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House of M. Fabius Rufus

Description of the House (Reg VII, Ins 16, 17-22)

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The entrance (pictured right), which opens off the west side of the Vico del Farmacista, leads directly to a rather modest atrium for a building of its size. The atrium (a), which has a central impluvium, opens onto a terrace (b) by way of a wide doorway on its western side. This house, together with its neighbours on the western edge of Pompeii, was built over the old city wall sometime after 80BC.

These multi-storey houses tend to be organised vertically rather than horizontally, facing the view over the sea rather than turned in on themselves. On entering the atrium, therefore, instead of moving on through the house to reach the main reception rooms, you are led downstairs to the lower levels where the reception rooms are brightly lit with large windows (pictured below and right) overlooking the Bay of Naples to the west.

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On reaching the main lower level of the complex the stairs open onto a landing (c) (pictured right) which has a black mosaic floor framed with a double white border. On these stairs were found the bodies of three individuals; a cast of one of the bodies remains in situ. A fourth body was found on the landing itself.

From the landing a corridor leads east then north to the service area which includes a latrine and kitchen (pictured right). Immediately to the west of the kitchen is an oecus (d). (Note: mouseover the plan to view the layout of this lower floor).

The oecus is decorated in the fourth style with black panels separated by architectural motifs above a lower black decorated frieze (pictured lower right).
The upper zone contains small figures set among imaginary architecture, all on a black ground. The side panels on the north wall of the room each contain a small medallion; the medallion on the east side is of Zeus (pictured below) while the one on the west, which is unfortunately badly damaged, could be of Hera.
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The vaulted oecus (f) which provides light to the adjoining cubiculum (e) is decorated in the fourth style with orange/yellow panels with decorative borders separated by fantastic architecture above a lower orange/yellow decorated frieze (pictured right and below).
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The room is decorated in the fourth style with red panels with decorative borders above a lower black frieze. The upper zone consists of architectural motifs on a matching red ground.
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The room's ceiling (pictured above), has been recreated from the many fragments found. The decoration consists of a large central medallion containing a maenad and a satyr framed by a series of small mythological scenes, all on a red ground.
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To the south of the landing are the main reception rooms (i, j and k). The rooms are well lit by large windows on their western walls. The first of these rooms (i) is decorated in the fourth style with black panels separated by fantastic architecture above a lower black decorative frieze (pictured right). The upper zone is more or less a continuation of the main theme with architectural motifs on a black ground.
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The central panel on each of the walls contains a mythological scene. On the north wall the scene depicts the young Dionysius with a Maenad, while on the south wall is Narcissus and a Cupid (pictured above). The scene on the east wall is of Hercules and Deianira (shown below and right).

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The large central reception room (j) has a large bay window overlooking the sea (pictured right). The room is decorated in the fourth style with black panels separated by fantastic architecture above a lower black decorative frieze. The upper zone contains a continuation of  the fantastic architecture interspersed with small standing figures, all on a black ground.
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The central panel on each wall, as with room (i), contains a large mythological scene. On the north wall is the fresco of Poseidon and Amymone, on the south wall Dionysus and Ariadne while on the rear wall (pictured right) is a scene
showing Apollo, Hesperus and Venus.
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In the scene (pictured right with a detail above) Apollo sits on a throne, torch in hand. To his left is Venus with a cupid on her shoulder and a dove at her feet. To the right is Hesperus with a halo.
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Of the mythological scenes that once adorned the central panels on each wall, only two remain. That on the north wall is possibly of Diana and Actaeon (pictured below) while on the east wall is a fresco of Narcissus.
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The small room (l) at the southern end of the long, well lit gallery may have been a sacrarium or sanctuary. Originally the room appears to have been dedicated to the cult of Venus, who is depicted as if entering the room with a winged putto on her shoulder (pictured below).

Somewhat mysteriously this second style fresco was later concealed by a false wall with a fourth style composition featuring a candelabra at its centre (pictured right).
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The southern part of the complex, known as the House of Maius Castricius, is centred round a small square peristyle (m) with an access (o) onto the Vicolo dei Soprastanti at VII, 16, 17. The colonnade of the peristyle is supported by square brick pillars at the corners with a central column on each side while the walls are decorated in the fourth style with a red central zone above a lower black frieze. In the centre of the peristyle is a small garden.
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Of the rooms ranged round the peristyle, perhaps the most interesting are the two linked rooms (n) on the north side of the peristyle (pictured right). The north wall of the anteroom is decorated in the fourth style with black panels with decorative borders above a lower red frieze. The arch above the doorway to the room at the rear is painted red with a large medallion featuring the bust of Venus Pompeiana (pictured above). In the room at the rear, and in several other rooms round the peristyle, are some notable graffiti.
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Opening off the south east corner of the peristyle is a small courtyard (p) which is colonnaded on two sides (pictured right). The large window in the west wall overlooks the Bay of Naples to the west. The simple elegant columns are made of brick. The walls of the courtyard are bare with no remaining fresco decoration.


The House of M. Fabius Rufus is located on the Vico del Farmacista in the 'Insula Occidentalis'. The house was first excavated in 1759 and again in 1910, 1940 and over a period of years between 1958 and 1980.

The property consists of several buildings that have been combined to make up the largest domestic dwelling so far discovered in Pompeii (the area coloured pink in the plan opposite is also known separately as the House of Maius Castricius). Situated west of the forum, the complex is built on four levels, the entrance on the city side in the north east corner of the building corresponding to the third floor.

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Facing the kitchen area is a cubiculum (e). The cubiculum is decorated in the fourth style with white panels complete with decorative borders above a lower black decorated frieze (pictured lower left). The richly decorated upper zone consists of architectural motifs accompanied by garlands and other artifacts on a white ground.

The main white panels contain small scenes featuring cupids at work and occasional wild life studies of birds with fruit, boldly framed in red (pictured below).
The room's only source of light apart from the doorway is a window in its west wall which opens off the adjoining room (f).

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The decoration of the upper zone consists of architectural themes on an orange/yellow ground. The picture opposite is of the east wall, showing the window that provides light to the adjoining cubiculum (e).

The oecus has a doorway in its south wall that opens onto room (g) (pictured below) which has panoramic windows in both its west and south walls.

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Cubiculum (h) opens off the north side of landing (c). The room (pictured above and left) is decorated in the fourth style with yellow panels with decorative borders on a yellow ground above a similarly coloured decorative frieze. The east wall of the room (pictured left) has a recess for a bed. The main panels contain occasional scenes including that of the lobster (pictured above) found on the north wall of the bed recess.
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Found in the general area of the main reception rooms was a large bronze ephebus in the form of a lamp (pictured left). The statue can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

The last of the three main reception rooms (k) is decorated in the fourth style with red panels separated by fantastic architecture above a lower black decorative frieze (pictured below). The upper zone consists of architectural motifs on a red ground.
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The far superior earlier painting would have remained covered had it not been for the AD62 earthquake or the eruption of AD79. (The theory that the room may have been a sacrarium is not universally accepted; another theory is that the woman is an actress acting out a part in a play).
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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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