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Frescoes from the time of Hadrian unveiled at ancient Roman baths

Written by By Livia BorgheseJeevan Ravindran, CNN

Frescoes dating back almost 2,000 years to the time of the Roman emperor Hadrian will now be on display to the public when they visit Rome’s ancient Baths of Caracalla.

“For the first time, visitors can admire parts of the frescoes from the ceiling of a second room of the domus (home) that collapsed,” said Luca del Fra, a spokesperson for the Special Superintendence of Rome.

Dionysus, the god of wine, also known as Bacchus, depicted against a red background. Credit: Fabio Caricchia

“This was the ceiling of the triclinium — the ancient Romans dining room — and archaeologists have restored a part that shows Dionysius on a red background,” del Fra told CNN.

The frescoes pre-date the baths themselves, and adorned a house that was part of a neighborhood destroyed to accommodate the baths, which were inaugurated in 216 AD and named after Marco Aurelio Antonio Bassiano, known as Caracalla — the son of the emperor Septimus Severus.

The baths followed the scheme of the “great imperial baths,” with a central block dedicated solely to the thermal baths, with a sequence of caldarium, tepidarium, frigidarium and natatio, varying in temperature and purpose. The natatio, an open air bath, was the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

Detail of a human figure.

Detail of a human figure. Credit: Fabio Caricchia

Other parts of the building were used for walking, studying and doing sports.

The two frescoes are of different time periods — the first, typical of the Hadrian age, reproduces architectural perspectives populated by human figures, statues, and rampant felines.

The second, produced around 50 years later, depicts divine figures from the Greco-Roman and Egyptian pantheons together, and the frescoes suggest that they were owned by a rich family, a statement said.

Anubis, the Egyptian god of death and the afterlife.

Anubis, the Egyptian god of death and the afterlife. Credit: Fabio Caricchia

“It’s stunning that there are two separate pantheons or group of gods, one from the Greek-Roman tradition (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) one from the Egyptian tradition (Anubis, Isis and probably Serapis),” del Fra told CNN. “This could indicate that the family who owned the domus had a close relation with Egypt.”

Representing the Greco-Roman tradition are Jupiter, god of the sky, his consort Juno, protector and goddess of marriage, and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. On the Egyptian side are Anubis, the god of death and the afterlife, Isis, goddess of fertility and motherhood, and potentially Serapis, a Graeco-Egyptian deity of the sun used to unite Greeks and Egyptians in Egypt.

Meanwhile, director of the Baths of Caracalla, Mirella Serlorenzi, said the presence of gods from two different traditions in the same artwork was characteristic of the “religious syncretism typical of ancient Rome since its foundation.”


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