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House of the Dioscuri

Description of the House (Reg VI, Ins 9, 6)

The House of the Dioscuri, situated on the Via di Mercurio, was first excavated between 1826 and1828 and again in 1937. It was named after the frescoes in the fauces featuring the Dioscuri, the twin sons of Zeus, Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux). The house is also sometimes referred to simply as the House of Castor and Pollux.
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The central part of the house has a standard atrium/garden layout with rooms arranged around all four sides of the atrium.  The atrium has lost much of its fourth style decoration due to damage from the eruption, weathering of the exposed walls and the ad-hoc removal of the most notable frescoes. Some of these frescoes can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples; they include images of Bacchus, Ceres, Saturn and Jupiter and a scene with Pan and Hermaphrodite, pictured right, which was originally in the ala (c) on the south side of the atrium.
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The tablinum (d) lies on the east side of the atrium facing the entrance (pictured lower right). It is decorated in the fourth style, but, like the atrium, the walls have lost much of their colour and vibrancy and has been stripped of their best frescoes.
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On the west side the tablinum is open to the atrium over its full width while on the east side there is a wide doorway which opens onto the peristyle (i). The peristyle is colonnaded on two sides, the columns being coated with stucco and painted red and white. In the centre of the peristyle is a small garden which has a temple style lararium (pictured below) on its rear wall.
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The triclinium has a plain white mosaic floor with a single black border. In the centre of the east wall is a window which overlooks the peristyle to the east.
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The atrium has cubicula on its north, west and south sides. The three cubicula on the north side are in a poor state of repair but do retain some of their fourth style decoration. The eastmost cubiculum also has a fine white mosaic floor with a broad multi-coloured rectangular border framing a central white panel.
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The largest of the cubicula (f) is probably in the worst condition of the three but was also the most finely decorated. The faded washed out decoration consisted of white and blue panels above a lower red frieze with mythological scenes on three walls. The mythological scene on the west wall has all but vanished and was perhaps of Narcissus while that on the south wall has been lost along with much of the wall. The surviving fresco of Selene descending towards Endymion (pictured opposite) was removed from the north wall during the early excavations and is now in the Naples National Museum.
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The cubiculum (g) (pictured above and right) has survived in much better condition. It is decorated in the fourth style on a white ground with white framed panels over a lower red frieze all below an upper zone of figures surrounded by architectural elements.

On the south side of the fauces, room (h) is a service room with stairs to the upper floor. The remainder of the service areas including the kitchen (j) can be found to the north of peristyle (i).

There is a second fight of stairs off the atrium in the north east corner next to the andron which leads from the atrium to the peristyle. An oecus (k) is also accessed off this passage. The oecus is decorated in the fourth style with white panels and architectural elements on a white ground over a lower red frieze (pictured right). The central panel on the west wall has a fresco of Apollo and Daphne while that on the south wall contains a scene with Silenus and Bacchus. On the east wall is a window overlooking the peristyle (i).
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The columns of the portico are stuccoed with fluted tops over circular bases. The ambulatory of the peristyle has black and white mosaic paving which is particularly fine at the east end where it consists of a crisp geometric design.
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Many of the finer frescoes found in the peristyle have been removed but the painting of a maenad (pictured below) remains in situ on the north wall (right).

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Two of the frescoes which were removed from the peristyle can be viewed in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The first of these is of Medea and her Children (pictured right) which portrays Medea as she contemplates killing her children as the best way to hurt her husband Jason.
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The second fresco illustrates Perseus rescuing Andromeda (pictured above) in which Perseus is depicted freeing Andromeda after killing the sea monster Cetus. Both these frescoes were found on the broad pilasters at the eastern end of the peristyle.
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In the centre of the peristyle is a garden which contains two basins, one of which is particularly large (pictured right) while the second, at the western end of the garden, is of more modest proportions.
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Off the eastern side of the peristyle is an exedra (l), by far the largest room in the house. Once veneered with marble, the walls are now bare. Off a passageway behind this room is a posticum (n) which opened onto the Vicolo del Fauno.

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The fauces (a), which opens off the east side of the Via di Mercurio, is decorated in the fourth style on a red ground with individual frescoes of the twins, Castor and Pollux, placed either side of the vestibule (one is pictured lower left). The fauces opens onto a grand atrium (b) (pictured below) which is unusual, being only one of four in Pompeii with Corinthian columns supporting the roof. The twelve fluted columns, ranged round the central impluvium, were stuccoed and painted in the traditional red and white.
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These included the painting of Achilles at Skyros (pictured left) taken from the central panel of the south wall and the small painting of Oedipus and the Sphynx (pictured below) from the upper zone on the same wall.  Both these frescoes can be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
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The triclinium (e) off the south east corner of the atrium is decorated in the fourth style with red and blue panels separated by fantastic architectural elements above a lower blue decorative frieze (shown below). The central panels of each wall held a large mythological scene. The two surviving scenes, on the north and west walls, remain in-situ but are in a rather poor condition with damaged plasterwork and considerable loss of detail. The scene on the north wall is of Nymphs taking the newborn Adonis while that on the west wall is of Minos and Scylla.

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On the south side of the atrium a wide portal leads off the ala (c) to a second peristyle (m), pictured left and below. This peristyle is richly decorated in the fourth style with yellow panels bordered with red and separated by imaginary architectural elements and still lifes above a lower decorative frieze.
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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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