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What the frescoes of the house, which was hidden under the lava of Vesuvius for 2000 years
What the frescoes of the house, which was hidden under the lava of Vesuvius for 2000 years

The Villa of the Mysteries was reopened in the 18th century after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. What was found under the tons of lava changed the course of the development of art throughout Europe. Particularly delightful was the initiation room, containing frescoes of secret rituals and ceremonies. What was hidden in this picturesque room?

The Roman Empire was famous for a large number of cities, but the most beautiful of them are the cities of the Gulf of Naples, one of which is Herculaneum. August 24, 79 A.D. there was an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which led to the disappearance of Pompeii, the city of Herculaneum and several other villages.

Villa of the Mysteries

Herculaneum was rediscovered in 1738 and Pompeii in 1748. By the middle of the 18th century, scientists traveled to Naples and made a number of finds, after which Europe literally caught fire with discoveries. Philosophy, art, architecture, literature and even fashion relied on artifacts found in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Neoclassicism began its new journey with the discovery of one of the most beautiful villas in Rome.

The Villa of the Mysteries was reopened in the spring of 1909 after the excavation of over 30 feet of volcanic ash. The stunning decoration of the villa was immediately explored. The Villa of the Mysteries was about 40,000 square feet and had a minimum of 60 rooms.

Like many Roman estates, the Villa of the Mysteries functioned as a huge recreation and entertainment complex. There were baths, gardens, a kitchen, a winery, shrines, marble statues, and reception halls. Many of these rooms were covered with frescoes depicting urban scenes and landscapes, scenes of sacrifices, portraits of gods and satyrs.

However, this Villa has a significant feature from the others: the initiation room, decorated with mystical scenes. It measures 15 feet by 25 feet and is located on the front right side of the villa. The villa got its name precisely from the world-famous stunning frescoes that adorn the tablinum (guest room).

The most prominent interpretation of these frescoes is the initiation of a woman into the cult of Dionysus, a mysterious ritual to prepare the bride for marriage. The frescoes in the Villa of the Mysteries give viewers the opportunity to see an important sacrament for the transition to a new psychological stage of Pompeian women.

Scene 1

The action of the ceremony begins with the fact that the woman crosses the threshold, her right hand is on her hip, and with her left she wants to take off her scarf. She listens attentively to the boy reading the scroll (ritual rules). A boy's nudity can mean that he is divine. The Judge Priestess (behind the boy) holds another scroll in her left hand and a stylus in her right hand. She is about to write the name of the initiate on the list. The girl on the right is holding a tray of sacred food. She has a myrtle wreath on her head.

Scene 2

The priestess (center), wearing a headdress and a wreath of myrtle, removes the veil from a basket held by a court maid. The contents of this basket, according to some researchers, may include laurel, snakes or rose petals. The second woman in a wreath on the right pours sacred water into a basin, into which the priestess is about to dip a sprig of laurel. The mythological creature Silenus (in ancient Greek mythology - a satyr, mentor of Dionysus) plays the ten-stringed lyre.

Scene 3

A young satyr plays pipes, and a nymph sucks a goat. In many rituals, this regression through music is necessary to achieve the psychological state necessary for rebirth.The dedicated woman is terrified of the impending ritual.

Scene 4

Satyr Silenus looks disapprovingly at the frightened woman, holding a silver bowl in her hands. The young satyr looks into the bowl as if hypnotized. Another young satyr holds a theatrical mask in the air (reminiscent of Silenus himself). Some researchers suggest that this mask is reflected in the silver bowl. This is a kind of fortune-telling: a young satyr sees himself in the future as a dead satyr. The bowl may have contained an intoxicating drink for participants in the Dionysian Mysteries.

Scene 5

The central figure of the frescoes is the image of Dionysus, the most popular god for Roman women. He was the source of their sensual and spiritual hopes for a happy future. Dionysus is stretched out in the arms of his mother, Semele, who is seated on the throne. He has a wreath of ivy on his head, on his body lies a thyrsus (the rod and attribute of Dionysus), tied with a yellow ribbon.

Scene 6

An initiate with a staff in her hand returns from a past night ritual, what exactly happened earlier is a mystery to the audience. On the right is a winged deity, possibly Aidos - the goddess of modesty, reverence and respect. Her raised hand rejects or drives away something. Behind the initiate there are two figures of women who, unfortunately, have not survived. One woman (far left) holds a plate over the initiate's head.

Scene 7

The main point of this scene is that the tortured initiate has finally completed her ritual. At this moment, she finds comfort and pity from the servant. The woman on the right is ready to give her thyrsus, a rod symbolizing the successful completion of the rite.

Scene 8

This scene represents the end of the ritual drama. A successful initiate prepares for the wedding, the young figure of Eros holds a mirror that reflects the image of the bride.

Scene 9

The figure below on the right has been identified as the mother of the bride, the owner of the villa, or the bride herself (as she wears the ring on her finger).

Scene 10

Eros, the god of love, is the last figure in the narrative of the ritual, symbolizing the successful completion of the rite.

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