14 April 2007

The Ancient Roman Home

I find that the more I read about ancient Rome the more I like it. The ancient Roman home consisted of some truly remarkable and beautiful innovations. The atrium was just what you think it was, an attractive hole in the roof that allowed rainwater to fall through into the impluvium, the basin in the floor which supplied the household with fresh water before plumbing became commonplace. The most common type of atrium did not include columns of any kind; the weight of the ceiling was carried by the rafters. It would have also provided plenty of light and fresh air to the rest of the home.

Another Roman innovation, my favorite, is the peristyle. This section of the home consisted of rooms built in a larger rectangle leaving an open space in the center. Sometimes these spaces were paved with concrete, another Roman invention, but were usually left bare and used as gardens. The Roman family spent most of its day outside in the peristyle: spinning, cooking, working in the gardens, etc. The household garden contained fruit trees and vegetables as well as flowers and, one would assume, herbs. There were fountains, seats and work areas. They were practical sources of food and flavor and beautiful spaces to work, relax and entertain. In fact, some have speculated that the peristyle was the very heart of the Roman home, much like our modern living rooms. Can you imagine what that would be like?

The center of the home, where everything takes place, in the garden? Instead of being relegated to the area behind the home the gardens were inside and within the house. Amazing! If I ever get rich and can afford to build my own home, I would definitely include a peristyle as well as other aspects of Roman architecture like the arch, columns and the atrium. While I'm dreaming I might as well go all out and plan a remote-controlled automatic glass door for the atrium. As much as I like the idea of lots of light and fresh air, I don't like those things in the frigid Ozarks winters. I would also include the built-in hearths and altars to the spirits of the home as well as the greater world. I wish worship spaces really were included in the planning stages of a home, instead of being an afterthought, if that. I think it says a lot about our culture that sacred spaces have absolutely no bearing within the modern types of home design. It's a sad fact when what should be the most important feature of the home is forgotten and left in the past.

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