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Temple of Isis
Location: Regio VIII
Temple of Isis is a modest
sanctuary in the centre of the ancient Pompeii. Judging by inscriptions
found on stones and artifacts it was dedicated to goddess Isis. Goddess Isis was originally an Egyptian deity associated with the cult of
prosperity and fertility. However as Egypt became a Roman province many
of the foreign gods were transported to the mainland Italy, including
Temple of Isis was just one of the examples of multicultural
nature of this metropolis. However one should not forget that this
relative tolerance came with a price. Gods of the defeated nations
could not be worshipped without respect of the native Roman gods. As
long as you paid your homage to the Roman gods you could worship
anyone you wanted to. If you refused to follow the official pantheon
of gods you could be killed as the enemy of the state. For example,
this happened to thousands of Christians in the first few centuries
from the birth of Christ.
The temple of Isis or Isis was built by the people of Egypt in the
second century BC. that is, before Egypt was conquered by the
Romans. The central sanctuary is surrounded by Corinthian columns.
In the year 62, an earthquake damaged the sanctuary, but it was
restored on behalf of 6-year-old Popidius Celcinius with the money
of his father Popidius Amplia. This practice was quite acceptable.
On the one hand, it was supposed to help the son with divine help,
and could also help in a political career in the future. The facade
of the Temple of Isis is depicted on one of the frescoes found in
ancient Pompeii. It depicted a sacrifice in honor of the goddess in
front of the temple.
The entrance (A), which opens from the
south side of Via del Tempio d 'Isis, bears a dedication which says
that the reconstruction was carried out after the earthquake of 62
years. The repair itself was financed by the freedman Numeriy Popidy
Amplia in the name of his son Celcinius.
The entrance opens
onto a courtyard surrounded by a four-sided portico. The portico was
decorated in the fourth style with red panels and depicted the
priests in ceremonial dress and Egyptian landscapes, separated by
architectural themes. Also there were depicted naval battles over
the lower orange frieze of lionesses, sphinxes, dragons and
dolphins. The upper zone contained images of the temple and small
paintings of landscapes and still lifes on a white background. All
the surviving decorations can be seen in the National Archaeological
Museum in Naples in rooms specifically dedicated to the temple and
its finds (rooms LXXIX - LXXXII and LXXXIV).
Temple of Isis, which sits on a raised platform in the center of the
courtyard, has an entrance with a portico (B) with niches on either
side of the entrance. The walls were originally covered with white
plaster in an imitation of the Opus Quadratum style, and along the
back wall was a raised base (C), designed to support the statue of
Isis and Osiris. In the niche on the back of the podium was a statue
of Dionysus with a panther, a gift from Numerius Popidius Amplia.
The main altar of the temple (D) is not in the temple itself, but to
the left of the entrance, along with the second altar (E) on the
south side. On the east side of the complex is a small temple-like
building (F) with a staircase leading down to an underground cistern
containing the sacred waters of the Nile. The small temple was
called Purgatorium, the place where the rites of purification were
performed. The facade has a broken triangular pediment and a frieze
with two processions of priests, converging to the center. Mars with
Venus and Perseus with Andromeda are shown in relief on the outside
of the wall.
To the west of the temple is a large room (G), known as
Ecclesiasterion. Its interior hall was found almost intact with a
black mosaic floor and beautiful fourth-style murals. On the north
wall was the central scene of the liberation of Io by Hermes, while
the south wall contained the scene of Io’s arrival at Canopus in
Egypt. Both frescoes are in the National Archaeological Museum in
To the south of this room is the room, which was
called the sacristy and used to store religious objects. The room is
covered with frescoes depicting snakes guarding a wicker basket
decorated with moon symbols. In the southeast corner of the complex
a number of rooms (I) are open from the south side of the portico.
These rooms were the pastophorion (Pastophorion) premises of the
priests and include kitchen, triclinium and cubicles.
Mozart's visit The famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, as is
known, visited the Temple of Isis in Pompeii in 1769, just a few
years after it was excavated. Mozart himself was then only 13 years
old. His visit and memories of the place later inspired him to write
the Magic Flute 20 years later.