Below the Theatre

In contrast to the area of the Sanctuary of Apollo, the de gree of conservation of streets and dwellings in the south ern sector of the city is remarkable and bears comparison at times with Pompeii. The beauty and sophistication of the houses provide a lively picture of civil and domestic life and architecture in Hellenistic Greece.

The typical Delian house of the Hellenistic and Roman period had its rooms grouped around a central courtyard which was reached from the street by a short corridor. In the absence of external windows, this well of light was the sole illumination of the tenebrous interiors, and served to keep the air cool during the summer months. Richer homes had a peristyle round the court, with marble columns, and the walls plastered, painted and polished to a shine, so as to maximise the light. The so-called ‘Rhodian Peristyle’ is also found on Delos , consisting of a large hall rising the full height and fronted by a taller colonnade occupying one side, and generally two storeys of rooms constituting the others. The central court would normally have a mosaic floor, whose brilliant colours revived when wet: this served as an impluvium catching rainwater for the all-important cistern beneath. Some houses possessed wells; but stored rainwater was generally preferred because of its supposed beneficial and medicinal qualities.

From the southeast corner of the Agora of the Competaliasts at the head of the embarkation mole, the well-paved and drained main street of the Theatre Quarter ascends between houses and shops—some furnished with marble windows for dispensing sales—giving directly on to the street. Occasional niches show that the street was lit by lamps at night. To the right is a house with a stove and built-in basins, probably a dyer’s workshop. A small pas sage and steps lead (right) up, past a dolphin mosaic covering a cistern, into the House of Cleopatra. The marble colonnade has been restored; in the courtyard stand replicas of the two elegant statues (now in the museum) representing Cleopatra and Dioscourides, the 2nd century bc, Athenian owners. On the opposite side of the road (left) is the House of Dionysos, where part of the staircase to an upper floor remains. In one room the rough plaster has graffiti (triremes, horseman, etc.), perhaps done by the plasterers before they added the surface layer for the painted marbling. The courtyard contains a particularly elegant * mosaic of Dionysos, executed in opus vermiculatum, i.e with tiny tesserae of often varying shapes which enhance the pictorial effect; the god is seen crowned with ivy leaves and holding a thyrsos, mounted on a tiger wreathed in vines. The binding cement has been variously tinted with the colour of the tesserae it holds, so as admirably to increase the tonal unity and fluidity of the design. These mosaics must be imagined gleaming from beneath standing water rather than in their present dusty condition. Farther along, the House of the Trident, one of the largest houses on the island, has a ‘Rhodian’ peristyle and an elegant well-head. The mosaics are simple but strik, and include an anchor with a dolphin and a trident with a ribbon tied in a bow: the resemblance between this design and the trademarks on amphorae found in a sunken ship off Marseille has been pointed out, suggesting that the house may have belonged to the Delian wine merchant who owned the ship. Another mosaic depicts a Panathenaic amphora suggesting that a member of the household had won a victory in a chariot-race.

Delos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.

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