Villa of the Mysteries

Villa of the Mysteries


Villa of the MysteriesThe Villa of the Mysteries was built in the 2nd century BC. At first it was a rather modest house of a Roman patrician or just a rich man. Over the next several years the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii has become one of the most beautiful villas in the city. The frescoes in this beautiful mansion are rightly considered among the best in the ancient Roman world. In the year 60 BC the building was rebuilt and enlarged in the roman style. After the earthquake of 62 years, the owners of the Villa of the Mysteries began to add handicraft constructions, turning the posh cottage into one large hacienda. The main main entrance went to the road to Herculaneum, which led to the Herculaneum Gate of Pompeii (400 meters from the villa). The gates were wide enough that an ordinary Roman wagon could enter them.


Villa of the Mysteries  Villa of the Mysteries  Villa of the Mysteries 

The name of the Villa of the Mysteries comes from the world-famous frescoes that adorned the table (on the map of the Villa of Mysteries under the letter u) i.e. guest room for parties and dinners. Here the walls are covered with colorful frescoes depicting the initiation into the Dionysian mysteries. Later, however, historians assumed that on the walls of the frescoes depict some mysteries or traditions before the wedding of a young woman. Perhaps this woman was even the daughter of the host, who so captured the event. The frescoes date back to the first century BC, that is, at the time of the eruption, they were already quite old.

The Villa of the Mysteries was a small self-sufficient enterprise. Here on the fields hacienda grew grapes and olives. Then they squeezed the juice out of them and made wine or olive oil. In any case, several presses were found on the territory of the Villa of the Mysteries in excellent condition. They also prepared bread for the owners of the house. Archaeologists have found many small craft rooms for slaves and workers who worked for the owners of this luxury villa.


Murals in the Villa of the Mysteries (for details see below)


Villa of the Mysteries


Owners of the Villa of the Mysteries

Villa of the MysteriesThe names of the owners of the Villa of the Mysteries are not preserved and we do not know exactly what happened to them, but undoubtedly they occupied the highest positions in the ancient city of Pompeii. Some archaeologists assumed that the villa belonged to Livia, the wife of Emperor Octavius ‚Äč‚ÄčAugustus and the mother of Emperor Tiberius. The basis of this statement is the statue of Livia, found in the corner of the peristyle. Quite possibly it was just a tribute to Emperor Augustus and his family.

Some claim that the house belonged to a certain Zosima (L. Istacidius Zosimus), a freed slave and a member of a wealthy family. His bronze seal was found along with the bodies of several people, frozen in different positions of agony. Whether these were the remnants of the workers, guests of the villa, and perhaps the owners, we probably will never know.


Location of rooms in the Villa of the Mysteries

Villa of the MysteriesThe Villa of the Mysteries would have been partly excavated by archaeologists in 1909-1910. Later, the entire site was excavated. At the same time, part of the house was restored and strengthened to avoid further destruction. The original entrance (a) to the Villa of the Mysteries was located on Via Superior, a branch of Via dei Sepolkri, on the opposite side of the villa to the modern entrance. The lobby (a) retains some of its original frescoes and plastering, although it gradually disappeared over time. On both sides of the lobby are benches for guests waiting to meet with the owner of the Villa of the Mysteries. Corridors open up to the north and south sides of the lobby. The corridor in the north is rather narrow and leads to the rooms of servants and slaves (b) and the large room (s), which still retains part of their frescoes. The room has a niche on the west wall, which may have been a Lararium. Lararium - home altar dedicated to the spirits of ancestors or gods, patrons of the family.

The corridor (d), which leads to the south is much wider. Rooms along the eastern side of the corridor are only partially excavated. On the west side there is a single doorway (currently locked) that gives access to the small room (e), which now contains a plaster cast of the body found there (it can be seen from the next room, accessible from the peristyle (g)). At the southern end of the corridor there is a large lavatory (f), and outside it is the second access to the kitchen courtyard (j).

At the western end of the lobby opens the majestic entrance to the peristyle or courtyard of the Villa of the Mysteries (g). In the center of the peristyle of the Villa of the Mysteries there is a small garden. The peristyle colonnade is supported by 16 corrugated Doric columns. The space between the columns is filled with a high border wall, painted with red panels on the white ground above the bottom black frieze. The walls of the peristyle are decorated with red panels on a white background above the bottom black frieze. The upper zone consists of a frieze consisting of green blocks crowned with an unablaminated dark yellow color.

Opening from the northwest corner of the peristyle is the room (p), which is in a semi-destructive state. This room, in turn, leads to a rather oddly shaped room (p '), which has an apse on its north wall and four rectangular niches. Today this part of the Villa of the Mysteries is poorly preserved. The frescoes were destroyed, and the roof and upper walls collapsed. Archaeologists have suggested that this room was in the process of being repaired during an eruption and was probably intended to place a marble statue of Livia found nearby in the peristyle. On the eastern side of the garden is a high entrance to the room, which apparently served as a crypt or a wine cellar. Whatever his purpose, the small space at the foot of two short flights of stairs on the eastern wall had two niches with an arch.


Villa of the Mysteries
Atrium or living room (o) in the Villa of the Mysteries. In the middle you see a small pool, and on top of the hole in the roof. This is not a collapse. In fact, through this hole rainwater fell into the pool below. This is a normal architectural detail of a Roman house. Usually the water from these pools did not drink. But after the earthquake of 62 years, when the aqueduct was broken, such pools began to be used as storage of rainwater, which had to be drunk.


Villa of the Mysteries
Wine press in torcularia (h) Villa of the Mysteries. On the left you see a device that squeezed the juice from the vine. The wooden parts have long since decayed, but today they have been restored from the remains of rotten wood, as well as from metal parts.


Villa of the Mysteries
On the eastern side of the peristyle, directly to the south of the entrance from the lobby, is room (i), which apparently was a secondary kitchen. The main kitchen (j) of the Villa of the Mysteries is located on the south side of the peristyle. On the north wall of the kitchen courtyard to the west of the entrance from the peristyle there is a Lararium, lined with a brick altar. Two figurines were found in the lararium niche, one of the unknown goddess and one figure of Hercules. The small remnants of decorative plaster, which once adorned the Lararium, are also partially preserved. The walls of the courtyard itself are also devoid of any fresco decoration. Judging by its size, the people here lived very much. Cooking food for the owner of the Villa of the Mysteries, his family of all workers and slaves has acquired a truly gigantic scale. This is one of the largest kitchens in Pompeii.


Villa of the Mysteries
This is an ancient Roman stove. This is undoubtedly one of the largest such facilities in the city. However, this is not the only stove in the Villa of the Mysteries. Several small ovens and stoves here were found throughout the entire mansion.


In the center of the north side of the peristyle is the entrance to the wide passage that led to torcular (h). Here they made wine for the Villa of the Mysteries and its inhabitants.



Interpretation of frescoes in the Villa of the Mysteries

There are many different interpretations of the frescoes in the Villa of the Mysteries, but most of them usually assume that they depict a certain religious rite. Another general theory is that the frescoes depict a bride initiated into certain Dionysian   Mysteries in preparation for marriage. Following this hypothesis, all the defendants in the ceremony dressed in complex costumes or wedding clothes.

Based on the subject and order of each fresco, they were intended to be read as a single narrative. Women and satire occupies a prominent place. Due to the widely accepted theory of fresco depicting dedication from the cult of Dionysus, some believe that the room with frescoes was used for rituals and festivals associated with the god Dionysus.

The first fresco shows a noble Roman woman (perhaps the mother of the bride who cannot follow further in the initiation ritual), approaching the priestess or the matron seated on the throne. There is also a little boy reading a scroll on the throne - presumably a declaration of initiation. On the other side of the throne, a young girl (ready for initiation) is dressed in purple and a crown of myrtle, in her hands she holds a sprig of laurel and a tray of cakes. She acts as a maid who brings gifts to a god or goddess.

The second mural depicts another priestess (or head of the cult) along with her assistants preparing baskets - liknon; at her feet are mysterious mushroom objects. On one side of the stage, the strong (horse element) plays the lyre. God Silenus in Roman mythology was a mentor and companion of Dionysus.

The third fresco depicts a satire playing a pipe and a nymph feeding a goat. To the right of them, the girl participating in the rite is depicted frightened, in a panic. After that, the girl disappears from the historical series and appears again transformed and changed. Some scholars believe that it should depict a certain sacred process of rebirth in a new entity through a religious ceremony. The gaze of a young girl is accidentally or intentionally directed at the other side of the room which depicts a young satyr. Here, the god Silen offers a satire bowl of wine, and the other satyr holds a frightening mask, which is reflected in the wine. This motif perhaps serves as a parallel to the mirror in which young Dionysus looks during the Orphic rite. Sitting next to them are the goddesses Ariadne or Semele with the god Dionysus / Bacchus lying frivolously on her lap. Perhaps the gaze of the frightened girl is fixed on the stage of scourging as part of the rite.

The next fresco shows the return of the girl who participates in the rite. Now she is holding a staff with a hat on her head, objects often signifying the successful completion of the initiation of the test. She kneels in front of the priestess, and the winged female figure seems to be gushing her. Next to it stands the dancing figure of the Menad and the covered figure with a tirce (symbol of initiation of Dionysus) from long stems of wrapped fennel, with a pine cone at the end.

In our penultimate scene, we see that the girl is dressed in new clothes, while the god Eros is holding a mirror over her. Later the scene with the god Eros is repeated. Finally, the main character of the story is shown dressed in a complicated costume. That is all we know about the Roman initiation rites.