The latin word “domus” means “house”, specifically the big and elegant houses of the elite of ancient Rome. The domus struck the imagination of contemporaries and of the visitors who, over the centuries, have explored their sprawling, exquisite, ruins. They were a symbol of luxury, pragmatism and art.
And, surprisingly, even 2000 years later the domus has left an imprinting on our contemporary homes.
The domus evolved from a common structure, acquiring a definitive number of spaces and rooms over time. They generally resembled a small fort, with few outside openings (windows), small and always high on the walls. The main entrance opened on a high two-wing wooden door. Beyond the door began a short corridor (fauces) that led to a grand ambience, the lobby. This was a large rectangular room decorated with lush frescoes. At the center of the ceiling, a large square opening allowed light and rain water to enter. The water was collected in the impluvium, a large, shallow, square pool etched in the floor of the hall. It collected the water and transferred it to an underground cistern.
Alongside of the lobby were the cubicles, the bedrooms: they were usually small and lightly lit, often decorated with frescoes or mosaics. After the lobby it opened the tablinum, a vast room often richly decorated with frescoes. This was the boss’ office where, sitting behind the large desk that dominated the room, the head of the family traditionally received clients and business associates.
At the centre of the house was the peristylium, the place where domus communicated with nature; It was a large enclosed garden surrounded by a colonnade. It could be decorated with oscillas (marble disks hanging from the ceiling between one column to the other, depicting mythological figures), statues, fountains and plants arranged in geometric motifs. After the peristylium, a colonnade overlooked the triclinium, the banquet hall.
The kitchen (culina) was considered a utility room and as such its location could change from domus to domus. The food was heated on a masonry counter with a tilted grate, a lot like in a barbecue. Very few domus included an ensuite bath room. Some domus had a second floor with an independent entrance that the owners rented to other families (hospitio).