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Buildings in Pompeii

Updated on May 31, 2019
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Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Simran writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.

The 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius

The  79 AD eruption of Vesuvius, as envisioned in the movie Pompeii. (©2014 Constantin Film International GmbH and Impact Pictures (Pompeii) Inc.)
The 79 AD eruption of Vesuvius, as envisioned in the movie Pompeii. (©2014 Constantin Film International GmbH and Impact Pictures (Pompeii) Inc.)

What was Pompeii?

Pompeii was a large Roman town in the fertile Italian region of Campania, near the coast of the Bay of Naples. The town was most famously known for being buried underneath volcanic ash following the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE. The town of Pompeii was close to the Mediterranean sea, which allowed trade and communication with other countries and created humid climates.

A Day in Pompeii - Full-length animation

VII.16.17-22 Pompeii. December 2007. Plaster cast of body lying at foot of staircase. Four people met their death in this house, three of them died huddled together on this staircase. Cases were made from their skeletal remains
VII.16.17-22 Pompeii. December 2007. Plaster cast of body lying at foot of staircase. Four people met their death in this house, three of them died huddled together on this staircase. Cases were made from their skeletal remains

Plans and streetscapes

Pompeii was considered small by Roman standards (66 hectares) and held Greek influences on their layout, which were narrow, straight streets (5m wide) that divided into city blocks. Roman techniques of raised footpaths and stepping stones were used for pedestrians without stepping into sewerage that overflowed in the gutters when it rained. The Via dell’Abondanza was the main street, known as the ‘street of abundance’. The forum was the heart of Pompeii. Archaeologists uncovered deep groove marks that showed the volume of traffic.

Street plans of Pompeii


The basic architecture of Pompeii

Predominately, buildings within Pompeii adopted Greet construction such as the peristyle and water features. Greek columns were used in temples, public buildings and houses. Designs of theatres were based on Greek originals.The concept of palaestra's originated in Greece.

Villa of the Mysteries

©Jackie and Bob Dunn The villa originally dates from the 2nd century BC, but its current layout was set between 70 and 60BC.
©Jackie and Bob Dunn The villa originally dates from the 2nd century BC, but its current layout was set between 70 and 60BC.


The main types of housing in Pompeii consisted of:

  • Shops & workshops with 1 or 2 residences above or behind.
  • Larger workshops with 2 to 7 rooms.
  • Average P house: 8 to 13 rooms with a workshop.
  • Largest houses designed for comfortable living 25+ rooms.
  • Villas

Houses differed depending on the wealth of a citizen however, most houses primarily followed a similar layout. Most exteriors were characterised by roofs with terracotta tiles and a few windows. The interior of the houses was what Romans felt were significant. Numerous houses had shops that were attached to the front of the house, which was rented to merchants.

These houses were entered from a street next to the corridor. They were divided by a door in two sections; the fauces and the and vestibulum. This led into the atrium. The atrium was partly roofed, however, the centre of the roof was open to allow light and rain inside. Beneath the opening was a stone tank (impluvium), which collected water. Around the atrium were small rooms such as the bedrooms (cubicula) and dining room (Triclinium). Kitchens were small, often containing only a sink/oven.Opposite the entrance was tablinum (main reception room). From tablinum was a doorway to peristyle (garden). Other rooms around peristyle were summer dining rooms, lavatory and storage rooms.



Household gods

Paterfamilias (the oldest male and head of the household) conducted private rituals within the house. Offerings and daily ceremonies were held within the house. Small shrines (lararia) with small statues or painted images of the lares (family protectors) and the genius (life spirit) of the head of the household.

Household lararium

VI.15.1 Pompeii. December 2006. Household lararium in service area. Painting of serpent, (Agathodemone), garlands and three figures. The household gods (Lares) are either side of the guardian spirit (genius loci) of the house.
VI.15.1 Pompeii. December 2006. Household lararium in service area. Painting of serpent, (Agathodemone), garlands and three figures. The household gods (Lares) are either side of the guardian spirit (genius loci) of the house. | Source


Two types of villas existed in Pompeii; pleasure villas (built to take advantage of sea view) and countryside/ farm villas (which produced wine and olives). These were large estates that were owned by the wealthy in Roman society. These villas were characterised by elaborate gardens, expansive and luxurious buildings and many rooms. An example of

An example of a villa is the Villa of Papyri. The remains of this villa was one of the most well-kept examples of the luxurious lifestyles kept by wealthy citizens. One of the small rooms found contained 2000 carbonated scrolls. The main peristyle was the size of a small forum and had a pool as large as the imperial baths in Rome.

“…all public spaces in the house were designed and decorated to impress visitors with the owners’ wealth and status.”

— Pamela Bradly

The Villa Imperiale

 ©Jackie and Bob Dunn
©Jackie and Bob Dunn

Lost World Of Pompeii (Ancient Rome Documentary) | Timeline

The forum of Pompeii

The forum of Pompeii was a significantly large complex (137m x 47m) that was the centre of Pompeii between the main routes that joined Naples, Nola and Stabiae. The forum was characterised as a rectangular district that contained public buildings of political, religious and economic backgrounds. Forty statues in honour of significant figures such as Roman Emperor Augustus were excavated from the site. Towards the forum's south, governmental buildings such as the Hall of Duumviri, the Curia and the hall of Aediles were utilised for the conduction of activities such as the election of magistrates.

Archaeological evidence suggested that the inconsistent use of materials were the result of modifications and reconstructions to the buildings due to the earthquake of 62 AD. During the primitive era of ore-Samnite, most buildings were made of limestone.The first half of the Samnite's period revealed the use of volcanic materials in the construction of buildings. The second half of the period revealed the use of tufa as a common ingredient. Following that period was the Roman occupation, resulting in the use of brick and cement-faced brick. This development was highlighted through the forum's porticoes. The first portico was created out of tufa while the second used white limestone.

The Samnites created the two-storey colonnade that surrounds the forum which was decorated with doric columns and was made of nucerine stone. The doric elements signified the influence of the Hellenistic periods, with which the Samnites were recognised for emulating. The forum was eventually rebuilt after the second punic war in the 3rd century. The reconstruction of the forum was followed by the increase in population reveals another feature of Roman architecture.


 ©Jackie and Bob Dunn
©Jackie and Bob Dunn

“...square, surrounded by double and spacious porticoes in which close columns…”

— Vitruvius' description of an ideal Greek Forum

“[These statues are to act as] models enabling [us] to judge of [ourselves] in our lifetime, and after of the rulers subsequent ages”.

— Emperor Augustus


The basilica was a large, public building where legal and business matters could be dealt with. The structure (24 m by 55 m and was divided by 28 columns, which were 11 m high) was the most elaborate within the forum, located in the south-west corner. The basilica was originally intended to be a covered market. However, its was eventually altered into law courts. At the centre of the Basilica lied the Suggestum, which was a platform from which public criers announced news and Politicians presented electoral speeches. The lower floor was suspected to be used for archives, while the upper floor was used as a platform for judges. The interior walls were decorated with marble panels. Graffiti was scratched into surfaces.


 ©Jackie and Bob Dunn
©Jackie and Bob Dunn


There was a large range of shops within Pompeii such as workshops, located on Via dell’Abondanza. Many of these shops were leased front rooms of private houses. Within the shop were a backroom for storage, shelves on the walls and a counter for selling goods. Taverns had tables and chairs for people to drink and eat, normally offering accommodation. Bars, however, were normally small and did not have to seat.

The Thermopolium (Pompeii cafe/bar)

A thermopolium was the equivalent of a modern day cafe/bar. Hot and cold food was sold from what was usually an 'L' shaped masonry counter containing terracotta vessels.  ©Jackie and Bob Dunn
A thermopolium was the equivalent of a modern day cafe/bar. Hot and cold food was sold from what was usually an 'L' shaped masonry counter containing terracotta vessels. ©Jackie and Bob Dunn

The Macellum (market-place)

Developments that the Roman colony of Pompeii experienced, are revealed through the Forum as the increase of trade led to the emergence of a marketplace called the Macellum. References to the works of Marcel Brions reveal that the Macellum was a meat and fish market that was built in the Imperial era. We can deduce that the Macellum was a seafood(fish) concentrated market through the statue of the Umbricius Scaurus who was the producer of a famous fish sauce known as Garum, coupled with the colonies thriving fishing industry

Pompeii's Macellum

Photo taken by Rick Scott
Photo taken by Rick Scott | Source


The palestra was used as an exercising area. Romans used those areas for activities such as discus, running and javelin competitions. The collegia (groups of young people) often engaged in athletic competitions. Swimming pools (5.5 metres wide, 1.1 metres deep – length of arms: 50 metres and 30 metres) were located next to the palestra along with baths. The significance of the palestra was shown through the space that was 141 x 107 metres. From Greek influence, collonaded rectangular areas included open grassed space in the middle.

Palestra in Pompeii


Within Pompeii, temples were a sacred sanctuary of the gods and goddesses. Romans visited the temples for the purpose of requesting assistance from the gods and goddesses. Temples such as the temple of Capitolium (Jupiter), the temple of Apollo and the temple of Isis were some of the temples that were excavated from Pompeii.

The Temple of Jupiter

The temple of Capitolium (Jupiter) was the main centre of worship in Pompeii after the Romans seized control of Pompeii. The significance of the temple was shown through William Mierse’s statement that the temple of Jupiter was a “dominant” feature of Pompeii. The temple was constructed on the 2nd century BC within the Samnite age. It laid on a high base as the entrance at the northern preface of the forum with a double flight of stairs.

The cell within the temple was exclusive to authority figures such as the priests. Statues of Juno, Minerva and Jupiter were within the temple. The temple took on an Italic style of construction, which had been expanded towards the end of the 2nd century BC. However, the earthquake in 62 BC destroyed most parts of the temple. Attempts of renovations were stopped due to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 BC.

The temple of Jupiter


The Temple of Apollo

The worship of Apollo was a concept that the Romans has adopted from Greek religious practices that emerged from around the 6th century BC (Samnite period.). The temple of Apollo was a temple dedicated to this worship along with the worship of Diana the huntress and Mercury.

The temple was situated within the forum, facing the North side of the Basilica.The temple was in a rectangular shape that was surrounded by a portico that entailed the features that were gained as a result of a rebuild during the 3rd century BC, and a renovation followed by the earthquake of 62 .C.E. It was originally built with 48 Ionic columns but were changed into Corinthian columns during Nero’s reign. A high podium elevated the temple. Access to the structure was made by a staircase that entailed Italic and Greek.

The most significant aspect of the temple was the cella, which was a platform that is raised on a podium. The rear of the temple was decorated with scenes from the Iliad. Statues of Diana and Apollo faced each other while statues of Venus and Hermaphrodite were found at the base of the portico’s entrance, as stated by Alberti Pisa (Pompeii,painted).

Statue of Apollo


The temple of Isis

The temple of Isis which was dedicated to the worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis was considered to be the most well-preserved temple uncovered from Pompeii. The cult of Isis was one of the most popular forms of worship. The temple was created during the pre-Roman ages. Inscriptions and on the temple suggested that it underwent a major renovation following the earthquake of 62 AD. Being raised on a platform, the temple faced the east side so the rising sun illuminated the interior. A statue of Isis was elevated on a niche inside. A peristyle was used to preserve a vial of water from the river Nile, which was considered sacred. The existence of the temple of Isis allows historians and archaeologists to understand the poempenian citizens' tolerance of foreign cults and religious customs.

Temple of Isis

 ©Jackie and Bob Dunn
©Jackie and Bob Dunn

Pompeii's theatre

The theatre in Pompeii appeared as a curved auditorium (cavea.) The theatre praised for its acoustics, seated 5000 people and hosted farces, mimes, plays and pantomimes. The location was utilised as a place advertisements and propaganda. The backdrop of the stage featured images of the gods, local politician and the emperor.

The Odeon theatre in Pompeii

Photo taken by Joanne Munro
Photo taken by Joanne Munro | Source

Pompeii's ampitheatre

The amphitheatre was a large (146 by 33 metres in length) elliptical shaped theatre that held various sources of entertainment for citizens. Considered the oldest surviving amphitheatre in the Roman world, it was built around 70 BC (the period of the Roman conquest and colonisation of the town). It was situated in the south-east of Pompeii. The theatre was known for its intricate design and the way it provided historians with insight into Pompeii's social and popular culture.

Amphitheatre in Pompeii


The site consisted of thirty-five held 24,000 spectators which this allowed accommodation of local citizens as wells as audiences from neighbouring towns. The area was used for games such as gladiatorial fights, hunts and battles featuring wild animals (bestiarius). In honour of the gods, gladiatorial games allowed politicians to showcase propaganda. Those who paid for the games to be held built a greater reputation, a tactic that politicians would take.

Astyanax vs Kalendio mosaic

Two venatores fighting a tiger (5th century CE mosaic in the Great Palace of Constantinople)
Two venatores fighting a tiger (5th century CE mosaic in the Great Palace of Constantinople) | Source

Alike Pompeii's theatres, spectators were seated in accordance with their social classes. The first sector (ima cavea) was used by important and aristocratic personnel. The successive levels entitled: media and summa were used by other audiences. The middle rows were used for ordinary citizens. Private boxes were believed to be used by aristocratic women of Pompeii, following the social legislation of emperor Augustus. The standing room was for the poor.

The amphitheatre's arena was excavated about six meters below ground level. There were two double stairways and another pair of single stairways located around the theatre. The arena was surrounded by a parapet that exceeded the amphitheatre’s height by around two meters. The parapet was decorated with scenes of gladiators or animal hunts. Seats were tied around the oval and made of stone, however, wooden tiers were commonly found. The valerium served the purpose of protecting citizens from the sun.

Pompeian mural depicting the Amphitheatre riots


Gladiators of Pompeii

Graffiti excavated throughout the streets of Pompeii revealed that gladiatorial combats were a popular source of entertainment: “ the gladiatorial troop…will fight at Pompeii…”. Bestiarius consisted of men killing animals that were "maddened with spear thrusts…” (marcel Brions, Pompeii and Herculaneum glory and grief). Pompeian paintings and bas-reliefs on certain tombs revealing different categories of gladiators. The most accurate portrait of a gladiator was found in a statuette that served as a sign board to a tavern in the area surrounding the Portia Di Neceria. That statuette revealed a gladiator raising a shield whilst leaning on his left hand.


For public latrines a drainage channel in which water continuously ran ensured that waste was moved along, draining to pits beneath the roadway. A few private houses had latrines near the kitchen area.

Aqueduct in Pompeii, Italy


Water supply

An aqueduct divided into three pipes effectively supplied Pompeii with water from the river Sarno. Numerous private houses were connected to the water. One of the three pipes supplied the public fountains throughout the city, which was usually located at crossroads. These public fountains supplied a continuous flow of fresh water.

Roman baths in Pompeii, Italy.

Roman baths, Pompeii, Italy.

Baths (thermae)

Baths (thermae) were viewed as a social activity within Pompeii, also used for business and exercise. The features of the baths consisted of hot, warm and cold baths. There were areas for exercise and playing games, massage rooms, sauna-like rooms, garden enclosures and a large swimming pool. The baths also had a heating system (hypocaust), which was a system of furnaces located under the bathhouses. Both water/air were heated using the hypocaust. Different baths existed such as the forum baths, the suburban baths and the stabian baths.
Men and women of all social classes used the public baths daily, however, men and women were segregated. These baths were available at midday.

A typical day at the baths:

Citizens would undress in changing rooms (apodyterium) then exercise in the palaestra. This was then followed by a massage in the apodyterium where oil was applied to the body then scraped off with a strigil (Romans had no soap). Citizens would then go visit the warm room (trepidarium), a hot room which was 40 celsius (caldarium), sauna (laconicum) and the cold pool (frigidarium).

"Garden of the Fugitives"

 Plaster casts of victims still in situ; many casts are in the Archaeological Museum of Naples
Plaster casts of victims still in situ; many casts are in the Archaeological Museum of Naples


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    • PiNimbus profile image


      3 years ago

      These photos are stunning. I really enjoyed reading these facts. I hope these structures can survive for our future generations. I can only imagine the energy omitted from this location.


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