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House of the Coloured Capitals

Description of the House (Reg VII, Ins 4, 31-33, 51)

The House of the Coloured Capitals, also known as the House of Ariadne, cuts straight through insula 4 with entrances on both the Via degli Augustali to the south and the Via della Fortuna to the north. A third entrance to the house was by way of a side door on the north side of the linked shop (c).

The building was first excavated in 1822 and then again in 1832/33 and 1846.
The house is among the oldest in Pompeii, and is a mixture of Samnite and Roman architecture. It  is also one of the largest in Pompeii, covering over 1600 sq. m with more than 40 rooms on the ground floor alone.

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The ala is decorated in the third style; the yellow side panels featured perspective views while the dark red central panels contained a mythological scene set in an architectural frame. Two of the scenes have been lost, while the remaining scene on the west wall depicting Apollo and Daphne (pictured lower right) is still in a reasonable condition. The rather plain dado, painted to imitate marble, is set between narrow bands of red. The upper zone consists of human figures set among fantastic architecture on a white ground.
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In the tablinum were found two slabs with coloured marble inlays featuring maenads and satyrs in Dionysian scenes (pictured right) which can currently be viewed in the National Archeological Museum in Naples.

The peristyle (f) is accessed by way of the andron on the east side of the tablinum.
The peristyle (pictured right and below) is porticoed on all four sides and had sixteen Ionic columns supporting the inner margins of the roof. The columns are of tufa with fluted tops over circular stuccoed bases. The bases were painted yellow while the aforementioned capitals were brightly coloured. In the middle of the peristyle is a garden with a large rectangular pool in the centre of which was a hollow column supporting a simple fountain. Two marble puteals were found in the peristyle next to the column bases. The walls of the portico are now bare, stripped of any decorative detail they may once have had.
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The scene on the north wall (in the right of the picture above) is of Adonis relining in Aphrodite's lap, a detail from which is pictured below. The scene from the west wall has been removed while that on the south wall (pictured right) depicts the 'Eros Shop'. The scene shows a woman leaning against a wall while an elderly man bends over a cage filled with cupids.
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The decoration of the upper part of the walls is mostly missing, but it appears to have been a continuation of the blue theme of the middle zone. The exedra, which is open to the peristyle over its full width, has a white mosaic floor with a central decorative panel of fish on a dark ground (pictured opposite).
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The central panels on each wall held a mythological scene, The scene from the west wall portraying Dionysus discovering the sleeping Ariadne (pictured right) was removed and can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The scenes left in situ, however, have all but faded away. The room had a white mosaic floor with a double black border.
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In the centre of the apse, which is 'sheltered' by a protective awning, is a rectangular niche for a small statue. Among the scenes that decorated the walls of the exedra can still be discerned Leda and the Swan, a Priestess receiving an offering (pictured right) and Apollo playing on a lyre.
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The adjoining oecus (m), entered from the andron, is one of the better preserved rooms in the house. The oecus is decorated in the third style. On the south wall (pictured opposite) the side panels feature perspective views on a white ground while the yellow central panel contains a mythological scene. The decoration of the other three walls is a variation on this theme with a series of yellow panels separated by architectural views.
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The second peristyle (pictured right) is porticoed on all four sides and had twenty-four Tuscan columns supporting the inner margins of the roof. The columns are of tufa with fine vertical lines drawn on the stucco coating.

In the centre of this second peristyle was a garden area (p) which had what appears to have been flower beds delineated by brickwork in the form of concentric circles within squares (see plan above). A fluted marble puteal was found in the east portico. Also found were a grindstone and part of an oil press, suggesting that at least part of the house was converted to commercial purposes after the earthquake of AD62.
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Immediately south of the exedra is the service area (r) which includes a kitchen and latrine. The walls of the kitchen and latrine are undecorated. The kitchen has a large masonry work bench and hearth (pictured opposite) in its north east corner. The latrine is on the south side of the room.
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The house derives its name from the columns of the central peristyle, the capitals of which were painted in bright colours; the alternative name comes from a series of frescoes found in the house depicting the story of Ariadne.

The fauces (a) (pictured upper left) opens off the north side of the Via degli Augustali onto a rectangular atrium (b) (pictured opposite) with a central impluvium. The walls of the fauces and atrium are in a ruinous state and have lost virtually all of their decorative plasterwork. The remaining plaster fragments are too badly faded to determine their original decoration.

The rooms off the atrium are in a similarly distressed state, the only exception being the ala (d) (pictured below and lower left) on the west side of the atrium.
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Against the rear (west) wall of the ala are the remains of a temple style lararium which still retains remnants of plasterwork, especially on the front of the base.

The ala has a fine white mosaic floor framed with a narrow double black border. In the centre of the floor is a decorative black and white panel. The entrance to the ala is defined by a black and white decorative threshold.

Facing the entrance, on the north side of the atrium, is the tablinum (e) (pictured left). The tablinum was open to the atrium over its full width. In the north wall of the tablinum was a wide window which overlooked the imposing peristyle (f) to the north.

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The rooms off the central peristyle have survived in better condition than those round the atrium, several of them retaining at least some fragments of their fresco decoration.

The exedra (g) in the centre of the west side of the peristyle is decorated in the third style with light blue panels
above a light blue lower frieze. The central panel on each of the three walls contained a large mythological scene, set in a spectacular architectural frame.
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The most northerly room on the west side of the peristyle is the oecus (h) (pictured left). The best that can be said of this large room is that it was decorated in the fourth style on a yellow ground. As with
the rest of the house the room is in a very dilapidated condition having been neglected and left to the ravages of time and the elements since it was initially excavated in 1822.
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The walls of the triclinium (i) off the north west corner of the peristyle retain much of their plasterwork but the fresco decoration is badly weathered. Early attempts to preserve the fresco detail, such as by providing individual tiled 'roofs' for notable works (pictured left), were amateur in the extreme and have proved to be woefully inadequate.

The adjoining room (j) is similarly distressed. It was decorated in the fourth style with large central yellow panels containing mythological scenes above a lower dark red frieze (shown left). The remaining scene on the north wall is too faded to interpret, but the other two were removed shortly after the initial excavations and are now in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The scene from the west wall is of Polyphemus overlooking Galatea while the scene from the east wall shows Hercules rescuing Prometheus.
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Off the north east corner of the peristyle is a flight of stairs to the upper floor. Next to these stairs a series of steps lead down to a small vaulted cellar which has the remains of a painted lararium on its east wall.
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In the middle of the east side of the peristyle is an exedra (k) (pictured opposite) which has a large apse on its eastern side. The exedra was decorated in the fourth style with a yellow central zone above a lower red frieze.

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The fourth style decoration of cubiculum (l) off the south east corner of the peristyle is badly faded but it appears to have consisted of red panels above a lower black frieze. In the central panel of each wall was a mythological scene. Two of the scenes are now lost; the sole surviving scene of Theseus abandoning Ariadne (pictured left) can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
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The mythological scene on the east wall (pictured left), now barely discernible, is of Ciparissus and Apollo while that on the south wall shows Venus on a sea creature. The last scene, of Perseus and Andromeda (pictured below) is not in situ but can be viewed in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples.
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The upper zone of the oecus's wall decoration consists of
human figures either standing or sitting amongst fantastic architecture on a white ground. The oecus has a large window on its north wall (pictured left) overlooking the east side of the peristyle.
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In the centre of the north side of the peristyle is an exedra (n) (pictured opposite) which acted as a link between the central peristyle and a second peristyle (o) to the north. The exedra has some large areas of remaining plasterwork, but all decorative detail has been lost. The exedra has a white mosaic floor with marble thresholds.
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The rooms on the west side of the second (northern) peristyle are generally small and have little or no surviving decoration. Opening off the middle of the east side, however, is a large exedra (q) (pictured opposite) which has a wide entrance divided into three by two fluted columns. Although the exedra retains large areas of plasterwork, the room is devoid of decorative detail.
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In the centre of the north side of the northern peristyle is a second fauces (s) (pictured left) which opens onto the south side of the
Via della Fortuna. The fauces has little in the way of remaining plasterwork and no decoration.


* 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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