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Pompeii‎ > ‎Public Buildings‎ > ‎

Temple of Isis

Description of the Temple (Reg VIII, Ins 7, 28)

The temple dates from the 2nd century BC and was dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, whose cult was widespread throughout the Roman Empire.

The entrance (A), which opens off the south side of the Via del Tempio d'Iside, bears a dedicatory inscription to its reconstruction after the earthquake of AD62. The reconstruction was financed by the freedman Numerius Popidius Ampliatus in the name of his son
Celsinus.

The entrance opens onto a courtyard surrounded by a four sided portico.
The portico was decorated in the fourth style with red panels (shown below) containing priests in ceremonial dress and Egyptian landscapes separated by architectural themes with small Nilotic scenes or naval battles all above a lower orange frieze of lionesses, sphinxes, dragons and dolphins. The upper zone contained floating temples and small paintings of landscapes and still lifes on a white ground.
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All surviving decoration can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples in a series of rooms specifically devoted to the temple and its finds (rooms LXXIX - LXXXII, and LXXXIV).
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The temple, which sits on a raised podium in the centre of the courtyard, has a porticoed entrance (B) with niches on either side of the entrance to the cella. The walls were originally covered in white stucco in imitation of opus quadratum, while along the back wall was a raised plinth (C) designed to support statues of Isis and Osiris. In a niche at the rear of the podium was a statue of Dionysus with a panther, a gift of Numerius Popidius Ampliatus.

The temple's main altar (D) (pictured lower left) sits to the left of the steps with a second altar (E) on the south side of the podium. On the eastern side of the complex is a small temple-like structure (F) (pictured below) with a stairway leading down to an underground cistern containing the sacred waters of the Nile. The small temple is referred to as the Purgatorium, the place where purification rites were performed. The facade has a broken triangular pediment and a frieze with two processions of priests converging towards the centre. Mars with Venus and Perseus with Andromeda are shown in relief on the exterior side walls. A detail from the east side wall is shown lower left.
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To the west of the temple court is a large room (G), known as the Ekklesiasterion. This hall was found virtually intact with a black mosaic floor and fine fourth style frescoes. On the north wall (a contemporary drawing is shown below) was the central scene of the liberation of Io by Hermes while the south wall contained the scene of Io's arrival at Canopus in Egypt (bottom left). (Both frescoes are in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples).
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To the south of this hall is a room referred to as the Sacrarium, used to store cult objects, which has a fresco of snakes guarding a wicker basket adorned with lunar symbols.

In the south east corner of the complex a series of rooms (I) open off the south side of the portico. These rooms were the living quarters (Pastophorion) of the priests and include a kitchen, triclinium and cubiculum.



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