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Romain - Expo Paris 1889

Romain at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889

At the beginning, Rome knew no other architecture than that of its neighbours, but this architecture was gradually modified over the centuries under the influence of the Etruscans and then the Greeks. Moreover, while preserving the traces of this double origin, Roman art managed in the early days of the Empire to mark its borrowed elements with an original stamp.

We have to deal here only with private dwellings, and it is to Mr. Martha, author of a good Manual of Etruscan and Roman Archaeology, that we shall ask for our information.

For several centuries, says Mr. Martha, until the end of the Republic, the Roman house was only a reproduction of the Etruscan house. The centre was the atrium, as in Etruria. The type of this atrium varied little. Sometimes it was completely covered, but more often it was lit by a square opening left between them by the four inwardly sloping roof canopies; below this opening, a small shallow basin collected the rainwater and poured it outside through a gutter.

The canopies rested on two horizontal beams or four vertical supports. All around this small, half-covered courtyard were grouped a few rooms, more or less numerous, more or less large depending on the condition of the inhabitants.

In all houses of any importance, one was sure to find in other annexes two side wings, a sort of open alcoves, situated towards the back of the atrium on the right and on the left, and between these two recesses a third one, the whole arranged like the three upper branches of a cross.

The two side wings were used to store, arranged on shelves, the portraits of the ancestors and those wax masks moulded on the face of the dead which, worn by actors, represented the forefathers at the funerals of their descendants. The middle wing completed this hereditary museum by preserving all the writings and documents that could be of interest to the history of the family, accounts, hospitality tesserae, extracts from annals, eulogies, copies of honorary decrees, in a word the domestic archives.

This is the traditional Roman home, where only the Etruscan origin is revealed. At the time of Augustus, the taste for well-being and comfort, combined with the desire to enjoy the refinements of Hellenic art, considerably modified the Roman home and embellished it with all the elegance of Greek genius. The rooms overlooking the atrium were now used only as common rooms, as we would say today; the master reserved a room for business visits he had to receive. From the atrium, a narrow corridor led to a peristyle, a large courtyard with a swimming pool and surrounded by porticoes. The flat where the family met overlooked this courtyard on one side and a garden on the other. The bedrooms and dining rooms opened onto the peristyle on the right and left.

We will have finished with the Roman dwelling when we have said that a continuous enclosure of shops surrounded it on the outside.

© L'exposition de Paris - 1889