An ancient house found under the Baths of Caracalla is now on display | Smart News

Discovered under the Baths of Caracalla, the two-storey house dates from 134 to 138 CE
Domenico Stinellis / Associated Press

The early 3rd century Baths of Caracalla in Rome alone are a site of commanding magnificence. But now visitors will be able to see what existed on the site before the lavish public baths were built: a Roman house with frescoed ceilings and a prayer hall paying homage to Roman and Egyptian gods.

“For the first time, visitors can admire parts of the frescoes on the ceiling of a second room in the domus [home] collapsed”, Luca del Fra, spokesman for the Special Superintendence of Rome, tells CNN’s Livia Borghese and Jeevan Ravindran.

The two-storey house was built between 134 and 138 CE, at the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, reports Nicole Winfield for the Associated Press (AP). But the structure was dismantled in part to make way for the baths, which opened in 216 CE

These ruins went largely unnoticed until the mid-19th century, when they were discovered about ten meters below the baths.. Another century passed before they were excavated, at which time the prayer hall and parts of the frescoed ceiling in the dining hall were removed for restoration, according to the AP.

Now the ceiling frescoes and the prayer hall are open as part of a permanent exhibition, which will help visitors see the baths in the context of what happened before.

The ceiling depicts images of Bacchus, the god of wine, in “prized Egyptian blue and cinnabar red pigments,” as restorers told the AP. The inner temple shows the Roman gods Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, while also depicting the silhouettes of the Egyptian deities Isis and Anubis. This religious crucible suggests a mixture of Roman and Egyptian culture and religion, even in the domestic space.

“It’s amazing that there are two distinct pantheons or groups of gods, one from the Greco-Roman tradition…and the other from the Egyptian tradition,” del Fra told CNN. “This could indicate that the family that owned the domus had a close relationship with Egypt.”

Site director Mirella Serlorenzi tells CNN that the juxtaposition of the two cultures is an example of the “religious syncretism typical of ancient Rome since its founding.”

Additionally, experts are interested in frescoes because other extant evidence of Roman wall art is largely found in Pompeii and Herculaneum, two cities buried and ultimately preserved by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 CE, a Serlorenzi told the AP.

“Roman painting after the first century AD has remained a mystery,” she adds, “because we simply haven’t had such well-preserved pieces.”