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The Silk Route - World Travel: Pompeii, Italy
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Italy: Pompeii Regiones VII, VIII & IX
1998, 2017

Regio VII - La Città Pubblica Regio VIII - La Città Sacra e La Città Profana Regio IX - La Città Che Non Ti Aspetti
Body cast, Pompeii

 

Pompeii is one of the most fascinating ancient sites in the world - it takes a long day to cover it in any depth. This third part looks at the region of the forum, baths complexes and the theatre district.

Part 1 Part 2

 

Regio VII - La Città Pubblica

Pompeii
Forum from the south side.

 

 

The Public City, where the Forum and major civic and religious buildings are located, is the heart of the city. There were large markets, three sets of baths, many temples, commercial buildings for business transactions, judicial and political buildings. Here the citizens would come to shop, worship, vote and socialize.

 

Pompeii
Modern sculpture of a centaur by Mitoraj in the Forum.
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Looking to the north west corner of the Macellum across the remains of a tholos.
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West side of Macellum with steps leading into a shrine, possibly dedicated to the cult of the Caesars.

 

Around the spacious rectangular Forum were set the most important public buildings. On the east side in the north is the Macellum - a large food market dealing in meat, from livestock to wild game, fish and other food.1 Inside are the remains of 12 pillars which once supported a domed roof. This tholos is possibly where fish was sold, as a rectangular basin in the floor of the tholos was found to be full of fish scales.2

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The Arch of Augustus and Temple of Jupiter on the north side of the Forum. After the Roman colonisation of 80 BC the people were required to worship the Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva to which this temple was dedicated.
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Shrine with statues in niches on the east side of the Macellum.
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Painting under the portico in the north west corner of the Macellum.
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Statue of Apollo as an archer in 1998 ...
Pompeii
... and again in 2017.

 

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Altar in the Temple of Vespasian.
Ceremonies honouring the living emperor involved the sacrifice of a bull.1

Immediately south of the Macellum is a building whose function is not absolutely known. On the guide map it is called the Sanctuary of the Public Lares - where domestic larariums were devoted to household gods, this public version was dedicated to Pompeii's city gods. However it may also have been related to the cult of the emperor as god, as the next building south was.3 This was the Tempio di Genius Augusti, also called the Temple of Vespasian (and Titus?). On the death of Vespasian in June 79 AD his son Titus became emperor. It seems to be generally agreed that the temple was dedicated to the cult of the emperor.

On the south east corner is the Building of Eumachia. Eumachia - a priestess of the goddess Venus - commissioned the building which may gave been used for trade or commercial purposes. A statue of Eumachia was found inside.1

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West side of the Forum.
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Granai del Foro

 

At the south end of the west side was the Temple of Apollo, one of the important gods of the city. In the centre of the west side was the Granai del Foro, literally the Forum barns. Perhaps the main grain market, maybe also for fresh produce. It is now used as a storage area for artefacts found at Pompeii and also some of the human and animal casts.

On the south west corner of the Forum, though itself in Regio VIII, is the Basilica - not a religious building but a civil building where justice was administered and where also commercial and financial transactions were conducted.1 Also in Regio VIII on the south side of the Forum was the Comitum where voting took place.

Pompeii
Granai del Foro
A cart and many amphorae and marble tables.

North of the Forum are the Forum Baths. Taking up a large area they have the full compliment of rooms associated with public bathing from the apodyterium - the changing room, through the cold water frigidarium to the warmer tepidarium and the hot caldarium. The Form baths had a high attention to detail to ensure as comfortable an experience as possible. So the cold bath in the frigidarium was entered by steps allowing bathers to enter the cold water gradually.

Pompeii
Portico around the courtyard of the Forum Baths.
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Remnants of the stucco ceiling in the tepidarium.
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Tepidarium of the Forum Baths.
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Telamons (Atlas figures) separated by niches.
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Caldarium of the Forum Baths.
The large basin is called a labrum. It held cold water for the bathers to cool off a little and allow them to stay in this hottest room for longer. The damage to the wall exposes the hollow interior.

In the caldarium the barrel-vaulted roof was ribbed so that the water from condensing steam ran down the ribs to the walls thus preventing cold water from dripping onto the people below. As well as the underfloor hypocaust heating system in the hotter rooms, there were also hollow walls where hot air circulated avoiding the need for braziers.1

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The marble hot bath in the caldarium.
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Bacchanalian scenes in opus sectile from the Casa dei Capitelli Colorati on Insula 4, now in Naples Archaeological Museum.
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Fountain on Vicolo della Maschera with a relief of a tragic theatrical mask.
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Casa dell'Orso Ferito
In the entrance this mosaic shows a badly wounded bear.
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Frescoes in the tablinum of the Casa della Caccia Antica on Insula 4.

 

The Casa dell'Orso Ferito (House of the Wounded Bear) is north of Vicolo degli Augustali on the east of Regio VII in Insula 2. It has some fine mosaic floors, one of which is of a wounded bear in the house entrance, an odd subject to choose to welcome visitors.

Other floor panels have an unusual decorative technique, more abstract in design with coloured marble squares placed within a patterned black and white border.

Pompeii
Casa dell'Orso Ferito
Looking from the atrium across the tablinum to the mosaic fountain.
Pompeii
A fine and unusual mosaic floor in the tablinum.
Pompeii
Casa dell'Orso Ferito
Above the fountain is a fresco of a boar and a dog.

 

There is also a beautiful mosaic fountain on the north side of the tablinum. In the apse of the fountain is a mosaic of Venus on a shell, a popular subject.

 

Pompeii
Mosaic Gorgon head on the fountain.
Pompeii
Mosaic Venus on a shell in the apse of the fountain.
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Mosaic Neptune (?) and sea creatures in the apse of the fountain.
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Vicolo del Lupanar looking south from the junction with Via degli Augustali. On the right is a thermopolium.

 

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Lupanar
This cubicle has a stone bed fitted into an acute angle of the outside wall of the brothel, but at least it has the benefit of a window.

 

South of Casa dell'Orso Ferito, on Vicolo del Lupanar in Insula 12, is the infamous brothel or lupanar of Pompeii, though it was of course not the only one in the city. Very small cubicles contain a single small stone bed base which would have had a mattress. The walls were decorated with erotic paintings.

 

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Tufa phallus found in a small temple.
Naples Archaeological Museum
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Casa di M. Caesi Blandi
North side of Insula 1.
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Looking across the Tuscan atrium to the peristyle garden of the Casa di Sirico.
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Erotic paintings in the lupanar.

The Pompeiians - and all Romans in this era - had a very relaxed attitude to erotica. Many villas had erotic paintings on the walls and images or sculptures of a phallus appear all over the place as it was regarded as a symbol of good luck and prosperity which also warded off the "evil eye". It can often be found on outside walls or even carved into pavements.

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Casa di Sirico
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Portrait of a couple found in the House of Terentius Nero, now in the Naples Archaeological Museum.

 

 

In the House of Terentius Nero on the east side of Insula 2 was found what is now one of the most famous paintings from Pompeii. The wall painting is of the owner of the house, the baker Terentius Nero, and wife. Fashionably attired and portrayed as cultured and refined, they have raised themselves from more humble origins - according to the Naples Archaeological Museum website their facial features show their Samnite origin.4

The pose of the woman seems to mimic that of "Sappho" above, in Regio VI.

Pompeii
Portico surrounding the palestra of the Stabian Baths.
Looking north from near the entrance on Via dell'Abbondanza.

On the south east corner of Regio VII, the Stabian Baths cover almost half of Insula 1. This was the first Baths complex to be built in Pompeii, during the Samnite era, some time in the fourth century BC. The Baths had been extensively remodelled over the intervening years before the eruption, however, and what we see today dates mostly from the 1st century BC.5

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Men's apodyterium (changing room) with niches for clothes.
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North portico of the palestra.

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North portico with a statue of a woman near the entrance to the women's baths.
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Fine stucco decoration in the men's apodyterium.

 

Men and women had their own baths, though this arrangement had begun to change in the era immediately before the eruption.1

 

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Cold bath in the men's frigidarium.
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Marble bath in the women's caldarium.

 

 

 

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Women's apodyterium with niches, benches and a pool.

 

The stucco decoration in the women's caldarium is particularly elegant with relief columns and a frieze of garlands, birds and plants. The ceiling is ribbed to allow condensing steam to flow down to the walls rather than dropping onto the bathers.

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Labrum in the women's caldarium.
Pompeii

 

Regio VIII - La Città Sacra e La Città Profana

 

Pompeii
Modern sculpture of Daedalus by Mitoraj in the tumbled ruins of the Temple of Venus.

Pompeii
Basilica looking west. 1998
On the left is the south corridor of the building. In 2017 the space between the columns was filled with chairs and a platform for some kind of performance.

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House on Via delle Scuole with a fine mosaic in the entrance.

The sacred and profane city - at the western end the huge Temple of Venus, at the eastern end the two theatres, in between houses, smaller temples, baths, shops and civil buildings.

Close to the Porta Marina in Insula 1 is the Temple of Venus. Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who took Pompeii from the Samnites in 80 BC, revered Venus and the city became Colonia Cornelia Veneria Pompeiianorum.1

Little remains to be seen of this, the largest Roman temple in Pompeii.

Pompeii
Pompeii
The Tribunal where justice was administered at the west end of the Basilica.

 

 

East of the temple the Basilica lies at the south west corner of the Forum which is in Regio VII but itself is technically in Regio VIII. It is oriented so that its main east entrance lies on the Forum

Today we think of a basilica as a religious building but originally this was not the case. It had a civil function where justice was administered and where also commercial and financial transactions were conducted.1 The large space surrounded by a colonnade was where business was transacted. Justice was administered in the roofed building at the west end of the Basilica called the Tribunal. There are no obvious steps up to the Tribunal and it is thought that some kind of mobile platform must have been used.6 Elevating the Tribunal above the crowds has the effect of reinforcing the concept that no-one is above the law.

 

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North end of Via delle Scuole with the Forum beyond.
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Lovely decorative brickwork in a large house on Via delle Scuole.

Casa dei Mosaici Geometrici - House of the Geometric Mosaics - is on the east side of south Via delle Scuole. It lives up to its name with a number of mosaic floors that would please any mathematician!

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Casa dei Mosaici Geometrici
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Casa dei Mosaici Geometrici
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Pompeii
Casa dei Mosaici Geometrici
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Vicolo della Regina runs east from the south end of Via delle Scuole.
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Palestra degli Iuvenes
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Casa dei Mosaici Geometrici
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Casa dei Mosaici Geometrici

On Vicolo della Regina is a house that was converted into a private gymnasium called Palestra degli Iuvenes which has substantial remnants of beautiful wall frescoes.

Pompeii
Entrance hall of Palestra degli Iuvenes leading to a peristyle. The mosaic in the foreground is of two athletes.6
Pompeii
Palestra degli Iuvenes
Pompeii
Palestra degli Iuvenes

 

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Street altar on Vicolo della Regina.
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Casa del Cinghiale


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House of Cornelius Rufus
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Triangular Forum
In the background is the Great Theatre.

 

 

 

Next to a street altar on Vicolo della Regina is Casa del Cinghiale with a fine floor mosaic of a boar.

On the north east corner of Insula 4 the House of Cornelius Rufus was very large with entrances on both Via dell'Abbondanza (running east west) and Via Stabiana (running north south).

Pompeii
Via dell'Abbondanza looking east from near the crossroads with Via Stabiana; centre is the entrance to the House of Cornelius Rufus.

Insula 7 is in the south east corner of Regio VII. In its north east corner is the Triangular Forum, one of the oldest sacred spaces in the city dating back to the very early Samnite era in the 6th century BC.7

Pompeii
Samnite Palestra
On the left is a pedestal on which there was once a statue of the palestra's protecting deity.

To the east of the Triangular Forum is the Samnite Palestra, the oldest gymnasium in the city dating from the 2nd century BC. It is a very small palestra with an open space for exercising surrounded by columns. Here there used to be a statue of the guardian god of the palestra, of which only the pedestal remains; the statue was crowned by winners of competitions.1

East again is the Temple of Isis, built at the end of the 2nd century BC when the Egyptian cults were being brought to the region along the trade routes. The temple collapsed in the earthquake of 62 AD and subsequently restored by a private individual, Popidus Ampliatus, in the name of his son Numerius Popidius Celsinus who was only six years old at the time according to an inscription on the lintel of the entrance.1

Pompeii
Temple of Isis

The temple is situated within a tall enclosure where there is also an entrance to an underground room, supposed to contain water from the Nile which was actually local water. The water was necessary for the purification ritual of the cult.1 Statues and Isis and her brother Osiris stood within the cella, statues of Anubis and Harpocrates in the niches outside. The whole temple was richly decorated with sacred scenes on a red ground in the Fourth Style.

Ampliatus was a freedman of Samnite origin and could never hold public office as he was born a slave. However, he could perhaps promote his son's position in society by restoring the temple in his name.

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Tempio di Esculapio
Entrance on Via Stabiana with a small fountain outside.

 

Pompeii
Tempio di Esculapio

 

 

On the north east corner of Insula 7 is another temple: the Tempio di Esculapio or Asklepios, the Greek god of medecine and healing usually depicted with a staff around which a snake is entwined. This has continued through the millenia to be a symbol of the healing arts.

PompeiiTempio di Esculapio
The decoration on the scrolls of the altar could represent the scales of a snake.

 

A snake might seem an odd choice for such a symbol and the reasons for its use are disputed. A particular type of non-venomous snake was allowed into the Asklepion sanctuaries, now known as an Aesculapian Snake.

Terracotta statues of both Asklepios and his daughter Hygieia were found in the cella. Hygieia was the goddess of health and cleanliness.

 

Pompeii
Great Theatre

 

The largest structure in Regio VIII is the Great Theatre occupying most of the centreof Insula 7. Built in the 2nd century BC it is Greek in style, set into the slope of a hill. Originally having seats for 5,000 people, it was enlarged in the Augustan erawith the financial support of two of the richest and most influential members of the time, the Olconii brothers.1

Dramatic performances were staged here, mostly tragedies and comedies, requiring different scenery, costumnes and masks for the actors. Actors were exclusively male, portrayiong also the female roles, and di not enjoy a high standing in society!1

Pompeii
Kneeling Atlas or Telemon and lion's paw.

The Great Theatre was not roofed but the spectators were protected from the fierce sun by an awning stretching from stout wooden poles fitted into basalt blocks on the tall back wall of the seating area down to the roof of the stage.

Pompeii
Small Theatre 1998

 

Between the Great Theatre and Via Stabiana is the Small Theatre or Odeon which could seat up to 2,000 people. Again of Greek design this intimate roofed space was probably used for poetry recitations and musical performances or even for political meetings of the city council - perhaps it fulfilled several different functions.1

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Quadriporticus or Gladiator Barracks
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Small Theatre

South of the Great Theatre is a large area clled the Quadriporticus. This extensive area could have acted both as a foyer for the theatre and also as a palestra for older boys. Dating from around the brginning of the 1st century BC, it was later transformed into barracks for gladiators.1

 

Regio IX - La Città Che Non Ti Aspetti

Pompeii
Via di Nola

La Città Che Non Ti Aspetti - the "city that doesn't wait for you" as the guide map has it - is in the centre, a little over half having been investigated. It is bounded on the north by Via di Nola, on the south by Via dell'Abbondanza - these being the two main east-west arteries or decumani of the city - and on the west by the Via Stabiana, one of the three crossing cardines, the other two being Via di Mercurio and Via di Nocera.

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House in Insula5 on Via di Nola.

 

The Central Baths were in the final stages of construction at the time of the eruption. They would have been one of the largest baths complexes in the city taking up most of Insula 4.

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Central Baths
From left to right: doorway to apodyterium (changing room), three windows of the frigidarium (cold), three windows of the tepidarium (warm), and three windows of the caldarium (hot).6
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Casa di Marco Lucrezio
Tablinum on the east side of the atrium with the garden behind.
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Casa di Marco Lucrezio
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House of the Chaste Lovers

 

Casa di Marco Lucrezio is one of the more notable homes on Via Stabiana, quite irregular in plan as it was the result of an amalgamation of two neighbouring houses.

It is very large, around 40 rooms on the ground floor alone, with a beautiful garden, the heart of the home. The owner's name was painted in a fresco depicting writing instruments and a letter addressed to him.

 

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Garden of the Casa di Marco Lucrezio.
The heads on columns are called "herms" and are an ancient Greek boundary marker.
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A fine atrium in the House of M. Epidius Rufus.
This house was very badly damaged in WW2 bombing.6

The House of the Chaste Lovers on Via dell'Abbondanza takes its name from a fresco of a banquet in the triclinium portraying a couple embracing.1 It is quite a large residence, on two floors and even has a bakery. Several skeletons were found here, including those of mules used to drive the stone flour mill.

 

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Graffiti between Caupona of Purpurio and House of the Chaste Lovers.
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Oven in bakery in Insula 1.

 

References

  1. Pompeii: The History, Life and Art of the Buried City, Ed. Marisa Ranieri Panetta, White Star Publishers, 2004.
  2. Scuole Normale Superiore: Pompei - Macellum (PDF)
  3. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli: Frescoes
  4. Sanctuary of the public Lares (PDF)
  5. AD79: Stabian Baths of Pompeii
  6. Pompeii in Pictures - huge thanks also to this site for aiding in the identification of the exact location of a good number of photographs.
  7. Parco Archeologico di Pompeii: Triangular Forum and Doric Temple