Isis - Temple of Isis at Pompeii

Scenes and Sketches of Continental Europe

By Robert Sears

An Eyewitness Account of His Visit to the Temple of Isis at Pompeii

Published in1847

Temple of Isis at Pompeii

Temple of Isis. - It appears from a description found here, that this edifice was thrown down by the earthquake of 63, and rebuilt by Numerius Popidius Celsinus. It is sixty-eight feet long by sixty feet wide in good preservation, and peculiarly well worth notice; for to contemplate the altar whence so many oracles have issued, to discern the identical spot where the priests concealed themselves, when they spoke for the statue of their goddess, to view the secret stairs by which they ascended into the sanctum-sanctorum; in short, to examine the structure of a temple more Egyptian than Greek, excites no common degree of interest. This temple is a Doric edifice, composed of bricks, stuccoed, painted, and polished. The sanctum-sanctorum stands on seven steps (once cased with Parian marble), it’s form being nearly a square; it’s walls, which are provided with niches for statues, display among other ornaments in stucco, the pomegranate, called in Greek, roia, and one of the emblems of Isis. The pavement is mosaic. Here, on two altars, were suspended the Isiac tables; and two quadrangular basins of Parian marble, to contain the purifying water, were likewise found here, each standing on one foot of elegant workmanship, and bearing this inscription: “Longinus II Vir.” On the high altar stood the statue of Isis; and immediately beneath this altar are apertures to the hiding-place of the priests; contiguous to which are the secret stairs. The lower end of the temple, fronting the sanctum-sanctorum, contains the altars … and the reservoir for the purifying water. A figure of Harpocrates was found in a niche opposite to the high altar. Other parts of the temple contain small altars, a kitchen in which were found culinary utensils of cretacotta (containing ham-bones and remains of fishes) ... When this temple was excavated, its walls exhibited paintings of Isis with the sistrum, Anubis with a dog’s head, priests with palm-branches and ears of corn, and one priest holding a lamp; the hippopotamus, the ibis, the lotus, dolphins, birds and arabesques. Most of these, however, have been moved to Naples; as have the statues of Isis, Venus, Bacchus, Priapus, and two Egyptian idols in basalt, which were likewise found here. Sacrificial vessels of every description, candelabra, tripods, and couches for the gods, were also discovered in this temple.

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