Pompeii, the ancient Roman town-city near modern Naples, boasted an assortment of baths, houses, temples, public structures, graffiti, frescoes and even a gymnasium and a port. But more than any of these antediluvian avenues, the city is best known for our fascination with disaster for over 400 years, after its rediscovery way back in 1599 AD. In fact, the site of Pompeii has been a popular tourist destination for over 250 years – thus merging an unfortunate episode of history and the innate level of human curiosity. However, beyond just the ‘popular’ impact of the disaster, there was the historical city of Pompeii – a thriving Roman settlement with over 11,000 in population. In fact, by late 1st century AD, Pompeii was known for its export of wine and its resort-like characteristics (which explains the bevy of ancient ‘holiday homes’ in the city). To that end, the folks over at Altair4 Multimedia have concocted a superb animation that aptly presents the historicity of Pompeii, before it was ‘marred’ by catastrophic events.
1) Forum –
The animation starts off with the Forum of Pompeii, which like in many Roman cities, pertained to the political as well as the commercial heart of the settlement. To that end, the Forum of Pompeii, rectangular in its plan, consisted of the principal municipal offices (including the tabularium), the courthouse (known as the Basilica), some of the main temples (including the Capitolium) and the bustling macellum (market). Interestingly enough, archaeological evidence has suggested that before the calamitous eruption of Vesuvius there were plans undertaken by the Roman city council to rather deck up and expand the forum area.
2) Basilica –
In its core design, the Roman basilica was inspired by the Greek stoa, a spatial scope that was basically conceived to provide shelter to merchants and other small enterprises at the edge of the agora. In any case, the basilica of Pompeii probably served as a courthouse of the city, and it was built in late 2nd century BC, by the south-west corner of the forum. The building in itself was pretty large, with its external dimensions measuring 226 x 86 ft. The complementary inner portico is formed by 12 x 4 columns and measures 150 x 42 ft, giving shape (and endowing volume) to the main hall comprising a long columnar nave surrounded by an aisle.
3) Temple of Apollo –
The cult of Apollo was prevalent in the regions of Campania since at least 6th century BC, thus even corresponding to the Samnite period. The subsequent sanctuary to the god was finally expanded and embellished with the Temple of Apollo, as shown in the video, in 1st century AD – possibly after the earthquake of 62 AD. This final form and expansion of the complex were patronized during the rule of emperor Nero, and as such the temple itself exhibited architectural features that fused both Italic and Greek styles.
To that end, the structure showcases a rectangular plan, with the entire perimeter surrounded by a whopping 48 columns. And in line with classical architecture, the inner cella raised atop the podium was reached through a long flight of steps. Now interestingly enough, one of these columns, that visually marked the cella of the god, also contained a sundial. And since we brought up gods, the Temple of Apollo housed two statues, with one depicting Apollo with his arrows and the other representing Diana – both currently kept in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
4) Temple of Jupiter –
The main religious structure of Pompeii arguably pertained to the Temple of Jupiter (also known as the Capitolium). Located on the northern side of the Forum, the structure was possibly built in 150 BC and dedicated to the triad of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. In essence, the Temple of Jupiter mirrored the ‘Romanization’ of Pompeii, a city that was previously inspired by the Greeks, in spite of the earlier years of Samnite rule. To that end, this particular complex symbolized the effect (and scope) of Roman architecture in religious and civic life, with purely Italic design motifs dominating the facades of the large structure.
In terms of volumetric dimensions, the base podium of the Temple of Jupiter alone measures around 121 x 56 x 10 ft or 68,000 cu ft. And as for the importance of the complex, the main hall that housed the statues of the gods also enclosed a lower chamber that was used for storing sacrificial offerings as well as the treasury of the city. Unfortunately, a significant part of the temple was already destroyed by the earthquake of 62 AD, and thus the smaller Temple of Jupiter Meilichios was the primary seat of religious activities, circa 79 AD (when Vesuvius erupted).
5) Odeon and Amphitheater –
Pompeii has the distinction of having Italy’s oldest known permanent stone theater, and the structure was possibly constructed in 70 BC after the full-fledged Roman conquest of the settlement. Interestingly enough, in spite of its public status, the amphitheater was privately funded, probably by two local officials Quinctius Valgus and Marcius Porcius, in a bid to enhance their influence. In any case, the theater, mainly known for hosting gladiatorial fights, was big enough to accommodate 20,000 people, thus suggesting how spectators also came from outside Pompeii, especially from the nearby towns.
In fact, according to ancient sources, in 59 AD, spectators from the nearby town of Nuceria fought against the ones from Pompeii in an ensuing riot. As a result, Nero had to impose a ban on games inside the Pompeii amphitheater for 10 years.
6) The Villas of Pompeii –
In the ‘section’ of villas, the video starts off by showcasing the Villa of Diomedes, which was designed as a pseudo-urban domus, originally built by one M. Arrius Diomedes. Comprising elements of the typical Roman upper-class house, the residential compound boasted living areas, service rooms and even specific bathing zones. These spatial features were complemented by gorgeous views of the proximate gardens and the distant sea from the triclinium (dining room) of the villa. The domus also had a lower section comprising a wine cellar that doubled as a supporting system for the peristyle around the garden. Unfortunately, the incredible architectural features were accompanied by grisly findings of around 20 ancient bodies left dead by the pernicious fumes of Mount Vesuvius, along with a silver key and a horde of 1356 sesterces (Roman coins).
The video also presents a bevy of other villas, including the famed ‘House of the Faun‘ (Casa del Fauno in Italian). Easily one of the largest and impressive residences of Pompeii, the domus was possibly also one of the most luxurious aristocratic houses in all of the Roman Empire. Named after a statue of a dancing faun (that doubled as a basin for catching rainwater), the villa in itself flaunted 32,000 sq ft in area ( the equivalent of more than half of an American football field), thus encompassing an entire insula or city block. And like the Villa of Diomedes, the domus showcased the typically sophisticated features of Roman residential architecture, along with its fair share of artworks and mosaics. In the latter category, archaeologists discovered the renowned ‘Alexander Mosaic’, composed of rare tesserae – that depicts the Battle of Issus in unison.
7) Macellum of Pompeii –
Located on the forum of Pompeii, the macellum was envisaged as a sort of a provision market for the burgeoning city. Interestingly enough, initially archaeologists were confused by the remnants of twelve column bases at the center of the structure that hinted at its status as a pantheon. However, later excavations also led to the discovery of cereals, fruits, bones and fish scales in the vicinity, thus proving that the structure functioned as a market.
In any case, a particular section of the macellum on the eastern side is entirely dedicated to the imperial cult, which in itself suggests the crucial role of Roman rulers in the first century of the empire. The building also exemplifies the unique Roman tendency to fuse economic and public domains, which not only translates to discovery of items relating to food and provisions but also pertains to intricate wall frescoes bedecking the market.
8) The Thermal Baths –
Carrying on with the ‘public’ tradition of Roman life, the thermal baths (thermae) of Pompeii had a bevy of interesting features, including cold baths, tepid baths, and even hot baths. In fact, the city boasted three thermal complexes, with the Stabian Thermal Baths being the oldest – dating back from the Samnite period; succeeded by The Forum Thermal Baths that were originally constructed under the orders of Sulla in 1st century BC. These were followed by the so-called Central Thermal Baths – a massive complex (largest among the three) built after the earthquake of 62 AD, comprising a whole insula. Designed in a more spatially efficient manner than its predecessors – to better serve the citizens, these baths were accompanied by the gymnasium, sudatorium (vaulted sweating-room) and ‘unisex’ rooms that catered to both the genders.
And as for the water heating scope used in Roman thermae, the architectural feature entailed the use of hypocaust systems. Simply put, the contemporary engineers devised an ancient variant of underfloor HVAC heating via a proximate furnace, often complemented by running heated water through the cavities in the wall. The Augustan period also saw the development of window panes. These relatively rudimentary specimens (utilized for preventing cold drafts into the baths) were probably rough cast into a wooden frame on top of a layer of sand or stone.
9) Temple of Vespasianus –
Located on the eastern side of the main forum, the Temple of Vespasianus was built after the earthquake of 62 AD, as a sanctum of worship for the cult of the Emperor. According to pompeii.org.uk –
A central door leads into a space in front of the inner sanctuary which is bounded on the front side by four columns. Inside these, a staircase on either side led up to a podium on which stood the cella containing the cult statue. Behind the sacellum were three rooms used for the officiators both of this temple and of the adjacent Temple of the Lares which could be reached via a communicating doorway. A marble altar with bas-relief sculptures can be seen in the center of the sanctuary.
10) Temple of The Public Lares –
Another religious structure built after the earthquake of 62 AD, the Temple of The Public Lares (guardian deities in ancient Roman religion) was dedicated to Pompeii’s tutelary gods. Intriguingly enough, the building was started as a means to assuage the divine entities after the natural calamity; though the construction was probably not wholly complete by 79 AD, the year of the greater disaster brought upon by the eruption of Vesuvius. As for its interesting architecture, once again according to pompeii.org.uk –
Although it had not been completed at the moment of the eruption, what remain suggests that its architecture was quite unusual. It was completely open on the side looking onto the Forum and could be reached through a portico adjoining the colonnade on the Forum, the bases of which are still visible. The temple had no roof and was floored with colored marble arranged in a geometrical design. In the center stood an altar, of which few remains can now be seen. In the rear wall a niche probably housed three statues of the town’s gods. On either side of the entrance were two alcoves with inset niches where the statues of other Lares undoubtedly stood.
11) Triangular Forum –
The Triangular Forum (Foro Triangolare in Italian), named after its geometric triangle shape, was possibly laid down by 2nd century BC, on the southern part of the hill where Pompeii was founded. In fact, the later building project was undertaken on the huge natural terrace that already housed some of the major sacred areas of the town, circa 6th century BC. Used for horse races and other forms of public entertainment, the interior of this forum is covered on three sides by a colonnade, while the southern-side was kept ‘open’ for an unobtrusive view of the surrounding panorama.
The southern part of the Triangular Forum also comprises a Doric temple (dedicated to Athena and Heracles) and a tholos (burial structure characterized by its false dome), constructed around what must have been a sacred well. A nearby building, shaped like a wishbone, consists of a smaller enclosure which had the tomb of a very important aristocrat (possibly one of the major patrons of the original settlement).
12) Temple of Isis –
Considered among the first discoveries made at the site of Pompeii in 1764, the Temple of Isis preserved its relatively small but delicately ornate facades, after being rebuilt post 62 AD. Frequented mostly by women, freedmen, and slaves, Ancient Vine describes the structure as such –
The Temple has a mixture of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman architectural features. This is not surprising since Roman architecture of this period was very ornate, often used bright colors, and borrowed and mixed styles from many eras. There were many statues in the Temple of Isis and the portico walls were covered with elaborate murals. To the left of the temple was a small roofless structure containing a tank that may have held the sacred water from the Nile, which was very important in many Isis ceremonies. In the rear of the sanctuary was a room containing a marble table where sacred meals were probably served.
13) Other Features –
The video also showcases a flurry of other fascinating features that were present in ancient Pompeii, including the Fullonica and the Torcular uvarum. To that end, the Fullonica di Stephanus was a three-storied launderette that served the rich and noble Roman families of the city, circa 1st century AD. Interestingly enough, historians have visualized how the establishment also provided food and refreshments to its famished attendants, while the extravagant patricians sent forth their expensive togas for washing. In line with the prevalent Roman practice, these garments were cleaned in imposing containers by using a composition of clay and urine.
Researchers have actually been able to restore the actual complementary kitchens of the Fullonica launderette. These ‘refurbished’ kitchens aptly glimpse into the ancient techniques and equipment for cooking food. Harking back to a period 2,000 years ago, the restorations showcase how the Romans cooked their food over specifically-made troughs that accommodated burning charcoal. Food like meat, fish, and vegetables were then put on grills that rested atop the flaming charcoal while accompanying dishes like soups, stews and gravies were concocted in pots and pans that were held by special tripods over the heated troughs.
And finally, in addition to food, there were drinks to consider – and this is where the torcular uvarum mechanism came into prominence. Essentially designed as a press for grapes, the tool was operated by dedicated personnel to extract the juice.
Main Video Source/ Featured Image Credit: Altair4 Multimedia Archeo3D Production (YouTube)