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Fullonica of Stephanus

Description of the Property (Reg I, Ins 6, 7)

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The entrance vestibule (a) is wide facilitating easy access to the premises. The remains of a large clothes press were found against the east wall of the vestibule. The press, which was used for 'ironing' tunics and togas, appears to have been very similar to one found in nearby Herculaneum (pictured below).
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On the west side of the vestibule is a room (b) possibly used as the office for checking in and out of clothes. The room (pictured lower right) is decorated in the fourth style with red panels with decorative borders above a lower red frieze. The panels contain small central figures. The upper zone contains architectural motifs with garlands and bird life on a white ground. The east wall is open to the vestibule over much of its length, while there is a narrow doorway in the south wall (pictured below) which opens directly onto the atrium (c).
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The atrium is decorated in the fourth style with red panels framed with decorative borders above a lower black frieze. The panels contain delicate vignettes of animals and bird life with occasional architectural embellishments (pictured below).
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The triclinium (f) (pictured opposite showing the shared window with oecus (e)) has lost much of its fourth style decoration which consisted of white panels framed in red above a lower black decorative frieze.
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The two remaining rooms which open off the atrium are both in a poor state of repair. Room (g) was the original tablinum which had access to the garden by way of a wide doorway in its south wall. The room retains some plaster remnants, but not enough to allow a realistic description of the decoration. The adjoining room (h) has lost all of its decoration.
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The peristyle (i) with its small central garden (j) (pictured right looking south) gave access to the triclinium (f) and the main laundry facilities; three large tubs, interconnecting but without a drainage system, and five oval basins where the workers washed the fabric by trampling on it after having soaked it in a mixture of water and a degreasing agent such as soda and human or animal urine (pictured below).
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The next step in the process was to soften the fabric by treating it with fuller's earth before giving it a thorough rinsing. After that came the drying, carding, clipping, brushing and final pressing.
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Off the south west corner of the peristyle is a small kitchen (l) with a masonry hearth and a covered latrine.

The Fullonica of Stephanus, or Fullonica Stephani, lies on the south side of the Via dell'Abbondanza. The property, which was excavated in 1912, is the only laundry in Pompeii that had not simply been adapted from an existing building, but was a full restructuring of a patrician house, rationally laid out to best fulfill its new function.

The name of the probable owner, a man named Stephanus, was deduced from election propaganda painted near the entrance which also inform us that women as well as men worked therein.
Both the final phase in the preparation of fabrics, the end process for removing the last traces of dirt, as well as the public service of washing and pressing garments took place in the fullonica.
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The atrium is dominated by the central impluvium (pictured below and lower left) which has been transformed into a tub for washing by the addition of a raised surround. This tub was probably used for the more delicate fabrics or those with little staining. Clothes with more resistant stains were literally trampled by workers in tubs at the rear of the premises.
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In the north west corner of the atrium (pictured above) a flight of stairs leads to the upper floor. In the north east corner a doorway opens onto a small service room (d) which has little or no surviving decoration. Adjoining the service room is a large oecus (e) which is decorated in the fourth style with red panels separated by architectural elements above a lower black decorated frieze (pictured below). The panels have decorative borders and contain floating figures. The figure from the central panel of the east wall is shown lower left.
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The upper zone contains architectural motifs in green, yellow and red with garlands and bird life on a white ground. The west wall is open to the atrium over much of its width. The room gets its light from the atrium and by way of a window in its south wall which it shares with the triclinium. A second doorway opens off the south west corner giving direct access to the corridor which leads through to the garden area.
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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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