperor. So, at the time of the eruption, we find that it was dedicated to the emperor Vespasian. In front of it, we can still see an altar in white marble, with a bas-relief depicting a bull being sacrificed.
On your right you can see the victimarius, the one that leads and kill the bull on his left, the priest with veiled head and two guys who are bringing religious items.
Next to the Temple of the Lares stands the Macellum, the area for the meat and fish market, surrounded by small shops. In the middle there was a rotunda with twelve columns, covered by a dome, with a pool. Excavations in this area have brought to light fish bones as well as remains of fruit and cereals. It is thought that there were several shops at the front of the buildings, probably for money changers, known as “argentarii”.
The compartment at the right side of the bottom wall was used for the sale of meat and fish, the one on the left for banquets in honor of the emperor a statue of which was exposed in the center.
On the left wall are the remains of the frescoes in ‘fourth style’ that decorated the inside of the courtyard and represented mythological paintings. Above, the representation of bread and fish reminds us of the use of the building. In two cases, finally, are exposed the plaster casts of two people who died during the eruption.
TEMPLE OF JUPITER
Leaving the Macellum we are facing the Temple of Jupiter, the largest religious building in the city. The building dates from the second century BC and was dedicated to Jupiter, the father of all gods. Before the temple stood a large altar, while on both sides were two triumphal arches. The temple was situated on a high podium, which is accessed to with grand staircase at the top of which were located six Corinthian columns, 12 meter high.
Inside was kept the statue of the god, which only the head remains, dating from the early first century BC. It is in this period that the building was transformed into Capitolium and dedicated to the worship of the ‘Capitoline Triad’: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva.
Let’s go around the piazza and let’s pause to observe the materials in large warehouses closed by grates, which consists of many relics of the city (including a few casts with a truly impressive for posture) and which were once used for storing grains . A little further we discover the Mensa Ponderaria. It consisted of a stone slab with nine hollows in it, each corresponding to the various measures of capacity which shopkeepers in Pompeii used. Each hollow had a hole in the bottom so that the substance being measured could be recovered.
ARCH OF TIBERIUS
We go now from the big Forum along the road on the right of the temple of Jupiter. In front of us stands the Arch of Tiberius, The Arch was the main entrance to the heart of the town, and was one of many which were customarily erected in honour of the emperors. The stone structure was faced with marble and adorned with statues and other decorative features, and must have been a truly spectacular sight in its day.
ARCH OF CALIGULA
A little further on, there is another fine arch at the beginning of Via di Mercurio. This one was dedicated to the emperor Caligula, and was topped by a larger-than-life equestrian statue.
TEMPLE OF FORTUNA AUGUSTA
Near the Arch of Caligula we can see the remains of the Temple of Fortuna Augusta, built at the time of Augustus. It stands on a raised podium, approached by two flights of steps. The dedication to the goddess Fortuna, perhaps the Fortuna Redux about the the return of Augustus from one of his expeditions, which falls into that aspect of the Augustean policy that promoted the cult of the virtues of the prince. We know that this monument was erected by a private citizen, Marco Tullio. After being elected several times, he apparently decided to celebrate his success with a major public work.
HOUSE OF THE TRAGIC POET
We return toward the Arch of Caligula, turning right into Via delle Terme we reach the entrance of the House of the Tragic Poet. which owes its name to a splendid mosaic depicting a theatre scene, although it is perhaps better known for another mosaic at the entrance with a warning to visitors: “Cave canem”, or “Beware of the dog!”. To enter, however, we need reach the secondary entrance, located in the alley to the left of the house.
Once inside you find yourself in a small garden, where stands a lararium, a small temple dedicated to the Lares, the gods protectors of the family. On the right leads to the Tablinium (where it was conserved the mosaic we were talking about) and beyond, the main entrance, with the classical impluvium, around which were arranged the service rooms. Beyond the garden you will accessto the triclinium, the dining room, where you can admire two paintings: a Venus with Cupids and Arianne abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. Another beautiful fresco is conserved in the Archaeological Museum of Naples and represents the Sacrifice of Iphigenia.
HOUSE OF THE FAUN
On Via della Fortuna, a few steps from the arch of Caligula and the Temple of Fortuna Augusta, is the most famous house in the city: the Casa del Fauno. Dating from around the second century BC, it covers an area of over 3,000 square metres and seems to belong to Publius Sulla, nephew of the dictator who conquered the city. On the floor at the entrance the word Ave, namely the greeting in Latin, welcomes us.
On the floor at the entrance the word Ave, namely the greeting in Latin, welcomes us. We enter in the large hall, where, at the center dell’impluvium(the classic tank designed to collect rainwater) stands a symbol of Pompeii, a beautiful figurine of a dancing Faun; the original is kept in the Archaeological Museum of Naples. All around it bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms are open that had beautiful mosaic floors and decorated in ‘early style’, always kept in the Archaeological Museum of Naples.
On the floor at the entrance the word Ave, namely the greeting in Latin, welcomes us. The house contains some extraordinary works of art, such as a famous mosaic which covered the floor of one of the main rooms, depicting a battle (perhaps the battle of Isso, where Alexander the Great defeated the Persian king Darius). The mosaic is a masterpiece, made up of something like a million and a half small coloured tessere, also kept at the Archaeological Museum in Naples where you can admire many masterpieces: delicious mosaics representing animals, marine life, pagan gods.
The beautiful garden is encircled by porticoes with columns, overlooked by the main rooms all of which were adorned with marvellous works of art – statues, wall paintings, mosaics showing animals, sea creatures, mythological scenes, Egyptian-style settings. Before leaving you can visit the rooms of the private sector, the kitchen, with a large cooking bench, bedrooms and even two small spas.
HOUSE OF THE CENTENARY
We go back along Via di Nola to visit the Centennial House, so called because was excavated in 1879, the 18th centenary of the eruption. It was one of the largest houses in Pompeii, built in the second century BC and occupied an entire block. The owner should have been some Aulus Verus, as you can see due to the various electoral graffiti etched on the external walls and to the fact that they were mentioning his name.
In the middle of the garden there is a pool, near which a marvellous bronze statue of a satyr pouring wine from a jug was found. To the rear of the peristilium, there is a nympheum with a mosaic-lined niche from which water flows into the bowl below. A secondary hall had a lararium, with a painting of Bacchus at the base of a mountain identified as the Vesuvius (which did not had yet the second shape of today’s Monte Somma). The clothing of the god, made of grapes, makes us think that the owner of the house had to owe vineyards on the slopes of the Vesuvius. Other rooms are adorned with fine frescoes, including some on erotic subjects.
HOUSE OF LUCRETIUS FRONTONE
Leaving the house of Cecilio Giocondo we turn left on Via di Nola, and we walk near the Central Baths. Further on, on our left, we find the alley that leads us to the entrance of the House of Lucretius Frontone, a grand mansion, which belonged to a leading politician, whose name appears in several graffiti, inside and outside this sumptuous villa which belonged to an important figure in the political life of the town.
In the entrance area, we see the traditional “impluvium” with its drain for collecting rainwater in a cistern. The whole villa is frescoed with splendid mythological scenes, painted by the only one of the town’s artists who signed his works, a certain Lucio. Here they are: the Love of Mars and Venus… the Triumph of Dionysus and Arianna… Narcissus admiring his reflection in a pool… and the Myth of Theseus showing Arianna giving him the thread with which he escaped from the labyrinth… and finally, at the end of the garden, a large African landscape showing plants and animals. So this was a luxurious villa. But all this wealth could not prevent the tragedy of the eruption – seven members of the household were found all together in one room where they had sought refuge from the disaster.
HOUSE OF THE VETTII FAMILY
One of the most famous houses of Pompeii is the home of Vettii, located next to the Casa del Labirinto, that belonged to two wealthy businessmen, Aulus Vettio Restituto and Aulus Vettio Conviva, two liberti, slaves who gained their freedom.
In the entrance area, there is a notorious figure of Priapus, shown in the act of weighing his enormous phallus (a symbol against the evil eye) on a pair of scales. The other tray holds a moneybag which, according to some experts, may represent the cost of protection. From here we come to the main atrium with the impluvium in the middle. On the right, there is the larario, or household altar, where we can see the figure of a snake with the emblem of the Genio Pater Familias (household god) above it, between two Lari.
Here we can see two safes in wood of which remain only the nails and ornaments in bronze and iron.
Interesting are the decorations of a cubiculum that opens on the left and represent the myth of Leander swimming the Hellespont to meet his beloved Ero and Arianne aroused by a cupid on the island of Naxos.
On our right we find an ecus, with other interesting frescoes. On the left is painted Ciparisse, the hunter who inadvertently killed the deer preferred by Apollo and was for this reason transformed in a cypress. On the back wall appears an Ariadne with Bacchus that rescues her on Naxos where Theseus abandoned her.
We enter in another little hall where a sumptuous lararium shaped as a kiosk is kept. In the pediment, above, are depicted objects of worship. Below are pictured Genius and the two Lares, in the act of a sacrifice, the lower is the serpent protector of the fireplace.
Carrying on, we get to the kitchen where the cooking utensils remained on the counter. From the kitchen you walk into a bedroom, with pictures erotic paintings on the walls. Here is exposed the marble statue of Priapus, the god of fertility, which functioned in the garden as a fountain.
This peristyle was the heart of the house. Was adorned with flowers and embellished with statues and waterworks, which water was coming through lead pipes in the whole house.
The true wonder of this house are the frescoes. We find them everywhere, especially in two small entertainment rooms, for rest, enjoying the view of the garden.
Walking under the archway on our right we enter a triclinium, a dining room, adorned with splendid frescoes: Hercules child who kills snakes sent by Juno, jealous of the fact that her husband Jupiter had conceived it with another woman, Alcmene.
On the wall we find the punishment of Pentheus, king of Thebes, which is torn apart by the Bacchae, having opposed the introduction of the cult of Dionysus in his city.
On the right wall then stands the punishment of Dirce, queen of Thebes, which is tied to a bull from the twins Amphion and Zethus to avenge her mother who had been imprisoned by her.
The walls are crossed by black bands, on which runs the famous mural of Cupids engaged in work and sport: there are cupids florists, the “fullers” ( dyers), the perfumers, those that run on chariots draught by antelopes. then the cupids goldsmiths, weavers, and many others, who make up a scene of incredible artistic skill and extraordinary good taste. Finally in the upper band, poets are represented among the Muses, with Bacchae and Satire.
Let’s leave the room and continue along the porch. The walls of the portico are marked by architectural views and panels that offer in the center either a figure or a still life.
Before going out you will find a last space, also beautifully frescoed in “fourth style”, we can here admire the passion of Pasiphae, where you see Daedalus that gives to Pasiphae (wife of the king of Crete, Minos) a cow of wood, for attract a bull which she was in love with, and from whose union was born the Minotaur, a monster with the human body and the head taurine.
In the background we see instead the punishment of Ixion, who, welcomed in heaven by Jupiter, had tried to rape his wife, Hera, then was rescued by a cloud, which had assumed his resemblance. Union from which would Centaurs were born, creatures wth the body of an horse and human face.
Finally on the last wall stands the figure of Arianne woken up by Bacchus on the island of Naxos, where Theseus abandoned her, running away with a ship.
HOUSE OF MELEAGER
Near the house of the Dioscuri we now enter the House of Meleager, which owes its name to a fresco in the hall to the left, depicting Meleager and Atalanta. Meleager was the son of Aeneus, the king of Calydon. The goddess Artemis, in revenge for not having received sacrifices for Aeneus, sent a monstrous boar to ravage the countryside of the kingdom. Meleager gathered many heroes and then organized an hunt, to which also participated the beautiful Atalanta. It was she who first wounded the boar that Meleager killed then giving her the skin.
We enter the lobby: the environments that surround it still have the original floors decorated with white tiles. On the left of the implùvium you enter the ample and bright peristyle, a great hall characterized by columns. Like all the rooms that are arranged around the atrium, too, was renovated after the earthquake of 62, and its wall paintings show ‘fourth style’.
The bottom, left, we finally get to a corridor that leads to service rooms.
HOUSE OF THE GILDER CUPIDS
Now we come to the House of the Gilded Cupids, which takes its name from a series of cupids cut into gold leaf, adorning part of the peristilium. The many fine artworks contained in the rooms make it one of the most splendid villas in Pompeii. The design and layout of the gardens included busts of the gods, reliefs depicting Dionysian subjects, masks hanging between the columns, sculptures set into the walls, in a setting which reflected not so much everyday life, but rather a vision of a surreal artistic world.
After passing the entrance, we enter the lobby with a central impluvium. At both sides there are two small cubicles for the slaves, we enter the lobby with a central impluvium and a tablìno at the end. On the left side we reach the peristilium, the garden, heart of the house. Delightful the small temple dedicated to the Lares, the deities of the family, located on one side of the peristyle. Still near the garden we find a shrine dedicated to the Egyptian divine triad of Harpocrates, Isis and Serapis, the god Anubis, with canine head, near them.
Immediately to the left of the peristyle we find a lounge: the walls are painted in ‘third style’. At our right we can see Achilles in the tent between Briseis and Patroclus; to the left, the visit of Thetis, mother of Achilles, to the workshop of the god Hephaestus, to purchase of new weapons for her son; on the bottom, the leader of the Argonauts, Jason, present himself to the king of Colchis, Pelias, before fleeing with Medea. The cubiculum that preserves the frescoes of Cupid watching the big king size bed is one of the most impressive of the city. The walls feature a beautiful design with tiny flowers spread over the entire middle area and the plinth decorated to imitate a marble covering.
Further we discover another of the 7 doors giving access to the ancient Pompeii. Is called the Nocera door, because it is the beginning of the road leading to this city. Its construction dates from the fourth century BC, although it has been restored in later periods.
Just outside the Nocera Door another necropolis was situated. Like the others, was placed, for hygienic reasons, outside the walls, but always on a road of big passage, so as to draw the attention of passers-by and provide a perpetual reminder to the deceased and his family. Includes a complex of tombs belonging to almost all the Roman period, from the first century BC until the second half of the century AD. One of the most impressive we’ll find it along the road to the left of the door. This is a ‘grave at exedra’, in gray clay, inserted into an enclosure, an entry of which recalls that it was built, for himself and his family, Eumachia, a priestess of Venus, which has given the very same name to the building in Forum.
BATHS OF THE FORUM
From the suburban ones, there were three public baths in the town centre. Just opposite the Temple of Fortuna Augusta we may enter the thermal baths that built after 80 BC and were divided into two areas, one for men and one for women. We shall visit the men area. To the left of the entrance corridor we see a portico courtyard that was once the gymn. Then we enter the first room: the one of the apoditèrium, the old dressing room. Here customers left their clothes in wooden shelves and waited for their turn on the stone seats arranged around the room.
On your left lean to the circular room of the frigidarium, the one dedicated to cold baths.
There is still the central basin surrounded by steps that could be used as seats. All around you can still see the remains of painted decoration, on the strip dividing wall and dome racing Cupids are represented .
You are now in the tepidarium, an environment at a moderate temperature where they were pausing between the warm and cold baths. On the walls you’ll notice some niches (were used as storage for items bath and ointments), separated by male figures in terracotta, the so-called ‘Telamons’, which support the frame of the barrel vault. The room was heated by a large brazier of bronze that we can see on the back of the room. It is decorated with a cow’s head, alluding to the name of the donor, a Vaccula. Alongside is the “calidarium”, a sort of sauna bath, with a large hot-water pool and a smaller one for cold water. Here we can still see the inscription by the magistrates who had the baths erected, this time with public funds: Cnèus Melisseus Marcus and Aper Stàius Rufus. In this room the hot air was coming from the nearby furnaces, passed in the cavities beneath the floor and in the walls. Near the entrance you can see, through a broken section of wall how everything was built.
One of the marvels of Pompeii was the water supply system, based on a number of aqueducts. The main aqueduct for Pompeii, built by Augustus, was an extraordinary feat of engineering. About 60 miles long, it began at the source of the river Serino, on the slopes of the Apennines, passing to the north of Mount Vesuvius, to supply no less than nine towns and cities (including Naples).
This massive construction crossed valleys and passed through mountains, with a constant incline of about fifty centimetres for every kilometre. The water reached Pompeii near the Porta Vesuvio gate, at the town’s highest point. There, a large collecting tank, the “Castellum aquae”, distributed the water in three directions to supply all the public fountains and baths, as well as shops and the homes of the rich. These pipes were made of lead (of course the Romans did not know the risks of this metal …) and could be blocked, to suspend or alternate the water supply, as needed.
The fullonica was both laundry and dry cleaner’s shop. It owes its name to Stephanus quoted in an inscription on the electoral front, maybe the owner or the manager of the laundry. These premises were very numerous, so that “fullones” were an important category of merchants in town, though not particularly well-regarded, since that ran continuously to collect urine (used in place of soda for its content ammonia), essential to their processing.
This that we visit is called “by Stephanus” due to a written electoral inscription on the façade, and was both laundry and ironing. The center of the impluvium was a first large basin for washing all fabrics.
We can find other tanks at the bottom of the garden, where the draperies were washed and pressed with the feet in a solution of water and urine. After the treatment the tissues were softened with clay, then stricken to be cleaned, then washed again and carded. In the last phase was brought to the terrace. to be dried.
Just beyond the House of the Hanging Balconies there is also one of the sites most visited by modern tourists, the brothel. In Pompeii, like in the ancient Roman world, prevailed a great sexual tolerance, due to the liability to pleasure of the ancient world. Therefore is no accident that one of the major sights of the town is just this building, which was actually a brothel ( the word in Italian is Lupanare from the word lupa: “wolf” that in Latin, also means prostitute). This is the largest and most organized of the 25 that existed in the city.
It was on two floors with ten small rooms: five quite large rooms on the upper floor, and another five on the ground floor, smaller and lacking in privacy. Each room had a solid bed in brick or stone over which sacking was laid to provide some measure of comfort, though not very hygienic.
A curiosity is the prize that was generally required, which did not exceed two axes, the average price of two jugs of wine, entirely for the pimp.
In this place were visiting mostly slaves and visitors, as the rich of the city met their preferred prostitutes in more comfortable dwellings, or were having fun (without spending even a little money requested) with their slaves.
Prostitutes were forbidden to: wear the long stole, characteristic of matrons, testify in court and collect inheritance. Only through marriage they could rise to the rank of matrons. What attracts mainly tourists, are the famous erotic pictures painted at entrance to the rooms that alluded to the positions of love promised by the girls in the house. These representations are present a bit everywhere in the city, even in noble and rich houses and even, as we have seen, in the Suburban Baths.
A special collection of these images (hidden for many years to the general public) is today kept at the Archaeological Museum of Naples and, apart from the hot topic, is yet another fascinating evidence of ancient art and costume. On the walls prostitutes and clients have left many graffiti. In addition to scurrilous writings, the approximately 120 entries keep complaints from contracting venereal diseases, and names of Greek and Oriental women, famous for their beauty and lust.
TEMPLE OF ISIS
The Roman world was open-minded and tolerant about all religions. One example of this is the Temple of Isis. It was the first religious building to be repaired after the earthquake in 62 AD, demonstrating once again the strong influence that Egyptian culture had on the Roman world. Isis was the Egyptian goddess of nature, the wife of Osiris and mother of Horus, represented with horns or head of a cow. Legend says that her husband was killed and dismembered by his brother, he was reassembled and resurrected. The cult, given its connotation of salvation, found many followers, especially among the lower classes.
Like several other buildings, this one was built at private expense, in this case by an ex-slave, or freeman. Since he could not hold public office, he had a stone plaque made, naming his six-year-old son as the benefactor. The original building, dating back to the second century BC, stood on a raised podium approached by a flight of steps. In front of the votive altar, placed to the left of the stairs of the temple, there is a small building. It is the Purgatorium, a fence that protects the stairs to reach an underground room full of painted stucco decorations, where was kept the sacred water of the river Nile for the purification rites.
Let’s go now to the theater district, located south of the city and we reach the Triangular Forum. This is another large area set aside for social and religious purposes (in addition to the Forum at Porta Marina). As its name implies, it is clearly shaped like a triangle. This sacred area was the site of a Greek temple dating from the mid-sixth century BC, whose position gave it a wonderful view out over the sea.
The southern part was occupied by a Doric temple, as well as a rectangular building dating from Roman times, known as the “héroon”, which seems to have been used to celebrate the cult of Hercules, the legendary founder of the town. Further south, there is a well, carved out of the solid lava. Over time, this had taken on some sort of religious significance since it was incorporated into a “thòlos”, a circular construction with Doric columns in tufo.
Leaving the temple of Isis, we turn right on Via Stabiana, until we reach the entrance of the Small Theater, in Greek called the Odeon, one of two available in Pompeii. It was built around 80 BC, by the same two public figures, “duoviri”, who had previously erected the town’s amphitheatre. The Odeon had a permanent roof which was important for its perfect acoustics. This elegantly designed building could hold about 1,300 spectators, and there’s every reason to suppose that the performances were equally sophisticated, for the most part consisting of music and mime.
The barracks of the gladiators and dominates the image of the Grand Theater, which was built in the second century. BC, using a natural cavity of the hill. During the time of Augustus, it was enlarged to hold about 5,000 spectators. It was fully equipped for all types of theatre performances, including elaborate shows involving running water. The seating area was normally open and uncovered, but to shelter the audience from sun or rain, it could be completely covered by an immense canvas awning known as a velarium.
The scene had to be lined with marble and adorned with statues. Behind was a space used as a dressing room by the actors, who reached the scene through the side entrances. The curtain at the beginning of the show, was disappearing down into a pit at the edge of the stage and was operated by one of the stage machinery situated below. The works represented here were likely to be the Atellanae, popular in Oscan farces and comedies of Plautus and Terence, as well as performances of mimes with dancing and music.
Leaving the Small Theater we discover the vast urban area of the Barracks of Gladiators, the place where they were housed and trained before going into the arena. Today, the whole area is a sort of museum for graffiti, giving us an insight into the life and hardships of these men, some of whom achieved fame and reputation (also for their sexual prowess…).
HOUSE OF THE MENANDER
In front of the House of the Citharist we can discover the House of the Menander, who belonged to the Quintus Poppeius Sabinus, and was one of the most beautiful and great of the city. It was built in the mid-third century BC and occupies an area of nearly 2000 square meters.
The owner must really been very rich, as evidenced by a magnificent silver service (118 pieces for about 24 kilos!) that was found, along with many valuable coins, in the basement of the house.
Delightful is the temple of the Lares, the deities of the house, while all the rooms were decorated with splendid frescoes.
We continue through the tablinum to exit in the peristyle, a large garden surrounded by a portico. Immediately to the right we find ‘the green lounge’, so named for the color of the walls at Pompeii, a true rarity.
After the ‘green lounge’, at the right, we find the house spa. The access was via an entrance hall with eight columns, to move to a dressing room and a steam bath, intended as sauna, decorated with a beautiful mosaic on the floor, that illustrates a slave that brings ointments to the master and a marine scene.
Let’s go back in the garden, and we come in front of the central niche. Here, on the right side of the niche we find the famous portrait of Menander which gave the name to the house . The writer is portrayed sitting and with the crown of laurel in his hand: he keeps in his hands a roll of papyrus on which is written: “Menander was the first to write four books of the New Comedy.”
Another apse shows Actaeon transformed into a stag and torn to pieces by his dogs for spying Diana to the bathroom.
We can then enjoy an encounter of love between a satyr and a maenad, while in a yellow room, are frescoes of the fourth style.
In the same room are preserved skeletons of people who had returned home to retrieve their possessions, but were also killed by gas fumes, while in another room, were found the bodies of the administrator of the house and a girl, close to a bag of gold coins.
Now we go to the next side of the peristyle. Here we encounter a great triclinium, which is one of the largest dining room in Pompeii. About eight meters high and has walls painted in’ fourth style’.
HOUES OF THE CEII
In front of the House of Menander here then the House of the CEIIs, which dates back in the Samnite period of the history of Pompeii. The owner appears to have been a certain Lucius Cèius Secundus, indicated in an electoral writing, painted on the facade. Entering, you immediately can see the cast of an elevated port that also contains elements of iron. In the Atrium we can note the four columns that support the foot of the sloping roof in the corners of the implùvium, the central basin used to collect rainwater. At the sides of lobby you can see two rooms to the left the kitchen, to the right the bedroom. Before reaching the garden at the bottom you can see two other areas: to the left the tablinum triclinium to the right the dining room.
On the left wall, inside a shrine, we see the god Bacchus that pours wine to a tiger on his knees; in front is a Bacchante with a torch. The walls of the garden are decorated with large paintings of landscapes. On the far wall are painted fights between animals: a tiger against rams, boars and wolves against deer, a lion and a bull. There are also paintings of fountains, and on the side walls, those of Nilotic landscapes, according to a decorative fashion of the last years of life in Pompeii, who wanted to evoke landscapes and picturesque scenery in a city far away.
HOUSE OF ACHILLES LARARIUM
In the theater district was also located the home of Achilles Lararium , which owes its name to a shrine that is located in a corner of the atrium. This is a small temple with mythological scenes and, in the frieze below, the last episodes of the Trojan War. At the opposite corner of the atrium we can see this shrine, which is the temple that gives to the house its name. At the center, is represented Ganymede, the ‘s shepherd boy that Jupiter kidnapped assuming the guise of an eagle.
The lunette of the back wall is represented the young hunter and shepherd Endymion, asleep in a cave, where he is visited by the goddess Moon. In the blue frieze are represented below the last episodes of the Trojan War. Going back, we found the kitchen and further a large hall. Here the decorations on the walls are ‘second-style’ and depict a scene with two elephants.
On the outer wall of the environment is depicted on the left, the goddess Diana bathing and, right, Actaeon bitten by dogs, while already horns are sprouting. The young hunter surprises the naked Diana while she bathed, and the goddess punished him turning him into a stag turned into pieces by his own hounds.
This is the vast arena where many of the gladiators and other victims died. We are on the eastern edge of the town, where there is a huge amphitheatre, the oldest and the best preserved that has come down to us. The Romans, as we know, were passionately keen on games and shows, especially those involving gladiators. And Pompeii was very much part of the Roman world. The amphitheatre was built around 70 BC by two magistrates, Caius Quinzio Valgus and Marcus Porcio, at their own expense. Some years previously they had already donated the small theatre to the citizens of Pompeii. The fact that private investors put up the money for an amphitheatre holding 20,000 spectators shows how popular these events were and how profitable they must have been. The whole structure could be covered by an immense canvas awning, or velarium, to shelter the spectators from sun or rain.
The shows consisted mainly of gladiator fights, and wild animals were probably not used very much since there is no trace of underground passages beneath the arena or the complicated apparatus required for such shows. Gladiators came from amongst slaves and prisoners of war, and were specially trained to fight in the arena. The bloodthirsty crowd of thousands of spectators included a large number of women who adored these muscular heroes, according to all accounts. For this reason, women were allotted seats in the upper tiers of the amphitheatre to keep them at a distance.
The climate was very hot created during the performances is evidenced by an episode that we recall from Tacitus in his “Annals”, occurred in 59 AD, when a furious quarrel broke out between rival Pompeii and Nocera, caused such a number of deaths that forced Nero and the Roman Senate to order the cessation of the shows for 10 years!
HOUSE OF LOREIO TIBURTINO.
Continuing along Via dell’Abbondanza we reach the House of Loreio Tiburtino, built during the Sannitic period, but later enlarged and restructured according to the fashionable style in the first century BC. It was a luxury residence, as shown by the elegant painted decorations adorning the rooms and some of the outside walls in the splendid garden, making it into a country villa in the centre of town. Part of this was made for the outdoor dining, where dishes were offered on trays floating on tanks through it.
Past the lobby and to the upper garden. On the right we find a room, with paintings ‘fourth style’ on a white background, identified as the ‘shrine of Isis’, because the inside is painted a monk of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of nature, the wife of Osiris. The terrace is crossed by a tank-channel called Eurìpus. On the outer wall of the room is depicted, on the left, the goddess Diana bathing and, on the right, turned Actaeon transformed into a stag by Diana and bitten by her dogs.
At the other end, there is a fine niche covered with pumice, imitating a cave: two beds are arranged in front to lie down and eat outdoors. On the right side of the niche is depicted Narciso while he is mirroring himself. On the left are painted Pyramus and Thisbe, young lovers. Pyramus found the veil of his beloved bloody and guessing she was been devoured by a lion he pierced himself with his sword. Thisbe, once she seen her boyfriend dad, committed suicide with his same sword: the tragic scene took place under a mulberry tree, which since then gave red fruits.
The lower garden is covered by a pergola and divided into three basins, along which were placed statues, some allusive to Egypt. At the center there is a small temple graced by fountains and a biclìnio, that is a double-bed in masonry for outdoor dining.
HOUSE OF VENUS ON A SHELL
Alongside the House of Loreio Tiburtino, we come to the House of Venus on Shell, which was only excavated in 1952. It obviously belonged to a very wealthy citizen and it takes its name from a splendid painting on the back wall of the large peristilium, which depicts Venus reclining on a shell, borne on the waves and supported by two cupids.
This marvellous fresco is flanked by two smaller paintings, one portraying Mars, the other a fountain. In the house, out of many items, many jars were found, 13 of which bore Greek inscriptions, and a supposed monogram, which has contributed to the debate on the presence of Christians in the city.
VILLA OF GIULIA FELICE
Going into the amphitheater we then find the Villa of Julia Felix, which belonged to a woman who had a good nose for business, since she was able to exploit her large property during the housing crisis which struck the town after the disastrous earthquake in 62 AD. Apparently she rented out parts of it to wealthy tenants, while keeping the best bits for herself of course.
The finest part of the villa overlooks the large garden. There is an elegant portico made of fluted marble pillars with Corinthian capitals, flanked by a beautiful summer triclinium, all made of marble, with a stepped fountain. A niche at the back of the garden was probably dedicated to the cult of Isis, and contained a splendid bronze tripod, now on display in the Naples Museum.
VILLA PF MYSTERIES
One of the most famous villas of Pompeii is the Villa of Mysteries, a large patrician house dating from the second century. BC, but that at the time of the disaster, had been transformed into a large farm. To visit we should pass over the Herculaneum Door and follow the road through the necropolis until it reach it after a nice walk. We enter through the main entrance. Forward we can find a garden in which there is a nice porch. At the end of the same on the left, we can reach the kitchens.
The kitchen was a very large room, you can still admire the ancient structure. We leave the kitchen through the front doorway to reach the peristyle, which is a large garden that had been converted into a area service. Taking a walk under the portico, at the end of it we will access to the torcularium, the area for the production of wine. Here were installed two presses for the pressing of the dregs of the pressed wines, one of which has been rebuilt. You will see immediately the great pole with a ram’s head that was lowered by a crane, on the grapes that had already undergone the first crushing, with the feet. The must was collected in a basin of brickwork at the bottom and was flowed into the spillway, which is seen along the left wall and then fall into a cistern. The wine was then stored in jars buried in the floor, like the one still visible.
Now we leave the torcularium, and reach the lobby of the house, which is accessed from the large opening on the peristylium. Once entered in the lobby, next to the central entrance, you will see the plaster cast of one of the two side doors that has been walled up. With a little bit of attention, along the right wall at a height that corresponds more or less to the end of the impluvium, you will discover a little graffiti covered by a glass, is the caricature of a certain Rufus, perhaps a senator. On axis with the entrance to the lobby, we will then visit the tablinum that has the walls decorated with a splendid example of painting a third style with black background, with Egyptian style very small themes.
From the tablinum we exit outside the house, reaching a lounge room with a semicircular exedra. From here go left and reach through the wooden door the great hall called of the Of Mysteries, where you will discover the most famous painting of all Pompeii, one of the most extraordinary wall paintings to come down to us from antiquity: a real masterpiece covering three walls.
One of the many interpretations of the scene is that it may depict the highpoints of a ceremony relating to the cult of Dionysus. It was probably commissioned by the owner of villa who may have been initiated into the Dionysian mysteries herself. These rituals were so widespread in Roman times that the Senate eventually took action to repress the orgies that they involved.
The painting gives us a wonderful spectacle, with no less than 29 figures. It begins with the introduction to the ritual, showing a naked young man (perhaps Dionysus himself), flanked by two matrons. Alongside this, there is a pastoral scene, with old Silenus playing the lyre, and Panisca feeding a kid goat. In the meantime a young girl runs away terrorized, overwhelmed by what she sees in the following scenes. Silenus offers a drink to a Satyr, while another tries to frighten him with the reflection of a tragic mask in a jug of wine. A little further away, Dionysus, drunk and half-naked, reclines in Arianna’s lap, after experiencing the pleasure reserved for initiates. Continuing with this visual narrative, we see a young girl who is uncovering the basket of mysteries containing the phallus, symbol of nature’s generative forces. She is flanked by a winged demon about to castigate another girl who is turning to a matron for protection. Alongside, a naked bacchante moves gently and light-footed in an orgiastic dance, after completing the final test. The conclusion of the narrative is rather more relaxed, with a virgin who is preparing to be initiated into the mysteries, while another matron observes the scene from where she is sitting. All in all, this work is one of the most extraordinary achievements in the history of art, a masterpiece of form and content, in an unforgettable image which alone is worth a visit.