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The Temple of Isis at Pompeii

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The Temple of Isis at Pompeii is a Roman temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis.

This small and almost intact temple was among one of the first discoveries during the excavation of Pompeii in 1764.

Isis was a goddess in Ancient Egyptian religious beliefs.

She was worshipped as the ideal mother, wife, the matron of nature and magic. Principal devotees of this temple are assumed to be women, freedmen, and slaves.

Isis adoration was concerned about the acquisition of knowledge since knowledge could only be attained from the gifts of the gods.

Many scenes from the temple are recreated in the dining rooms of Pompeians, however, indicating that many individuals visited this temple for political, economic, or social reasons.

Priests of Isis typically shaved their heads and wore linen garments rather than wool.

The cult of Isis probably arrived in Pompeii around 100 BCE.

The preserved Pompeian temple is actually the second structure; the original building built under Augustan was damaged in an earlier earthquake of 62 CE.

Seventeen years later with the massive volcanic eruption, the Iseum alone was the sole temple to be completely re-built—ahead even of the Capitolium.

The temple is located in the theatre district, near the Samnite Gymthat was restricted precisely to allow the widening of the sacred structure: the main entrance is located on the road and on the portal was placed an inscription, now preserved in the museum national Archaeological Naples. In this inscription is written that the reconstruction was financed by the freedman Numerius Popidius Ampliatus in the name of his son Celsinus, a 6 year-old boy to allow to enter in the elite society.

IMG_1137

N(VMERIVS) POPIDIVS N(VMERII) F(ILIVS) CELSINVS

AEDEM ISIDIS TERRAE MOTV CONLAPSAM

A FVNDAMENTO P(ECVNIA) S(VA) RESTITVIT. HVNC DECVRIONES OB LIBERALITATEM

CVM ESSET ANNORVM SEXS ORDINI SVO GRATIS ADLEGERVNT.

Numerius Popidius Celsinus, son of Numerius, at his own expense restored from its foundations the Temple of Isis, which had collapsed in the earthquake.

Because of his generosity, although he was six years old, the councillors enrolled him into their number without fee.

The temple, which sits on a raised podium in the centre of the courtyard, has a porticoed entrance with niches on either side of the entrance to the cella. The walls were originally covered in white stucco in imitation of opus quadratum, while along the back wall was a raised plinth designed to support statues of Isis and Osiris. In a niche at the rear of the podium was a statue of Dionysus with a panther, a gift of Numerius Popidius Ampliatus.

The Temple os Isis drawing

The Temple of Isis drawing

The temple’s main altar sits to the left of the steps with a second altar on the south side of the podium. On the eastern side of the complex is a small temple-like structure with a stairway leading down to an underground cistern containing the sacred waters of the Nile. The small temple is referred to as the Purgatorium, the place where purification rites were performed. The facade has a broken triangular pediment and a frieze with two processions of priests converging towards the centre. Mars with Venus and Perseus with Andromeda are shown in relief on the exterior side walls.

To the west of the temple court is a large room known as the Ekklesiasterion. This hall was found virtually intact with a black mosaic floor and fine fourth style frescoes. On the north wall was the central scene of the liberation of Io by Hermes while the south wall contained the scene of Io’s arrival at Canopus in Egypt.

To the south of this hall is a room referred to as the Sacrarium, used to store cult objects, which has a fresco of snakes guarding a wicker basket adorned with lunar symbols.

In the south east corner of the complex a series of rooms open off the south side of the portico. These rooms were the living quarters (Pastophorion) of the priests and include a kitchen, triclinium and cubiculum.

Original paintings and sculptures can be seen at the Museo Archaeologico in Naples; the site itself remains on the Via del Tempio di Iside in the ancient city of Pompeii.

The famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is known to have visited the Temple of Isis at Pompeii in 1769, just a few years after it was unearthed and when Mozart was himself just 13 years old. His visit and the memories of the site are considered to have inspired him 20 years later in his composition of The Magic Flute.

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