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Pompeii‎ > ‎Public Buildings‎ > ‎

Large Palaestra

Description of the Palaestra (Reg II, Ins 7)

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The palaestra consisted of a central area for sporting activities surrounded by a high front wall and a three sided colonnade (pictured right). The decorative merlons along the top  of the front wall are probably an architectural allusion to the underlying ideology of readi- ness for battle. In fact the young men of Rome were no longer required to show proof of their military readiness since the legions were by then made up of professional troops from all corners of the Empire.
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Although there is little evidence to show that a collegeum was permanently established in the palaestra, there is evidence, in the form of several graffiti, that it was used as a site for games and athletic contests.
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Internally the boundary walls were decorated in the third style. Unfortunately most of this decoration has been lost, although a few patches have survived (picture right). 
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Framing the open area on three sides were two rows of plane trees which must have offered welcome shade in the summer heat. The surviving roots (pictured upper right) provide substantiating evidence as to the age of the complex. At the time of the eruption the trees were almost 100 years old which ties in with a date in the early years of the Augustan principate. The rows of trees have recently been replanted as part of a programme to recreate the green spaces of Pompeii.
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In the centre of the sports field was a large swimming pool (l) (pictured right) measuring 34 x 22 m and varying in depth from 1m at the west end to over 2m at the east.

The Large Palaestra (as opposed to the Samnite Palaestra) is situated to the south of the Via dell'Abbondanza in the eastern quarter of the city next to the Amphitheatre. It dates from the Augustan era and occupies an hugh area of approximately 140 x 105 metres.

A 3D view of the Large Palaestra taken from the adjoining Amphitheatre is available here, courtesy of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei. It is widely believed that this large sports field was Pompeii's response to Augustus' call to improve the moral and physical condition of young men in the upper classes, but there is little surviving evidence to support this view.
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The front of the palaestra, which faced the Amphitheatre, had three entrances (b - d) surmounted by pediments, one of which is pictured opposite. In all there were ten entrances (a - j) including four which opened directly onto the ends of the colonnade whose inner margins were supported by 118 Ionic columns of stuccoed brickwork.
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The colonnade, measuring over 350m, has no annexes except for a latrine (k) on the south side (pictured above and left) and a small shrine, perhaps dedicated to the cult of the Emperor, in the middle of the west side. The shrine, the base of which is pictured below, was in a small room preceded by two columns.
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Most of the graffiti, however, reflect other activities such as the school master complaining that he had not been paid, advice on choosing the right barber and the many references to the gladiatorial battles that took place in the Amphitheatre next door. These graffiti suggest a much more mixed set of leisure activities from shady park to open-air market and school. It must have proved particularly popular to the crowds at the adjoining Amphitheatre looking for a place for a break, to eat and drink and particularly to visit a toilet, as there was a distinct lack of latrines at the arena.
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The exterior walls of the colonnade were constructed in opus incertum (pictured below and lower left). The portals on the east side were damaged by the earthquake in AD62, and were rebuilt in opus latericium (pictured lower left).

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The cast opposite, currently to be seen in the Forum Granary Market (Reg VII, Ins 7, 29) is of a victim found sheltering in the south colonnade near the latrines.
When he died the man was wearing boots and a hooded cloak which he had used to cover his mouth as the toxic fumes and volcanic ash overcame him.
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