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Palaestra

Description of the Palaestra (Ins oII)

The eastern side of Insula Orientalis II is almost completely taken up by the partially excavated Palaestra (note: the unexcavated area is coloured brown in the accompanying plan opposite). The main entrance (a) to the complex on Cardo V consisted of a large rectangular room with a vaulted ceiling, preceded by two stuccoed brick columns. The Palaestra was built during the Augustan period and occupies an area of approximately 105 x 70 metres.
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In the centre of the portico, on the side running parallel with Cardo V (the west side), is a apsidal room (d) (pictured opposite) containing a central marble platform and table, perhaps for the display of prizes.

The exterior wall of the cryptoporticus (pictured lower right) consists of engaged Ionic columns of stuccoed brickwork flanking a series of windows that give light to the enclosed corridor. The basic structure of the cryptoporticus itself (pictured below) survived the effects of the eruption in remarkably good condition.
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Most of the marble decoration that once adorned the Palaestra was destroyed or removed during the 18th century by the early excavators. Two panels, however, have survived and can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples along with some of the remaining fresco decoration (pictured above).

The Palaestra was laid out straight and level over its length while, to its west, Cardo V rises steadily from the main entrance (a) northwards. As a consequence the Aula Superiore or Upper Hall (f) (pictured right), which is at street level where it opens off the east end of the Decumanus Maximus, gives access, by way of a short passageway (g), to the Palaestra at first floor level in the form of an upper storey to the cryptoporticus.
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The open area (b) of the Palaestra is surrounded by a portico on three sides with a cryptoporticus (c) making up the fourth. The fluted Corinthian columns which support the portico are composed of tufa and stuccoed brick (pictured above and opposite).
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Occupying the middle of the open area was a cruciform pool 5.5 m wide by 1.1m deep with arms measuring approximately 50m and 30m. This pool (e) still remains buried. At the centre of the pool (reached by a short tunnel) was a bronze fountain consisting of a five-headed serpent entwined round a tree.  The original fountain has now been replaced by a replica (pictured below).

To the north of the central pool is a second pool (f) 30m long (in the picture above) which may have been used for swimming or as a fish tank.
It was not in use at the time of the eruption.
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