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Sarno Baths

Description of the Baths (Reg VIII, Ins 2, 17-21)

The Sarno Baths lie at the junction of the Via delle Scuole and the Via della Regina. This extensive property is spread over five levels with a sixth, possibly wooden, overlying the ground floor level (level 1). The luxury apartments which occupied levels 1 and 3 had their own access to the main baths suite on level 4 and the associated bath rooms on level 5. Level 2 appears to have been a service area.

Entrance (a) at door number 17 (pictured lower right) provided public access to the bath suite on level 4 by way of an underground passageway (b) (pictured below). Immediately south of this doorway is the 
northernmost of two private entrances on the Via delle Scuole. This doorway opens onto a short fauces (c) the walls of which retain some plaster remnants; sadly they are too weathered to allow a detailed description of the decoration.

The fauces leads to a rectangular atrium (d) which had a central impluvium and a large tablinum (e) situated at its western end. The atrium (pictured opposite viewed from the fauceshas substantial plaster remnants but, again, these are too faded to allow a description. However, Fausto and Felice Niccolino in their book Houses and Monuments of Pompeii have provided us with detailed drawings of some of the original decoration; some of these are reproduced here courtesy of the Heidelberg University Library.

According to the Niccolini brothers the fourth style decoration of the northern wall of the atrium consisted of large black panels interspersed with architectural facades on a white ground, all above a lower decorative frieze (pictured opposite).

A doorway in the south west corner of the atrium opens onto passageway (f) (pictured right) which was also accessible directly from the street by way of doorway 20 (g). The passageway was lit by means of a window to a light-well (h) on its south side (visible in the left of the picture opposite). The passageway gave access to the kitchen (i) (pictured lower right) and a flight of stairs to the lower floors.

Part way down this broad passageway a second passageway (j) opened off its south side leading to a small peristyle (k) which was porticoed on three sides. The walls of the peristyle were painted black and richly decorated in the fourth style in the form of a pergola entwined with vines inhabited by birds and other small wildlife. A drawing by the Niccolini brothers is shown lower right with a detailed enlargement below.

The underground passageway from doorway 17 opened onto a short flight of stairs (a') on level 4 shown in the plan opposite. The stairs led down to a small vestibule which connects by way of a second flight of stairs with the apodyterium (b'). The apodyterium is barrel vaulted and was lit by a window high in its south wall. A doorway on the east side of the apodyterium opens onto the frigidarium (c'), a large room divided into two by an arch supported by brick pilasters. Covered with a richly decorated barrel vault, the room was lit by a large south facing window.



In the centre of one of the panels was a mythological scene (pictured opposite) showing Bellerophon sitting upon a throne receiving a letter from the Lycian king Jobates.


Doorway 21 (l) on the Via della Regina opens onto corridor (m) which connects with the western part of the property and gave access to the large atrium (n). The atrium had two alae and featured a large tablinum (o) at its southern end. The tablinum was fully open to the atrium and was flanked by side corridors. This part of the complex is in a ruinous condition with little in the way of remains.

Stairway (p) (pictured below) gave direct private access to the bath suite on level 4. The intervening floors are short of photographic and descriptive material. The fourth style decoration opposite is thought to have come from a room on the third level.

The room was decorated in the fourth style with red panels above a lower decorative frieze. At the back of the cold bath on the north wall was to be found the best preserved decoration (pictured opposite), the upper segment of which contained a 
mythological scene depiction a man sitting on a rock in a pastoral setting.

Renovation work was under way on level 4 at the time of the eruption. A new heating system was being laid in the tepidarium (e') and caldarium (f) both of which had large south facing windows. Likewise the installation of the furnaces in the praefurnium (g') had yet to be completed. A series of small rooms (h') lined the long south facing corridor which linked the baths with room (j') which acted as a vestibule to the private tunnel access (i').

 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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