Villa of the Mysteries

Description of the Villa

Beyond the Villa of Diomedes lies the Villa of the Mysteries, famous for having one of the most important decorative fresco collections in the Roman world. The villa originally dates from the 2nd century BC, but its current layout was set between 70 and 60BC.

After the earthquake of AD62 the villa was extensively remodelled, changing what had been a patrician villa into a working farm- house, albeit a rather grandiose one.
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The original entrance (a) to the villa was on the Via Superiore, a branch of the Via dei Sepolcri, on the opposite side of the villa to the current entrance. The vestibule (a) retains some of its original plasterwork although it has become rather faded over time.
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On either side of the vestibule are masonry benches
used by the clients waiting to be received by the owner (pictured lower right). Corridors open off both the north and south sides of the vestibule. The corridor to the north (shown below) is fairly narrow and leads to the servants' quarters (b) and a large room (c) which still retains some of its fresco decoration. The room has a niche on its west wall which may have been a lararium.
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At the western end of the vestibule a grand portal opens onto the peristyle (g) (the east side of the peristyle is pictured below with the entrance from the vestibule in the centre). The colonnade of the peristyle is sustained by 16 fluted Doric columns. The space between the columns is filled by a high boundary wall painted with red panels on a white ground on a lower black frieze.
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The walls of the peristyle are decorated with red panels on a white ground above a lower black frieze. The upper zone consists of a frieze composed of green blocks surmounted by a painted entablature in dark yellow.

Opening off the north west corner of the peristyle is a room (p) which is in a semi- ruinous condition. This room in turn leads to  a rather odd shaped room (p') (pictured right) which has an apse on its northern wall and four rectangular niches.
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According to Maiuri the room was in the process of being renovated at the time of the eruption and was probably intended to be a sacellum to house the marble statue of Livia (pictured below) found nearby in the peristyle.
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On the north wall of the kitchen court just west of the entrance from the peristyle is a lararium fronted by a masonry altar (pictured below). In the lararium niche were found two statuettes, one of an unknown goddess and one of Hercules. Little remains of the decorative plasterwork that once adorned the lararium. The walls of the court themselves are likewise devoid of any fresco decoration.
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A doorway off the southwest corner of the peristyle (pictured lower right) opens onto a small tetrastyle atrium (k) (pictured below). The four central columns that sustain the roof of the atrium are composed of brickwork. There is no surviving wall decoration, but the atrium does have a gray mosaic floor inset with white, gray and red marble chips.
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On the south side of the atrium are two small rooms. Both rooms have lost most of their plasterwork, but both retain their black and white mosaic flooring. On the west side of the atrium a doorway opens onto the portico (v) while off the north west corner is a small, but elegantly decorated cubiculum (m) (pictured opposite).

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The adjoining oecus (n) is accessed from the south west corner of the peristyle. The room is richly decorated in the second style with yellow panels set behind fluted columns on a low black balustrade. The decoration also features festoons of garlands and illusionary architecture and views of distant landscapes. The room has a fine black and white mosaic floor with a single black border. A doorway in the south wall opens onto portico (v).
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In the middle of the west side of the peristyle a triple set of tall doors open onto the house's main atrium (o) which has a large central impluvium (pictured opposite). The atrium is decorated with black panels framed by delicate lined borders while the upper zone features views of the Nile (pictured below).
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A corridor on the north side of the atrium leads to further domestic apartments. Of particular note is the cubiculum (q) (pictured right) which has a double alcove. The room contains one of the most striking examples  of second style decoration with bold and complex architectural views.
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Between the central zone and the upper stuccoed cornice is a broad band containing rectangular blocks in reds and greens interspersed with small mythological scenes including that of the sacrifice of a pig to Priapus (pictured opposite). The cubiculum has a fine black and white mosaic floor with  a multi-coloured border and a central panel composed of a geometric pattern in black, red and white.
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A doorway in the south wall of the cubiculum leads to the room (u) which contains the renowned fresco of the Dionysiac Mysteries. Originally an oecus, the room was later turned into a triclinium. The fresco adorning the walls dates from the first century BC and is one of the most famous of all ancient art.
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The triclinium has a fine black and white mosaic floor with a broad black and white checkered border. There is a wide entrance on the room's west wall opening onto portico (w) and a large window in the centre of its south wall overlooking portico (v).
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The ground plan is basically square as illustrated above, laid out on a plot of sloping ground. The photograph left shows the deep excavation and is a view looking east along the south east portico (y). The aerial photograph (below) shows the villa viewed from the north west.
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The corridor (d) to the south is much wider (pictured below). The rooms along the east side of the corridor are only partially excavated. On the west side is a single doorway (currently blocked off) which gave access to a small room (e) which now contains the cast of a body found there (this can be viewed from the adjoining room accessed off the peristyle(g)). At the southern end of the corridor is a large latrine (f) and beyond that to the west a second access to the kitchen court (j).
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In the centre of the peristyle is a small garden (pictured below). On the east side of the garden is a raised entrance to what has been alternatively referred to as a crypt and a wine cellar. Whatever its purpose, the small space at the foot of two short flights of stairs has two arch topped niches on its east wall.
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In the centre of the north side of the peristyle is the entrance to a broad passageway which leads to the torcularium (h) (shown below). The room could logically be split into two separate areas performing two separate though intrinsically linked functions; nearest the door was the calcatorium where the grapes were trodden in a tub; at the back was the press, sited on a raised floor, which performed the final extraction of the juice from the pre-trodden grapes.
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At the rear of the press was a strong post to which the inner end of the press beam was attached. In front stood two posts to which were fitted the ends of a horizontal windlass. By means of a pulley and a rope the outer end of the press beam could be raised or lowered in order to exert pressure on the grapes to be pressed.

On the east side of the peristyle, immediately south of the entrance from the vestibule, is a room (i) which seems to have been a secondary kitchen.  The main kitchen court (j) (shown below) lies off the south side of the peristyle.
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On the east side of the court are two small rooms, both in a poor state of repair with no surviving decoration. In the south east corner of the court is a large oven (in the left of the picture above) while on the western side is a large kitchen hearth combined with a second, smaller oven (pictured below).
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A passageway off the north east corner of the atrium connects with the kitchen court (j). Occupying the rest of the east side of the atrium, is a small baths suite. Immediately south of the passageway to the kitchen court is the apodyterium which is fully open to the atrium along its western side. This vaulted room is decorated with white panels on a red ground above a lower black frieze (pictured lower left). The upper zone is made up of rectangular blocks of red, white and green. The room has a white mosaic floor.

Adjoining the apodyterium is the tepidarium (l) which retains some plaster remnants, but not enough to allow a reasonable description of the decoration. Off the north east corner of the tepidarium is a small laconicum which is circular with a domed roof (pictured below).
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The second style decoration features architectural views and colonnades set against a red ground (a detail from the upper zone is shown opposite). The vaulted room has a stuccoed arch over the bed recess and has a large recess/cupboard in its north west corner.
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The room has a cupboard/recess in its south east corner. In the room's north wall is a doorway onto portico (v') which is currently blocked off by a plastercast of the room's original wooden shutters (pictured left).

Occupying most of the west side of the atrium is the tablinum (r). The tablinum is decorated in the third style with black panels framed by delicate borders above a lower black frieze (pictured below). The decoration incorporates Egyptian style figurines and Dionysiac symbols. The tablinum has a black and white mosaic floor with a black border.
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Beyond the tablinum to the west is an exedra-like veranda (s) with windows, flanked by viridaria (x and x') and two porticoed wings (w and w'). On the south side of the tablinum a doorway (pictured left) opens onto a cubiculum (t) with two alcoves (pictured below).

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The room is decorated in the second style with red panels above a relatively tall lower frieze. Several of the panels contain vivid figured frescoes, including paintings of Dionysus and Silenus, an unknown priestess and a dancing satyr (pictured opposite).
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The subject is generally thought to show the rites of initiation to the Dionysiac mysteries, although others argue that the paintings are a rather extravagant allegory on marriage. The frieze depicting the rite is 17 metres long and 3 metres high, and is vividly painted, as the accompanying pictures testify.
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Reconstruction of the Triclinium



Above image copyright © 2011, James Stanton-Abbott, Stanton-Abbott Associates.


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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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