Architecture and art in the area around
links or pictures
go to larger images
Urban Architecture in Pompeii
The simulated rooftops of a single insula (= "island" = city block) in
Pompeii. Many roofs slope inward for rainwater collection.
The same block with some roofs removed to show rooms inside the
A cutaway side view of one of the houses and development of
the Pompeian domus.
More on the development of the domus.
The interior of a large domus.
How big can a domus get? This one is the Imperial
Palace in Rome.
An impluvium is a roof
structure that directs rainwater (pluvia) inward (im). Water was collected below in a
small pool called a compluvium.
Overflow from the compluvium
was directed to an underground cistern.
The atrium appears
to have been developed by the Tuscans (i.e., Etruscans) and the
Oscans. An Etruscan atrium
often had a gallery with doorways into second floor rooms.
Oscan Atria might have a simulated gallery.
An Oscan atrium --
house of the faun.
Upper class formal dining was usually in a triclinium, a room or area
with three couches or benches where people reclined to
eat. Later, after the
destruction of Pompeii, there
were also semi-circular arrangements called stibadia, but the
triclinium remained the norm throughout the ancient Roman
period. There were summer triclinia -- ourdoors -- and indoor winter triclinia. Most
eating was less formal. Poor folks apparently ate at
tables of counters and sat on backless chairs or
A triclinium scene.
If you were rich enough, your house would have an enclosed
garden -- a viridarium.
The bigger, the better. Big water features were sure
signs of wealth.
Pompeii lasted for centuries, so there, naturally, were changes
in use. The Fullonica
Stephanus was a laundry that had previously been a
Besides turning your domus into an industrial venue, like a
fulonica, you could use the street-side
areas as shops, restaurants, bakeries , or manufactories.
These could be operated by yourself, or members of your familia,
or non-familia renters. The back
garden might produce fruit and vegetables for home use or
for saje. A back yard water feature could produce
fish for the table.
Building and construction methods varied considerably.
There was a lot of opus
mixtum which could mean
alternating layers of it could mean "mixed work" caused by
numerous bouts of remodeling and expansion.
City water, drains, and sewers:
The Roman General Sulla suppressed
Pompeii's revolt in 80 BC. In the following "Roman years"
of Pompeii a great expansion of the water supp[y around the Bay
of Naples was needed to supplement rain water catchment and
groundwater wells within the towns and cities (22 wells
identified in Pompeii). Early in the reign of Augustus (28
BC - 14AD) Pompeii, Heculanum, and othe Bay of Naples localities
were connected to a new aqueduct, the Aqua Agusta, one
of the largest, most complex, and costliest aqueduct systems in
the Roman World. Unlike any
other of its time, it was a regional network
rather than being designed to serve one urban
center. Before the earthquakes of the early 60s
AD, it could supply 4000 cubic meters per day to
Pompeii, and by the time of the 79 AD earthquake repairs
had progressed to the point that it could supply 2000
cubic meters. Water from the Aqua Augusta
entered the city at its higher northern edge through a
Castellum Aquae Divisorum at the city's Vesuvius Gate.
The Castellum divided the water into three
streams: for public use (free flowing taps at many city
intersections), for the city baths, and for connections to
private premises. In times of shortage, water might be
limited or shut off first to the private users, then to the
baths. The idea was to keep the public spigots flowing as
long as possible.
Water moved through the city through
lead pipes and could be controlled by bronze valves.
Contrary to what has been been proposed, lead poisoning was
unlikely to have resulted from use of lead water pipes and
receptacles in Roman water systems -- Italian hard water quickly
left calcium deposits that prevented lead from leaching into
water supplies. On the other hand, lead pipes and tanks
used in the wine industry could easily degrade and introduce
lead into wines.
One of Pompeii 14 known water towers that were used to
regulate water pressure inside the city. Lead pipe
ran through groves in the structure to fill and drain an
open lead tank at the top of each tower. The exact
route of water flow among the towers is not known.
Similar methods of water flow contro are still used today
in areas with differing elevations.
Pompeii's streets were its sewers. Stepping stones
like these (hopefully) kept footwear clean and dry.
Streets in ruined Pompeii still flash-flood during rain
storms. The ruts were hand carved int the streets to
keep standard guage ox and donkey carts from breaking
wheels and axles on stepping stones.
Herculanum (or at least the parts that we know) did have a
sewer and drainage system. I just may have
been easier to dig sewers in herculanum.
There was some provision to keep the forum area from
flooding during rain storms. A pair of catchment
cisterns at the southern (downhil) end of the forum
drained through water tunnels toward the sea.
Tunnels in the same system also apparently connected some
temples in the forum area as well as the forum
baths. The Pompeii Archeological Park authorities
hope to clear and reuse the cistern/tunnel network.
City walls, towers, gates
The circuit of Pompeii walls was greatly expanded to the
norh and even more so to the east after General Sulla's
conquest of the city in 89 BC. It took years to fill
up the new walled areas, but by 79 AD that had been done,
and suburbs had sprouted up outside the walls. In
some areas, houses, baths, and other structures were even
built on and over the no walls which were no longer needed
A partially restored section of Pompeii's wall and
one of Pompeii' wall towers.
Anothe Pompeii wall tower.
Porto Ercolano -- the old gate through Pompeii's
wall on the road connecting the city to Herculanum
was torn down by Sulla's military Pompeii
colonists and was replace by a three portal
Triumphal Arch type gate with a central wide gate
for wagons and two side pedestrian
entrances. The central arch was knocked down
by the 79 AD eruption.
Outside view of Porto Ercolano and roadside
tombs/monuments as envisioned in an 18th century
Pompeii was built on a thirty meter thick lava
tongue from a long previous eruption of
Vesuvius. The ramp to the Porta Marina
(water gate) led down to the river port near the
mouth of the Sarno River just south of the
cuty. The actual gate is near the top of the
image under the lone tree at the very top.
It had a wide wagon/cart entry way and a narrower
raised pedestrian way to one side.
There is speculation that the building tunneled
through by the gateway may have been a
"customs/passport " shed. Buildings in the
foreground below the city wall, which runs along
the top of the image, are, literally, suburban.
Porta Marina's actual entrances are at the top of
the ramp that formerly descended from the city
wall on top of the prehistoric lava tongue to the
seacoast. What's now at at the bottom is
what the archeological park calls Porta Marina
Inferiora, the Ticket Kiosks and main
entryway into the park
Anything outside the walls was "rustic". The basic
farm house had accommodation for the owner (or overseer) and the
animals and storage facility for tools and crops.
At the other end of the spectrum were huge establishments
designed for "country living" by the rich. As fortunes
grew and waned, some, like the Villa of the Mysteries, changed
hands and added additional roles. By the time of the 79 AD
eruption, this pile held large entertainment spaces for a rich
middle-class owner and a winery that produced in commercial
The biggest "rustic villa" ever was the Villa Adriana in
Tiburtina (now Tivoli) east of Rome. It was near
therapeutic hot springs and also near the quaries that produced
the "tiburtina" stone (travertine) that was used to build much
of the villa and of Rome.
The fashion of Roman villas didn't die with Rome.
Public buildings around the Pompeii forum.
Map showing the major public buildings in the forum area.
Looking down the forum at the temple of the Capitoline
Triad: Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.
The Apollo Temple at the side of the forum.
The temple of the Imperial cult was rededicated to Vespasian by
Titus, his son and successor, one month before the 79 AD
The Basilica was the venue of courts and public functions.
Other public buildings
The amphitheater was called a spectacula
long before it was described as an "ambi-theater" or "theater on
both sides". This one, built by
Quinctius Valgus and Marcius Porcius at private expense, opened
after 70 BC -- about 150 years before the big "Colossem" was
built in Rome, and it is the earliest known stone
amphitheater. It's not known if similar wooden structures
existed earlier. This one held about 20,000 spectators
(i.e., people who went to the spectacula).
Before there were amphitheaters, gladiatorial contests were
staged, first, in graveyards -- they were funerary games.
Public games were first held in forums, still to commemorate
fallen soldiers. When theaters started to be built, the
games were moved there where they shared the bill with
theatrical performances (which also started a funerary
events.) Finally, amphitheaters supplanted theaters as
Unlike the amphitheater in Rome, this one in Pompeii had no
underground cages and passageways. The center of the arena
(which in Latin meant "sand") was below ground level --
excavated and the dirt thrown up in an elliptical ridge to
support the grandstands. (The theater, below, was built
the same way.) Next to the amphitheater was a rectangular
area for public participation sports -- only a corner is visible
at the upper left of this picture.
Another venue for public participation sports was this palaestra at the Stabian
baths (the baths just inside the Stabian Gate of Pompeii.
The theater had a slightly deeper orchestra than was usual in
Roman theaters. It was free standing (unlike hillside
"Greek" theaters, but the orchestra was below grade level.
A view of what was: awnings protected the audience (from audientia = a
hearing). Adjoining the theater was a smaller odeon, a roofed
structure for musical performances and poetry "readings".
Odes, actually, were almost always sung by their
author/composers and were self-accompanied on the cithara (a
lyre-like instrument). Nero was singing one of his odes in
the Pompeii odeon when the 64 AD earthquake struck. The
odeon did not fall down, and Nero said it was because the god
(Apollo) was pleased with the imperial performance.
The Via Abbondanza ran out from one corner of the forum and
appears to have been the main shopping district.
The Stabian baths had the standard chambers and functions, but
no separate facilities for women. Among its rooms were
several small cubicula
whose unknown function has caused centuries of gossip.
There were four sets of public baths, but the "central baths"
were still under construction at the time of the
eruption. The central baths, the forum baths, and
the Stabian baths can be visited, but the fourth set was
Public toilets were spotted around the city, some privately
funded and some built at public expense. This large
establishment was at a corner of the forum. Urine was
collected in pots on street corners and in front of fulleries
for use in processing and cleaning cloth.
A small snack bar with an upstairs room which was probably an
apartment or storeroom. Some establishments had back rooms
or upstairs dining rooms and some, inevitably, had rooms where
sex was available for money. The masonry counter fronted
on the street and held embedded pottery jugs for hot or cold
A combination mill and bakery. Grain was distributed daily
to anyone who cared to go to the distribution points. The
grain was taken to the the bakery where it could be exchanged
immediately for bread, at a slight premium. Bread was made
in several grades: the rich ate white bread and the poor
ate whole grain. All grain was "stone-ground", so grit
found its way into the flour and baked goods -- causing
characteristic tooth wear. Pompeii, with large quarries of
volcanic stone appropriate for making millstones, provided
grinding equipment to millers throughout central Italy.
Tombs were always outside the pomerium,
or sacred municipal precinct, which, in practice, meant outside
the walls of a city: the pomerium expanded with the city walls.
Publicly funded fire brigades were organized by Nero in all
Roman cities after Rome burned in 64 AD. There had been
some fire regulations in Rome and Ostia at least from the time
Art and Decoration
Romans used frescoes, mosaics, and sculpture as decoration,
although some works approach what we call "art", most was not
very good. Much of their art was derivative of Greek
art. Naturally, the museums only stock the best, giving
the impression that "Roman art" was heavy on masterpieces.
Pompeian wall decorations were usually frescoes (mosaics were
usually on the floor.) August Mau's 19th century "four
styles" are still used to describe Pompeian frescoes. From
the beginning, large areas of stylistic overlap have been
recognised, but only recently have chronological overlaps been
added into the mix. It's now apparent that the four styles
were additive and that new versions of old styles were sometimes
done to add variety.
The first style was an imitation of marble panels. First
the panels would be molded and in various levels. Later examples
add "pillars" and the panels were not molded, but rather they
were painted on flat surfaces with the illusion of depth
accomplished by painted-on shadows.
Early style 2 added some architectural detail to the pillars and
later style 2 added "openings", into which the "outside world"
Painted "outside world" scenes could be architectural, rustic,
or mythological, with the latter appearing most often in upper
This style 2 room from the Villa Synistor which was excavated in
Boscoreal is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
Other parts of the Villa were exported (1902) by the landowner,
on whose estate the Villa was found, to the Louvre and other
museums. It turned out that this was a lucky circumstance,
as the excavated Villa was backfilled and the site was then
partially buried by a lava flow from Vesuvius in 1906.
Style 2 scenes from the Villa Synistor room in the
Met. The "rustic" scene on the right is characteristic of
that style -- "rustic" in this context implies the "rusticity"
of a rich suburban villa. The "architectural" scene on the
left is much more complex than most of its kind, and the
interlocking perspectives make it look like something designed
by MC Escher.
Style 3 added large flat panels of color and the scenes
gradually shrunk to smaller sizes: they were no longer
"openings' but now were more like framed paintings.
Style 3 architectural details became more attenuated and
Although style three scenes became smaller, they were still
Painters applied fresh plaster in small sections to walls, on
which the outlines of the composition were already
incised. Here the surface layer has fallen off exposing
Fourth style was composite and eclectic and carried forward
earlier trends. "Scenes" became individual and sometimes
tiny, architectural details still more tenuous and
fantastic. There was a great deal of variation.
By the time of the eruption, Style 4 was almost surreal.
The house of the Vetti in Pompeii was being redecorated in Style
4 at the time of the eruption. This particular example of
style 4 has the look of a picture gallery, but everything is
fresco painted onto the walls. It's thought that the
Renaissance "quadratura" (= "framed") fresco style was in
imitation of this style.
A tiny style 4 scene.
Occupational information: Vetti House "Golden Cupids" have
given a great deal of information on how things were done.
More Vetti Cupids
The Alexander mosaic (ca. 100 BC), from a floor in the House of
the Faun in Pompeii, shows the Battle of Issus where Alexander
defeated the Persian King, Darius III. From the
composition and findspot it appears that about two-thirds of the
mosaic is preserved (now in the National Archeological Museum in
Naples). The mosaic was famous in its own time and
was identified by Pliny the Elder as a copy of a Greek painting
by "Piloxenus" of Eretria,
created for King Cassander of Macedonia. The
mosaic (the 2/3 of the original that was preserved -- about
16 feet or 5 meters wide) was moved to the National Museum
in Naples in 1843, and a full scale copy was installed in
the mosaic's original location in the House of the Faun at
the end of 2005. (For more information, see (http://www.archaeology.org/0601/abstracts/mosaic.html).
The border below the Alexander Mosaic was this Nilotic
scene. It has nothing to do with the Alexander scene and
was probably installed simply to fill the extra floor space.
Every house had a Lararium
or family shrine. The Lares (singular, Lar) almost always appeared
as a pair of young men holding aloft wine goblets. They
flanked the genius or
spirit of the family. A snake or a pair of snakes almost
always were included, as a good luck icon (conjecture: rat
Another form of popular "art" was what we would have called
pornography -- it was intended to be prurient. It appeared
in bars, restaurants, baths and other "public houses", but also
in the houses of the rich. Nobody likes to say it -- it's
not politically correct -- but the taste for pornography might
well have stemmed from the fact that Pompeii was resettled as a
military colony (Colonia Veneria) after General Sulla conquered
the city in 89 BC, and the Oscan upper classes had been displaced by demobilized soldiers.
More Venerial art -- scenes from above the cells of a brothel
which may have been advertizements for what was available in
At the front door of the Vetti House, Priapus weighs himself
"Mercury" delivering a message.
The "Three Graces" Chastity tries to restrain Lust and
Beauty. The motif was very common and remained so through
By the Renaissance the Three Graces are dancing (Botticelli) ...
or sitting on clouds