POMPEII: Italy's most-visited historic site,
Pompeii, will offer a new tourist attraction from Christmas with the
opening to the public of a subterranean spa, featuring a unique
series of erotic frescoes.
Eight small frescoes, showing
lovemaking scenes with two or more participants, decorated the
changing rooms of these public baths dating from the first century
before Christ in the ancient city on the Bay of Naples.
One shows a lesbian love scene -- the only one that has survived
from the Roman era, according to archeologists.
The frescoes and the bath were buried along with the entire city
of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD
The scenes, painted over numbered drawers may have helped bathers
remember where they had left their clothes, archelogists believe.
The illustrations might also have been a kind of catalogue of the
services that spa-goers could expect on the first floor of the
baths, believed to have been a brothel.
"There are always a number of hypotheses to choose from, but no
one can say which is the true one," said dig director Antonio
d'Ambrosio. "We know that the baths are among the oldest mixed ones
in antiquity, but we do not know whether men and women were allowed
to use them together, or if days of the week or particular times
were reserved to each of the sexes.
As for the sexual licence purported to have reigned in Pompeii,
superintendent Givanno Guzzo is less certain. "Prostitution in
Pompeii was practised by the slaves. It was their masters who
ordered them what to do. They had to do what they were told," he
After the changing room, the sites of three baths - one cold, one
warm and one very hot -- kept at constant temperatures by a
sophisticated heating system -- may be seen.
The room with the cold bath was decorated with deep-blue marine
frescoes and a mosaic depicting the god of war Mars surrounded by
cherubs. A small adjoining room served as a sauna.
Visits to the ancient baths will be limited to groups of 15-20,
because of the size of the rooms, d'Ambrosio said.
The Subterranean Spa was first uncovered in the 1950s, but
excavation did not really begin until 1985-87, followed by
In addition to the baths, the House of Menander will also be
opened to visitors. The building is thus named because a portrait of
Menander, a Greek playwright who lived from 342 to 292 BC, adorns
one of the alcoves of the peristyle.
The large patrician house was closed for restoration for more
than 20 years after the 1980 earthquake in Campania. One of the
rooms opening on to an internal courtyard is decorated with three
scenes of the Trojan War.
Another house, the House of Guilio Polybio, dating from the
second century BC, will also be open to the public. It takes its
name from a magistrate of the city and its peristyle contains
furniture preserved by volcanic ash deposits.
The digging site covers between 15-20 hectares, and according to
Guzzo, a similar area remains to be excavated.
"The city existed from 1600 BC. No other ancient city has been
preserved in this way. The richness of ancient life that can be seen
is unique," he said.