Description of the House (Ins oI, 2-3)
of the Relief of Telephus is one of the largest houses in the excavated
area covering about 1,800 sq. m. Together with the adjoining House of the Gem they originally formed a single large property developed from a string
of standard plots. The two atria that became the separate atria of
these houses reflect the orientation of the older standard plots. The
current house has an irregular layout due mainly to its
location and its owner's efforts to provide sea views to as many rooms
in the house as possible.
The house possibly belonged to one of the town's leading benefactors, Marcus Nonius Balbus and is somewhat unusual in that it has its own private access to the adjoining Suburban Thermae to the south.
doorway in the north west corner of the atrium (in the left of the picture above) leads to
the stables (e) which had their own separate entrance (f) on Cardo V wide enough
for carts and wagons.
On either side of
the tablinum (d) at the east end of the atrium, are twin alae (c), both
continuing the red and yellow theme of the main hall (pictured below).
The tablinum has a white mosaic floor with a double black border. In the centre
of the floor is a square decorative panel in black and white tesserae.
On the south wall of the atrium is a copy of a neo-Attic relief depicting an episode from the myth of
Telephus. The relief, which was found in an oecus off the peristyle, depicts Achilles
in the presence of his mother Thetis (pictured below), treating the
wound of the Mysian king, Telephus in return for the king showing the
Achaeans the way to Troy.
The peristyle encloses a garden (i) with a
rectangular pool (piscina) which still retains some of its decorative
blue plasterwork. Off the south side of the peristyle (pictured below) are three reasonably sized drawing rooms (j) each ornamented with mosaic flooring.
Below them, still to be excavated, are two more levels of rooms. From
the exposed edges it can be seen that they too were richly decorated.
second passageway (k) leads to the top floor of the most unusual feature
of the house, a tower like structure (m) built out over the shoreline with
three lower floors, the bottom two of which were abandoned as sea levels
rose and fell.
only three floors are currently visible a test trench along the east
side of the tower revealed the lowest of what we now know to be four
levels, with a facade composed of a series of engaged columns framing arched openings. These arches, like
those immediately above them, were later filled in because of a
significant drop in ground level which resulted in the encroachment of the
sea and the abandonment of the two lowest floors.
The entrance to the house (pictured left) opens directly onto a bright vestibule (a) which in turn gives way to the atrium (b).
The atrium, which seems to reveal the influence of
earlier Greek civic architecture in its three part division and ornamentation, has a central impluvium and puteal and
is colonnaded on two sides (shown left and below). But appearances can
be deceptive. What the visitor sees today is a reconstruction of the
house conceived by Amedeo Maiuri between 1934 and 1936. Although the
reconstruction of the house is impressive it is partly false,
particularly in the area of the atrium. The central impluvium shows that
the atrium roof originally covered the central space and the side
columns, rather than supporting the colonnades of a peristyle originally
acted as supports for an upper floor.
The decoration of the atrium is in the third style with
yellow panels (turned red in places by the heat and gases from the eruption) with architectural motifs above a lower red
frieze. The upper zone continues the architectural theme on a red
ground. The columns are of brick, stuccoed, and painted red, the spaces
between them decorated with oscilla - marble discs with reliefs on both sides (left and, in more detail, below).
(d) (pictured below) is decorated in a similar manner to the atrium,
with yellow decorative plasterwork (again turned red in places). The
room is open to the atrium over its full width and has a large window in
its east wall overlooking a large peristyle.
rest of the house, laid out along a different axis, is on a lower level
and is reached by way of a ramped corridor (g) located to the left of the tablinum. The ramped corridor leads down to a large terrace with an imposing peristyle
(h) (pictured lower left and below) which was porticoed on all four sides and had thirty-one columns of opus vittatum mixtum, alternating rows of brick and tufa blocks, supporting the inner margins of the roof. Bridging the gaps between the columns was a low wall or pluteus.
..The ground level appears to have recovered
until sometime after the construction of the Suburban Thermae when it
dropped once more prompting the building of a protective wall
along the baths' southern side. Thereafter the land once again rose.
This rise and fall of ground level was almost certainly connected to the
activity in the magma chamber beneath Vesuvius.On
each floor of the tower were three or four rooms, but it is the rooms
at the southern end with the sea views that were the focus.
top floor (pictured opposite and above) is currently undergoing
conservation work with the addition of a new roof and the installation
of windows but even in its current state the decoration is outstanding
with a polychrome marble floor and a spectacular dado composed of panels
of cipollino, pavonazzetto and africano marble
room immediately below this one has survived in even better condition
although the marble cladding on the lower part of the walls is less
lavish with plain marble slabs and plain dividers in place of the large
plaques of varied marble and richly decorated dividing columns.
and upper zones of the walls are decorated in red with a wallpaper style
design of repeated horizontal patterns etched out in white. The room also retains its entire marble floor in opus sectile