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Atlanta Garden Design

Experiencing Landscape: The House of the Faun, Pompeii

Posted by Author on November 12, 2014 at 8:05 PM

Images: Richard Mortel, Sam Valentine, and Uppy Chatterjee


While my last post focused on the streets of ancient Pompeii, there is certainly more to the ancient city than what can be seen from the curb. As a visitor walks the rutted streets, steps into the partially reconstructed storefronts, and explores the public open spaces, there is an underlying urge to venture into what is off limits. Through fenced-off doorways and cracks in walls, I kept catching tempting glimpses of residential gardens and courtyard spaces.


Images: Roger Ulrich, Amphipolis, and Sean Munson


The most impressive of these courtyards, and one of the few that is fully open to visitors today, is found in the "House of Faun." This second century B.C. residential complex takes up a full city block and was one of the largest, most elaborate homes in the city. The house is the site of numerous renowned mosaics including Alexander the Great engaged in an epic battle, scenes of Nile River and marine wildlife, and bold non-representational tessellations. (Interestingly, one of my early blogs prominently featured one of the ancient wildlife mosaics.)



The residence is notable not only in its scale and elaborate decor, but in the formality of its outdoor spaces. Visitors entered through richly embellished "fauces" or vestibules, which led in turn to a series of atriums and generous peristyle gardens. Even though the street grid was not orthogonal, the builders of this home imposed order through straightened corners and legible axes.



Visiting the verdant House of the Faun gardens today, it easy to forget the true intensity of Vesuvius' eruption. A visitor to Pompeii can find mature allées of umbrella pine (Pinus pinea), shrub plantings, and even working wine vineyards, but the damage from Mount Vesuvius' eruption should not be understated. Just as ancient villagers were frozen in poses of anguish, the closest thing to surviving plant life archaeologists have been able to turn up in Pompeii are plaster casts of the ash-voids left behind by scorched tree root masses.

Images: Hannah Weinberg, Steven Zucker, and Sam Valentine


Like many of the houses uncovered in the ash of Pompeii, the "House of the Faun" takes its modern name from a surviving piece of artwork discovered within its walls, not the family name of its residents, which is harder to determine. In the center of an atrium reflecting pool, a joyous, dancing statue of a mythical half-man, half-goat forest faun (or satyr) stands in the center of a reflecting pool in the atrium. Quite fittingly, the artwork may have actually been commissioned as a play on the "Satrii" family name, who may have been the occupants.


Image: Riccardo Cuppini



Categories: Garden History, Landscape Design, Art & Inspiration

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