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House of the Vestals

Description of the House (Reg VI, Ins 1, 6-8, 24-26)

The House of the Vestals lies on the east side of the Via Consolare about mid way between its junction with the Vicolo di Narciso and the Herculaneum Gate. The house was first excavated in 1770 and again in 1784, 1811 and finally in 1828. The house derives its name from a fanciful 18th century notion that it was the residence of a group of virgin priestesses, the 'Vestal Virgins'. The facade of the house is embellished with four stuccoed brick half columns framing its three entrances.

The house has the dubious distinction of being damaged in two wars over 2,000 years apart. Due to its proximity to the city walls the house sustained serious damage during Sulla's siege of the city in 89BC. In the aftermath of the war the owners took advantage of the destruction and acquired some of the neighbouring property, rebuilding their house on a much larger scale. (The house was again damaged in September 1943 when allied bombs wreaked havoc on the property in a swath of damage from the entrance (n) at No.25 through to atrium (b), completely destroying the tablinum (f) and adjoining rooms).
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After the earthquake of AD62 it took some little time to restore the municipal water supply. However, the supply to private houses was not similarly restored. Probably expecting this situation to be of a permanent nature, the owners of the house had the water supply pipes removed, even from under the mosaic flooring. The bath-suite was given up. The swimming pool became a pond. Most fountains were replaced by pools of standing water. To provide water to the fountain in the large peristyle a corner of room (l) was walled up to create a large cistern (pictured opposite). When the eruption struck the house was still in the process of being redecorated in the fourth style.
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The atrium has a dark grey mosaic floor inset with rows of white marble chips. The floor has a double white border and a twisted rope pattern framing the impluvium (pictured right).


The rooms on the north west side of the atrium, including the large triclinium (e), are in a ruinous condition with no surviving decoration. Of the tablinum (f) there is virtually no trace save a part of the north east wall that adjoins the small garden (g) (pictured below, viewed from the area of the tablinum). In the centre of the garden are the remains of a rectangular pool.
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The yellow panel above is framed by fantastic architecture on  a white ground. The panel contains a mythological scene of Narcissus with Eros, an early engraving of which is shown opposite. The atrium (pictured below, looking back towards the fauces) has lost virtually all of its elegant fourth style decoration.
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The peristyle (pictured right and below) is porticoed on all four sides and has fourteen columns supporting the inner margins of the roof. The columns are of stuccoed brickwork with fluted tops over circular bases.
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In the centre of the north side of the peristyle is a small exedra 'r'. The e
xedra (pictured above) is decorated in red and white, but again all decorative detail has been lost. In the centre of each wall is a semi-circular niche (the niche from the west wall is pictured right). The body of each niche is painted light blue while the upper section contains a large stucco clam shell set on a dark red ground. The exedra has no windows but is open to the peristyle over its full width.

Opening off the north east corner of the peristyle is an oecus (s). When the room was first excavated the walls still retained most of their vivid fourth style decoration.
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The enlarged house was re-modelled in the early years of the first century AD. Central to the new design was the provision of water features which were fed by a dedicated piped water supply. The small garden area (g) was redesigned with an elaborate fountain, which emptied into a large rectangular pool. The atrium (m) of the house incorporated into the property in the first century BC was floored in white mosaic bordered by a band of red and a scrolling leaf design. This design was repeated round its marble lined impluvium which featured a small fountain.

A bath-suite was also incorporated on the north east side of this second atrium. The suite included an apodyterium, a tepidatium, a caldarium and, in the middle of the large peristyle (q), an open-air swimming pool.
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The house is entered from the Via Consolare by way of a short fauces (a) (pictured top left). The walls of the fauces retain some areas of plasterwork, mainly on the upper part of the north west wall, but all traces of decoration have been lost due to prolonged exposure to the elements.

On either side of the fauces are side rooms (c and d). The walls of both rooms retain large areas of plasterwork with some remaining decorative detail (pictured upper left). The rooms have white mosaic paving framed by a double black border with a central black and white decorative panel. Room (d) also has a masonry bench against its south east wall.

The fauces and side rooms open onto a square atrium (b) (pictured left) which has a large central impluvium lined with marble fragments. The walls of the atrium retain a few plaster remnants, but like the plasterwork in it fauces the remnants are too faded to allow a description of the room's decoration.
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A corridor (j) opens off the north east corner of the atrium eventually leading to the second atrium (m). A passageway opening off the north side of this corridor gives access to the service area with the kitchen (h) and latrine (i).

Also opening off the corridor is a cubiculum (k) which retains some fresco decoration which appears to have consisted of dark red panels above a lower yellow frieze. The room (pictured left) had a white marble floor with a double black border. The north side of the room was slightly raised to provide a platform for a bed. The room was lit by a window in its south wall which overlooked the corridor (j) and the small garden (g).

Passing room (l) with the raised cistern, the corridor (j) turns north, finally leading to the second atrium (m). This part of the house is in an equally distressed state. The atrium was accessed from the street by way of fauces (n) which opened off the
Vicolo di Narciso at doorway No. 25.
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The fauces had a white mosaic floor which incorporated a black and white panel with the word SALVE (pictured above) at the threshold to the atrium. The large section of fourth style decoration pictured opposite (now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples) was found in the fauces (prothyron) according to the work by Pagano and Prisciandaro.
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Mercifully, some frescoes were removed at the time of their excavation before they were lost forever to the elements. These frescoes include the winged Victory pictured above and the pastoral scene opposite. Both can be viewed in the National Museum in Naples.
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Opening off the west side of the atrium is a large triclinium (o). The triclinium has a few remaining areas of plasterwork, but the room as a whole is in a ruinous condition. The triclinium has a second narrow doorway in its north east corner which gave access to the adjoining oecus (p). Occupying most of the rooms north wall (pictured opposite) is a large portal which opens onto the peristyle (q).
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The walls of the portico were painted in the fourth style with an orange central zone above a lower dark red ornamented frieze. Sadly all decorative detail has long since been lost. In the centre of the peristyle are the remains of a double pond that was originally the swimming pool of the long replaced bath suite. In the middle of the larger of the two ponds is a square masonry base that once supported an ornamental fountain.
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The best preserved part of the house is centred round the peristyle. But its condition is relative; perhaps a better description of the current state of this part of the house is the 'least despoiled'.

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The decoration consisted of large light blue panels set behind a spectacular architectural frame above a lower black faux marble frieze as illustrated in the 19th century watercolour opposite. Sadly, like the rest of the decorative detail in the house this has now been lost and all that remains are small patches of colour on an otherwise blank wall (pictured above). The room has a second doorway in its north wall which opens onto an internal passageway.




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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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