House of the Orchard

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The House of the Orchard (Casa del Frutteto), also known as the House of the Garden is an ancient Roman residential structure in the archaeological site of Pompeii. It stands on the south side of the Via dell'Abbondanza and is known by some other names as well, including House Euplia and House of the Flower Cubicles.

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Although the house has its own small garden, the name of this mansion comes from the beautiful frescoes, depicting the garden on the walls of a cubicle-bedroom. The House of the Orchard, follows the standard Roman floor-plan, where the guest garden or atrium is an integral part of the house.

The residential complex, brought to light in 1951-52 CE, owes its name to the refined paintings of gardens dating to the time of emperor Augustus (early first century CE).


circa 150 BCE

The house was constructed in the late third century BCE and was restructured at least four times over the later years. After the earthquake of 62 BCE, a commercial activity began in the domus, as is indicated by the opening of a shop on Via dell'Abbondanza and the discovery of some 150 amphorae of wine. The final phase of renovation, shown by a heap of lime in the peristyle, was tragically interrupted by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. The excavations recovered fragments of the floors and walls of the upper story, accessed by a staircase set in the room close to the tablinum.

The floors are made of cocciopesta (earthenware) decorated with white tiles laid in geometric patterns, while the walls preserved portions of Style-II frescoes (early first century BCE) that imitate polychromic marble facing. One of the walls is visible in the tablinum between the atrium and the garden.

At the center of the small peristyle at the rear of the house, the existing vegetation has been rearranged. It consists of a boxwood hedge laid out in geometric pattern and a specimen of oleander grown as standard in the center. Oleander are depicted in the paintings of both the cubicula, frescoed with scenes of a garden and an orchard.

Decorations and Paintings

circa 150 BCE

The fame of this domus is due to the pictorial decorations of the small rooms (numbered 8 and 12) intended for repose (cubicula). The paintings dating from the Augustan period (style III) depict lush gardens with palms, shrubs and fruit trees, such as lemon, fig cherry, pear, plum and pomegranate, populated with birds of different species that enliven the landscape.

In one of the two rooms (numbered 8), the frescoed scenes reproduce, against an azure backdrop, the symbols of the cult of Osiris (the bull/Apis and canopic jars) and symbols linked to the cult of Dionysus (theatrical masks and musical instruments). Inserted amid the foliage of the trees appear some small pictures depicting muths and characters related to the world of Dionysus (Dionysus and Ariadne, satyrs and maenads), flanked by Egyptian-style statues, seated and standing, wielding the symbol of life (ankh).

Also in the second room (numbered 12), which preserves the remains of the vault, the Greek cult is merged with Egyptian. Against a black background, amid trees and birds, stands a fig tree, up which climbs a lazy serpent, an augury of prosperity. Just below is crown of roses, the symbol of the triumph of Osiris (life) over his brother Seth (death).

On the remains of the upper floor walls are preserved portions of frescoes in Style II. The paintings imitate architecture and polychrome tiling, with yellow and red panels hung with garlands. The spaces are subdivided by a series of objects and architectural elements (shields, columns, architraves) which organize and mark off the space.

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