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Central Baths

Description of the Baths (Reg IX, Ins 4, 5)

The Central Baths lie at the intersection of two of Pompeii's main streets, Via Stabiana and Via di Nola and occupy the whole of the interior of the insula. The baths were built within the framework of urban renewal carried out after the earthquake of AD62. The design followed the latest thinking in contemporary bathing practices, letting in more light to the interior and providing more exercise space outside. The most obvious feature in the layout of the Central Baths is that it had only a single set of bathing rooms as shown in the plan opposite. This may mean that the baths were for men only or that women might have had access to the baths at certain hours.

The entrances on the north, west and south sides (a and a') would have led directly to the palaestra (g) while the service entrances (j) would have opened onto a large corridor along the east side of the complex. The main entrance may have been on the north side through vestibule (a) (pictured opposite and below), by way of the palaestra (g) into room (b), probably the apodyterium, although the room was never finished. (Mau proposed that this room, together with the small rooms off its north and east sides, was a shop providing food and other goods for bathers, but an apodyteriam seems a more likely explanation). 

Doors on the south side of the frigidarium led to the tepidarium (d) which in turn opened onto the caldarium (e). Both these rooms had three large windows opening onto the palaestra (shown opposite). The five smaller windows on the south side of the caldarium overlooked what was probably going to be a narrow garden area (pictured lower right).

The baths would also have had a laconicum (f) accessed off the north east corner of the caldarium. The laconicum, lit by three small round windows set in the domed ceiling, would have had an intense dry heat to promote heavy sweating to purify and detoxify the body.

The Central Baths were to include a large palaestra (g) but this area had not been fully cleared at the time of the eruption. Indeed Mau found evidence of the remains of the residential block which had been demolished to allow for its construction. An area (h) on the east side of the proposed palaestra had been lowered to accommodate a large outdoor swimming pool and a drainage channel had been dug to lead waste water from the pool to the latrine (i) situated off the southern entrance (a') (pictured right).

The south side of the apodyterium opened onto the frigidarium (c) which had three large windows overlooking the palaestra (pictured below). Rather than a round room with a central tub as in the Forum and Stabian Baths, here it is a large, rectangular room with a basin for cold baths along its eastern wall. This is an innovation that that also occurs in the Sarno Baths.

While none of the rooms comprising the bath suite were anywhere near completion, the hollow floors and walls of the tepidarium, caldarium and laconicum had all been built. The marble lining for the baths, however, had yet to be laid and the construction of the two furnaces, to be located off the eastern service corridor (pictured left), had still to be commenced.

* Images ©Jackie and Bob Dunn are reproduced by permission from their website at www.pompeiiinpictures.com
(Su concessione del Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali: Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei)

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