We are at Pompeii, a site that needs no introduction. It is known all over the world as the Roman city that was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. Here we are in the Forum, the most important part of the city, where the civic, social, political, judicial and above all commercial and religious life of the city played out. Opposite us we have the Capitolium, the most important temple of the city, dedicated to the Capitoline Triad: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, sculptures of whom were displayed. Everything was located around this rectangular area, which was situated at the crossroads of major arteries – to the north the road led to the salt pans, while to the south it lead to the port – it was here that the civic centre of the city developed, and around here that there were temples, such as the Temple of Apollo, the aforementioned Capitolium at the centre, shops, the Macellum – an important market in which fish were sold -, the temple dedicated to the Imperial cult and the Building of Eumachia, a highly significant building which we will talk more about later.
The Building of Eumachia
We are in the Building of Eumachia, a placelooking over the Forum, which shows ushowimportant the role of individualcitizenswas in Pompeii, along with their status and wealth.
Eumachiawas a priestess of Venus, assheherselfdeclares in the inscriptionthatwasat the front of this building, and itwasshewho, atherownexpense and in the name of her son, dedicatedthisplace to the citizens. Itis a large rectangular area at the back of whichwefind an apse, where the cult statue dedicated to Concordia, to whomthisplacewasdedicated, must havestood.
Behind the exedra, where the cult statue stood, was a cryptoporticuswhere the statue of Eumachiawasfound, and whichistodaykept in the ArchaeologicalMuseum of Naples.
Thisplacemayhavebeen a sort of market. Ithasbeenhypothesisedthatitwas a referencepoint for the fullones, or thosewhoworkedfabrics, degreasingthem and washingthem, and this corporation probablyhadEumachiaas a religiousreference.
At the entrance to the building wefind a small room with a landing, underneathwhichwas set a large jar, or dolium, in which urine wasbelieved to havebeencollected, which the fullones couldthen use for the treatment of textiles. From readingVitruvius on the otherhand, weknowthatthisplacewasused for issuing public announcements, with the heraldsatupon the landing and making use of the amplifyingeffect of the jar to makehis voice heardwhilstmakingannouncements.
At the entrance of this building therewereniches with depictions of Aeneas and Romulus and relatedinscriptionswhichlaudedtheirdeeds, whichrefersusdirectly to Rome and the Portico of Octavia, where the sameindicationsweredisplayed. The entranceisstilldecorated with a splendidpentelicmarbleportal with an acanthusspiraldecoration, a decorationdepicting an inhabited nature whichgives a sense of the goldenage and life thatwascelebratedduring the Augustan Age, and the decorationdirectlyrecalls the Ara Paris in Rome.
In the southwestern corner of the Forum stands this large building known as the Basilica. The name makes us think of our churches, of early Christian churches, and it was indeed this kind of Roman building which would inspire the structure of the paleochristian church, that is of a large room divided into naves by large columns such as in this case. The Basilica was the place where the Romans, and, in Pompeii, the Pompeians, litigated civil cases, and it was thus a law court. The court was located in the upper part of this building, whilst in the lower part there was a large porticoed square, which presumably was the site of commercial activity, exchanges and meetings. We can imagine this as one of the busiest places in the city of Pompeii. The building still retains its decoration in the First Style. It is here where that style, which was lost in most of the city due to the destruction wrought by the earthquake of AD 62, which partially destroyed this city and lead to the reconstruction of almost all of its buildings, is still preserved. Here the First Style, with its faux marble ‘incrustation’, survives. One other curiosity survives in the form of graffiti, left by a weary reader who pokes fun of politicians and declares: “I am amazed, o wall, that you have not collapsed under the weight of such silliness”.
Here we are in the Fullonica, or laundry of Pompeii, which takes its name from the Fullones, whose work involved bleaching and degreasing fabrics. In this particular case a domus was transformed by the owner Stephanus into a laundry. How?
The impluvium, or low basin which characterised the atrium of houses, was raised to become a basin in which to wash clothes. The upper part of the roof which was normally sloping so as to encourage rainwater to enter, was sealed and became a terrace on which to dry the clothes. The triclinium lost its function, despite being elegantly decorated, and the viridarium (garden), or rear of the house, became a place where basins were located to leave the clothes to settle and degrease them. The central position of the shop, located at the heart of Via dell’Abbondanza, indicates how important the textile business was, along with dyeing workshops and tanneries, and how important this corporation of the Fullones was for the economy of the city.
With a view to offering visitors an open-air museum, here the kitchen used by the fullones has been reproduced. We can see the cooking surface upon which could be found the embers with the pots placed on tripods, with pots still hanging on the walls. In short, all that was needed to cook a nice lunch during breaks from work.
Here we are on the so-called Via dell’Abbondanza. Actually this was the place dedicated to the Concordia Augusta. The street is the Decumanus Maximus, the main arterial road connecting the east of the city with the west. The entire city was indeed planned as a grid network of east-west running streets like this and cardines, the north-south running streets which crossed them. It was a regular layout, and this was indeed the main artery that ran all the way through the city up to the Sarnus Gate, as far as the boundary with the countryside and the river. The fountain that you see is the only travertine fountain, preceding the entrance to the Forum, and it is dedicated to Concordia, to Abundance. The female figure bears a horn full of fruit. Worthy of note is the ‘crowned’ nature of this street, which favoured the flow of water and made it possible to cross the street while remaining dry, and also prevented water becoming stagnant. We have large oval-shaped slabs, running parallel to each other, which connected one pavement to another and facilitated crossing. At the top of the side entrance to the Building of Eumachia there is an inscription which recalls the fact that Eumachia, a priestess of Venus, along with her son Marcus NumistrusFronto, had this building constructed at their own expense, dedicating it to the citizens of Pompeii.
The lives of the Pompei ans primarily played out on the streets, amongsttrade, meetings and activities of allkinds. This particular street – Via dell’Abbondanza – was always full of activity, with people often stopping at the thermopolia, a kind of fast-food restaurant, where one could either enjoy a fairly simple meal, or alternatively be hosted in the room behind, which was a sort of bar, where it was possible to sit down.
This, the thermopolium of VetutiusPlacidusis the mostimportant thermopolium of Via dell’Abbondanza, and it shows, particularly in the counterwhere the ownerhascoveredit with coloured marble and paidattention to the details. We also find an aedicule, where the deities who in some way were to protectthis business were depicted, including Bacchus the god of wine, Mercury the godw how at ches over commerce and favour searnings, the Lares and the Genius loci at the centre, with whom the owner likely identified.
Large dolia, or round bottom edjars were set into the counter, and would have contained hot or fresh foods, such as wine for example, which was served seasoned with spices, or cereal soups or legumes. Focaccia, olives, eggs and cheeses were also served. In other words meals which could be quickly consumed during daily activities.
Approximately 30kg of sesterces were found inside one of the dolia, equal to 670 sesterces, or the day’stakingswhich the owner evidently sought to protect in the moment when he had to escape due to the eruption. In order to verifythat the coins exchanged in this thermopolium were authentic, the owner hads upplied him self with a sort of mould in which he could test that the coinswere of the correctsizes. Thus, the counter top contained several grooves in which the owner could place the coins in order to test their authenticity, as a means of protection from the circulation of counter feit coins.
The House of Venus in the Shell
Along Via dell’Abbondanza wefind the domus, or the mostimportanthouses of Pompeii, the aristocratichouses. Thishousewherewe are currentlyis the House of Venus in the Shell, so called on account of the fresco foundat the bottom of the garden.
The Pompeian domus traditionallyhas more or less the samestructure – youenter a room called the atrium, whererainwaterthatentersthrough the roofiscollected in the impluvium, a sort of small quadrangular pool connected to the cisternbelow. Around the atrium wefind the first rooms, the cubicula, or bedrooms, where the peoplewholived in the house or theirvisitingguestswereaccommodated.
A domus alsofeatured a triclinium, a placewherethreecoucheswere set up on whichpeoplewouldeat, thentherewas a tablinum whichservedas the master of the house’s office and where the mostimportantdocumentswerekept. In additiontherewas a peristyle, or garden, wherewe are now, whichwassurrounded by columns and guest rooms. In thisparticularexampleitisdecorated with a paintedrearwallwhichdepicts Venus in a shell, and the goddessfindsherself in a heavenly garden, perhaps a yearned-for place. This style washighlyfashionable in Pompeii, thatis the depiction of paradisewithin the houses, wheretherewereevidentlyidealspacesintowhich, with a littleimagination, onecouldevenenter by climbing over the fence.
The Theatre Quarter
Here we are in the Theatre Quarter of Pompeii, in the south-west of the city. This area is home to two theatres: a smaller one, the Odeon, where we are now, and the Large Theatre. Directly behind the theatres are the Temple of Isis and the Samnite Palaestra, while adjacent to the Large Theatre is a sort of foyer, in the form of a quadroporticus which became the Gladiator Barracks following the earthquake of AD 62. The theatre was very popular among Pompeians, and the Large Theatre could accommodate up to 5,000 spectators, while the Odeon where we are now, which was a smaller theatre dedicated to musical performances and the reciting of poetry, could seat around 1,500 – 2,000 people. The theatre was subdivided into three seating sections, according to the status of the spectators. The first, the ima cavea, was the lowest part of the cavea and was reserved for the highest-ranking magistrates, the nobility and the most important figures of society. The media cavea meanwhile was reserved for the middle classes, including merchants and otherwise well-to-do people, and the somma cavea was reserved for the plebeians. The theatre itself consisted of a large orchestra, that is the area set aside for the chorus, and naturally the stage which was located in front of the cavea, and a large podium with three doors which permitted the actors to enter and leave the stage via a courtyard behind. Both theatres were constructed and expanded between the colonial age, that is 80 BC, and the Augustan Age. The Large Theatre in particular underwent several refurbishments and expansions in the Augustan Age itself, overseen by magistrates and the Duumviri, the officials who conducted and supervised public works at Pompeii. The orchestra of the theatre featured a highly elegant floor in coloured marbles, while the retaining walls of the cavea were decorated with telamones, or giants capable of supporting loads and the upper parts of the structure. The primary characteristic of this theatre was that it was a covered theatre, in order to enhance the acoustics and thereby improve the quality of musical performances.