Description of the Central Thermae (Ins VI, 1, 4-10)
The Central Thermae were built around the beginning of
the 1st century AD and were divided, as was then the common practice,
into men's and women's baths, each with their own separate entrances.
The men's baths had two entrances, (a) and (b), both opening onto the palaestra (d) which served not only as a
recreational area, but also as a meeting place and an open-air lounge. (The hatched area on the plan to the south may or may not have been part of the complex).
walls of the colonnade were decorated in the fourth style, with a red
central zone beneath an upper zone consisting of red geometric and
architectural motifs on a white ground.
The room is lit by a window placed at the top of the
south wall. On all four sides there are benches above which are stalls for the bathers' clothing and perhaps bathing
goods such as oils and unctions. The tepidarium was
heated by means of hot air beneath the floor and in ducts in the walls.
The caldarium (i) is entered by way of
a small door located near the centre of the east wall of the
tepidarium. The room, measuring 12.5m by 6.3m, has not fared as well as
the preceding rooms, a large portion of the ceiling having collapsed.
baths, although smaller and less elaborate, have survived in
even better condition than the men's. Preceded by a waiting room which
has its own entrance (l) on Cardo IV, these baths consist of an
apodyterium (m) (pictured right) decorated in red and white with an elegant marine mosaic floor, a tepidarium (n) (below and lower right) again decorated in red and white with a mosaic floor of meanders and squares, and finally a caldarium (o) with a rectangular basin and a circular labrum (pictured bottom right).
At the back of the building is the service area (j), a well, and a praefurnium
with boilers for heating the water and providing the hot air that
circulated through the walls of both the men's and women's baths. (The service area, coloured blue on the accompanying plan, had its own
entrance (k) on Cardo IV).
Just to the north of entrance (a) are the men's latrines (c) (shown above) which consisted of an 'L' shaped channel drain fed by the continuous inflow of water from the nearby frigidarium (g).
Next to the latrine is a long narrow room, lit by a small window that Maiuri
identified as the site for the doorkeeper of the spa. He had the task of monitoring entry and checking the passes required for admission.
The men's baths are entered directly off the north west corner of the palaestra. The first room, the apodyterium (e) (pictured above, below and left) has a vaulted ceiling decorated with stucco while the floor is paved in opus scutulatum. On
the north wall is a small arched apse, with some remaining traces of decoration, containing a
labrum of cipolin, while in the north-west corner are the remains of a
rectangular tank. Both were used for washing prior to entering the inner rooms of the baths. The
lower portion of the walls below the stalls for the bathers' clothing
is decorated in dark red, while the upper zone is in white.
the west wall of the apodyterium is the entrance to the frigidarium (g),
preceded by a small vestibule (f). The frigidarium was the last room involved in the bathing process, a cold pool to close the pores after bathing in the hot caldarium. The frigidarium, a circular room with a domed ceiling, is accessed from
the vestibule (f) through a small doorway on the south side. Directly
from the entrance two steps lead down to the plunge pool, which has a diameter of 4.1m and is about 1m deep. The frigidarium is decorated in the fourth style. The
circular pool is painted in blue-green, while the walls are decorated in
red with the four corner apses decorated in yellow. The dome is in pale blue decorated with fish and other marine animals.
The tepidarium (h) is accessed off the east side of the apodyterium. The tepidarium, 12m long by 6m wide has
a vaulted ceiling decorated with stucco while the floor has a fine
mosaic depicting a triton surrounded by dolphins (pictured below).
The caldarium (pictured above) was lit by a window on its southern side above an apse (pictured left) decorated with
stucco, which once held a labrum (removed by the Bourbons).
On the opposite side of the room is the large rectangular tank for hot bathing. In
this room, the yellow wall decoration was enhanced by a marble plinth, which
covered the perimeter of the room. The room had a mosaic floor but this is now sadly lost.....