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House of the Labyrinth

Description of the House (Reg VI, Ins 11, 9-10)

The House of the Labyrinth lies at the rear of the House of the Faun on the Vico del Mercurio. The house, first excavated in 1834, dates from the Samnite period and features two atria, (a) and (b), each with their own separate entrance off the north side of the Vicolo del Mercurio as shown on the plan opposite. The entrance to the larger of the two atria (a) at No. 10 is shown below.
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Atrium (a) is tetrastyle (pictured opposite and below), the photographs showing a view looking north towards the tablinum (c) and on through to the large peristyle (d) beyond. On the north side of the impluvium is a marble table (pictured lower right). Atrium (b) is much smaller and far less impressive with a simple central impluvium.
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In the centre of the north wall of atrium (a) is the tablinum (c) which is fully open along its southern side. The tablinum has a large window on its north wall overlooking the peristyle and has some remaining patches of stucco work, but it is generally in a rather poor condition. The room, however, does have a fine floor in white mosaic edged with a double black border with a central decorative panel.

Room (g) immediately to the east of the tablinum leads to the peristyle, opening onto its south east corner. The peristyle is colonnaded on all four sides with a large central garden (pictured right). The fluted Ionic columns of the portico consist of stuccoed brickwork while the side walls of the colonnade were decorated with stucco work in the form of imitation columns.
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The adjoining exedra (j) (pictured right) is almost fully open along its southern side. The room is decorated with large brown/yellow panels separated by brown vertical bands and topped with a similar brown horizontal band from the upper zone. The room has a small cubiculum (k) accessed off its north west corner.
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The room, after which the house was named, has a fine mosaic floor, the main part of which consists of a black labyrinth on a white ground (pictured above and right). In the centre of the labyrinth is a decorative panel which features the mythological scene of Theseus fighting the Minotaur (pictured below).
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The largest of the reception rooms on the north side of the peristyle is the Corinthian oecus (m) with its internal colonnade composed of fluted columns of stuccoed brickwork.
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The final room off the north side of the peristyle is the cubiculum (p) (pictured below, right and lower right).The room is decorated in the second style with architectural views and bird life above solid rectangular blocks of colour. The northern wall features a bed recess as shown in the pictured below. The mosaic floor has a black and white checkered pattern framed with a black border with a decorative black band across the front of the bed recess.
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In the course of the redevelopment of the house, over the years the building was equipped with a suite of private baths and its own bakery. This part of the house was accessed by way of a long corridor which opened off the north side of atrium (b) and a doorway in the south west corner of the peristyle.

Part way along the corridor is a large kitchen (q) (pictured opposite). The main counter is topped with tiles. In the west wall is a small arched niche (in the centre of the picture opposite) while on the south wall is a larger rectangular niche which was decorated with a fresco of a genius (now much faded). In front of the niche there was originally a masonry altar but this is no longer in situ.

At its northern end, the corridor opens onto the bakery (r) (pictured opposite).
In the centre of the room are the remains of four flour mills. The mills consisted of a catullus rotating on a cone-shaped centre set on a masonry base. To enable to millstone to be turned (either by slave or mule), a wooden beam was slotted into the hole in the catullus.
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Both atria and their adjoining rooms are in a poor state of repair although a few of the rooms have some surviving decoration. Cubiculum (e) off the west side of atrium (a) is decorated in alternating panels of red and yellow above a similarly decorated frieze, creating a checker board pattern (pictured left). In the middle of the central yellow panel on the north wall is a mythological scene, possibly of Paris and Oinone (Helbig).

A second cubiculum (f) off the south west corner of the same atrium has some remaining first style decoration in the form of rows of painted plaster blocks imitating marble cladding (pictured below).
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The oecus (h) which opens off the south east corner of the peristyle is simply decorated with large monochrome panels (pictured left). The main red panels on the side walls are separated by broad vertical bands of white while the lower frieze consists of contrasting white and red blocks. The decoration on the rear wall is composed of a red central panel flanked by yellow side panels again above a contrasting lower frieze. The room has a well preserved floor consisting of white mosaic overlaid with a black lattice pattern and edged with a broad black and white border. The east wall has a small, high window which overlooks the Vicolo del Labirinto.
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The most stylish, and best preserved rooms in the house are those ranged along the north side of the peristyle (pictured left). The west most of these mainly reception rooms is the oecus (i) which is pictured above.

The room has a high vaulted ceiling and is decorated with yellow/white central panels framed top and bottom by a series of horizontal bands in shades of red and yellow. The room has a white mosaic floor with the single black border and an offset decorative panel.
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The central room on the north side of the peristyle is the exedra (l) (pictured left and below). The room has lost much of its second style decoration, but the remaining frescoes, particularly on the side walls, show spectacular architectural views painted in vibrant colours (pictured below).
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The oecus is richly decorated in the second style with  illusionary architecture and views of distant landscapes glimpsed behind doorways and through the columns of porticoes (pictured above, left and below). The fresco on the east wall is particularly well preserved (pictured left). (An enlargement of the entire east wall of the oecus is included at the bottom of this page).
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The oecus has a white mosaic floor with a black border and a central decorative panel. The room is directly linked with the two adjoining rooms (l) and (p) and at the rear of the oecus a doorway in each of the corners opens onto a small side room. In the room (n) off the north west corner was found a finely detailed mosaic showing a group of youths with a cockfight featured in the foreground (pictured left) while in room (o) off the north east corner was found an equally fine mosaic of a partridge stealing a mirror from a basket. Both mosaics can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
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On the north side of the room is the oven. Immediately to the right of the oven a short corridor leads to two adjoining rooms (s), perhaps the dough preparation rooms where mixers and kneaders would have mixed up the dough in stone bowls and worked it into shape ready for baking. To the north of the bakery is a small house (coloured pink on the plan) which appears to be part of the overall property. The house, known as the House of Eutychus, may have been let out to the manager of the bakery, but this is pure speculation.
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Opening off the south side of the bakery is the entrance to the first of the rooms of the private baths, the apodyterium. The apodyterium (t) is decorated with a red central zone topped with a yellow upper zone. A narrow doorway on the east wall (pictured left) opens onto a small storage room, while a similarly sized doorway in the south east corner of the room leads to the tepidarium (u).
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The walls of the vaulted tepidarium (pictured left and below) are dressed with some finely detailed stucco work and bear traces of blue/green paintwork. The room is lit by a window high on the west wall while a doorway on the south wall leads through to the caldarium (v).
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The caldarium (pictured below and left) retains some of its fresco decoration, particularly on the south wall which has a blue central panel with red side panels below an upper zone of architectural motifs in yellow and white. The tile heating conduits in the walls and ceiling have been exposed in several places as have some of the hypocaust floor supports. In the west wall is an alcove where the labrum would have been located. The basin itself has gone but the fluted marble pedestal remains in situ.
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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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