Archaeologists Discover Ancient Roman Swimming Pool in Albania

Found in an upper-class villa, the indoor pool was accompanied by decorative mosaics and frescoes dating back nearly two millennia

The ancient pool was lined with mosaics made with tesserae, or shaped tiles, of different materials. Albania’s National Institute of Cultural Heritage

An ancient Roman villa has been unearthed in Albania—complete with frescoes, mosaics and the remains of an indoor pool.

Archaeologists discovered the villa in Durrës, a coastal city on the Adriatic Sea founded by ancient Greeks around the seventh century B.C.E. It was conquered by Rome in the third century B.C.E., ultimately becoming the most important port in the province of Illyricum, which stretched from present-day Albania to Slovenia.

Many Roman artifacts and structures have been discovered in the city, including an amphitheater dating back to the reign of the emperor Trajan, who died in 117 C.E. Still, as Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou reports, the newly discovered indoor pool is the “first of its kind to be discovered by archaeological excavations in Albania.”

Archaeologists were digging in Durrës ahead of a new school’s construction when they found the mosaics, according to a translated statement from Albania’s National Institute of Cultural Heritage. The artworks turned out to be part of an ancient Roman villa, and researchers say the tilework is “typical of the period” between the first century B.C.E. and the second century C.E.

Inside the villa, the team discovered the remains of a leisurely swimming area, complete with a large, rectangular swimming pool. The area is decorated with colorful, detailed frescoes—murals painted on fresh plaster—and mosaics of marble, stone, glass and ceramic tiles, which are arranged in hexagonal and floral patterns.

The city of Durrës was once an important port in the Roman Empire. Albania’s National Institute of Cultural Heritage

Mosaics of this kind are “mostly found in Italy in places like Pompeii and Ostia” and rarely discovered so far east, as the Greek Reporter’s Abdul Moeed writes. “The presence of such a mosaic in Durrës indicates strong economic, cultural and social connections with Western neighbors.”

In ancient Greece and Rome, swimming was considered a virtuous pastime for men and boys. Separate from bathing, swimming emphasized exercise and technique. In the first century B.C.E., Rome became home to what may have been the world’s first heated swimming pool, which was commissioned by the diplomat Gaius Maecenas.

Archaeologists found the villa ahead of the construction of a new school. Albania’s National Institute of Cultural Heritage

Near the pool, researchers also uncovered two shallow bathtubs covered in waterproofing mortar. McClatchy’s Aspen Pflughoeft writes that other discoveries at the site hint at the wealth of its occupants: walls suggesting a two-story structure, a large brick floor that may have been part of a bathhouse and patterned fragments of stucco walls and ceilings.

“The investment for building the villa must have come from an important individual of the Roman Empire,” according to the statement.

Archaeologists think the villa was destroyed by a well-documented earthquake that struck the area in the fourth century C.E.

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